In a stark message, John Howett has stated that Toyota has 'no future' in Formula 1 if it suffers a bad season in 2009 – and that, he makes clear, means having to finally win a grand prix.
Since its debut in the top flight back in 2002, the big-budget Japanese manufacturer has competed in 123 races with no victories, and a meagre return of just seven rostrum finishes and two pole positions to its name.
With rival Honda last month pulling the plug on its own F1 project amidst the global credit crunch and falling car sales, many within the paddock surmised that Toyota would be next, in the light of its poor return on what has been undeniably a substantial investment over the past seven years and the company's recent admission that it expects to post its first-ever operating loss this year.
Whilst re-iterating the car maker's pledge that it is 'committed' to the sport for the near future, Howett conceded that 2009 is in some respects a make-or-break season for the Cologne-based outfit and that its continued participation is on the line, with increased pressure to convert raw pace and promise into on-track results at last – and 'no future' should the squad under-perform again.
“We have a great team of people and I think we just feel it's about time we won,” Toyota's Motorsport President is quoted as having said by ITV
. “We need a strong season. If we have a weak season we have no future.
“Whether we have to win is difficult to say, but I think we feel we have to win. It's our desire and our passion, shared by our people in Cologne, and we feel we must win to secure a very bright future in Formula 1.
“Every team must be facing increased scrutiny because of the financial situation, and we're no different from any other. I don't think that it's cost uniquely that has driven certain teams out of the sport – it's a holistic view of the value that is delivered for the investment made.
“It's quite clear that we need to reduce our costs. I'm very confident we can do that, and we need to have an extremely strong season to demonstrate that we are bringing value to the corporation for the commitment that they are making and have made to the sport.
“Yes, we are under scrutiny, but I don't think you should uniquely pull Toyota out from the remainder of the teams.”
Those sentiments were shared by team principal Tadashi Yamashima, who also commented on the announcement that racing enthusiast Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, is to be Toyota's new president – potentially a crucial boost in a time of such great uncertainty.