Toyota has confirmed what many in the F1 paddock have long feared by dropping hints that a withdrawal from competition at the end of the 2009 world championship campaign – following in the wheeltracks of Honda and BMW – is not out of the question.
Since its debut in the top flight back in 2002, the big-budget Japanese manufacturer has started 136 grands prix, but has yet to reach the highest step of the rostrum. That has been much to the frustration of the parent company, which has invested a considerable degree of funding into the F1 project – at one stage believed to be the highest-spending team on the grid – for what has on paper been comparatively little on-track return, with just eleven podiums to its credit from eight years.
The 2008 budget is understood to have been in the region of $300 million, and whilst the Cologne-based outfit has pledged its commitment to F1 for 2010, the fact that the parent company suffered its first annual net loss in seven decades last year – as the debilitating global recession tightened its grip on the automotive industry, with further losses anticipated this financial year – has plunged the continued existence of the team into serious doubt.
“We need to turn it into an F1 where you don't need so much money,” team principal Tadashi Yamashina told a Tokyo news conference, according to the Yomiuri
newspaper. “We'll have to consider various issues while bearing in mind our ties with the main company.”
Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Toyota F1 budget is not due to be signed off – or conversely refused – until November, when a more accurate financial forecast will be available, and both Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock are reported to have been advised by team management to look elsewhere for drives in 2010.
Yamashina added, however, that provided costs can be sufficiently cut – with more team members now flying economy class and fewer menu choices in the team canteen – the world's largest car maker will remain in the sport
“I believe in the car and I believe in our racers,” he asserted. “We will never give up, and hope to someday stand at the centre of the podium.”