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Kobayashi benefiting from Toyota tutelage.

Panasonic Toyota Racing may be based in Cologne, but its spiritual heart is back in Japan, making the Japanese Grand Prix a special annual event.

The team has been based in Germany since 1979 but, throughout that time, there have been strong links to Japan, and that is as true as ever in 2008. The bond between Japan and the team has been strengthened in recent years with the increased adoption of 'the Toyota Way' back at base in Cologne and, following those principals, the team has returned to form this season, finishing on the podium twice and pushing to take fourth in the constructors' championship. For chairman and team principal Tadashi Yamashina, the reasons are clear.

"There are several key reasons for the improvement in our results," he says, "One is the operation of the team, the teamwork, in that everyone is pulling together. This includes the people who go racing and the people who stay behind at the factory. The operation has improved, so everybody is working to make the team better."

Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a cornerstone of Toyota Way philosophy - and it has become a key principal at the F1 team as well. But how is this theory translated into practice in the team's technical centre? Yamashina-san has one simple explanation: "The principle of enjoying your job by exchanging information with others is fundamental to Toyota".

As part of that philosophy, he shares an office with the team's top management, making communication straightforward and showing the kind of open-minded attitude which allows innovation to thrive and sows the seeds of future success.

"Routine communication can be carried out by email, however far away anybody might be," Yamashina adds, "But, for face-to-face discussions, people can get together straight away. If you want to say something to someone's face, you can do it there and then.

"Another thing is that you are more involved with everyone's daily work. With three of us in the room, this means that you get more idea what is going on elsewhere within the company."

With over 30 different nationalities, Panasonic Toyota Racing has often been referred to as the 'united nations of Formula One' and, while there are many Japanese employees among the 650 or so staff in Cologne, Yamashina believes all nationalities have learnt valuable lessons from each other.

"The strength of the Japanese engineers is that they have lots of experience of working in the Toyota Way," he says, "The strength of the European and other engineers is that they have been working in F1 and motorsport for many years. We combine their respective strengths, so that the Japanese engineers teach their counterparts when the Toyota style of working is most appropriate, and learn from the local engineers when the F1 approach is best, feeding what they've learned back to Japan. It's a mixed approach."



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