F1 » Panasonic Toyota Racing
Toyota's road to Formula One is a long and varied one, with both rallying and sportscars having provided success since TMG was founded in 1973.
Former F1 team boss, Ove Andersson started his fruitful association with Toyota a year earlier, in 1972, as a rally driver.
Since that time, he has gone on to develop his partnership with the Toyota Corporation and helped it achieve some of the highest honours in the motorsport world.
In 1975, under the Toyota Team Europe banner, Andersson Motorsport took its first world rally championship win, paving the way for success that would become the norm for Toyota some years down the line.
Competing against the likes of Lancia, Peugeot, Fiat and Audi in the 1970s and '80s did not leave much room for Toyotas to take the world title, but the advent of the Celica GT4 in the late '80s changed all that.
With drivers the calibre of Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankunnen and Didier Auriol on board, Toyota was almost unstoppable in the early 1990s, leading to four world drivers' titles and two manufacturers' cups. A third manufacturers' trophy followed when the marque made a comeback with the Corolla model later in the same decade, again with Sainz, following a period on the sidelines courtesy of a controversial technical infringement.
Along the way, the giant Japanese Toyota corporation made a full acquisition of TMG in 1993 and, in 1997, entrusted the team with the design, build and operation of an entry in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
It was the first time Toyota had given full responsibility for such a two-year programme to any non-Japanese based team, but the rallying success - some 43 wins in all - proved that the company could handle it.
A hand-picked team of engineers, technicians and designers from the highest level of the sport and industry came together to create the Toyota GT-One and, in 1998, the car led the likes of Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan and BMW for much of the race, before retiring.
The following year, the Toyota gained a second position after setting both pole position and fastest lap of the race, but this wasn't good enough for the parent company, which promptly set its sights on Formula One.
Unveiled to the press in 2000, the project began with the inauguration of new, purpose-built factory in Cologne, while the first ever Toyota Formula One V10 engine was fired up later that same year.
With a tentative entry date of 2002 recorded with the FIA, the first pukka F1 car rolled out of the factory in 2001, with the aim of gaining sufficient data at tracks across Europe and Japan to ease entry the following year.
Former GT-One driver Allan McNish was recalled from Audi ALMS duty to test the car - dubbed TF101 - and Mika Salo tempted away from his Sauber contract to sign as the first of the team's two race pilots.
McNish's role in the team was confined to testing until he had proven himself against the Finn, but the Scot was later confirmed for a full season in 2002.
Initial testing of the TF101 proved disappointing, as the car was both too heavy and too slow to worry its rivals. Designer Andrea de Cortanze duly made way for the more F1 savvy Gustav Brunner - tempted away from Minardi amid much controversy - and improvements followed slowly.
The 2002 'championship contender' evolved from the refined TF101, and TF102 became the first car of the season unveiled to the public and media, at a ceremony in Cologne in December 2001.
The outfit's debut season was largely seen as a success, they achieved their aims of qualifying for every race and also notched up two points finishes, one on their debut in Australia and another in Brazil, both courtesy of Mika Salo.
However a series of mid-season reliability problems led to some dissatisfaction and by the end of their debut year it had been announced that both Salo and McNish would not be required for the following season.
The team thus opted for a completely new driver line-up for 2003, signing Monaco GP winner Olivier Panis and 2002 CART champion, Cristiano da Matta.
The TF103 was launched on January 8th the outfit stating that they wanted 'regular points finishes' during 2003 and while that was not achieved the team continued to grow, notching up 16 points in total by the season end - finishing in the top eight [i.e. in the points] on seven occasions.
The end result was eighth in the Constructors' ahead of only Jordan and Minardi, and while granted this wasn't very good considering the outfit's budget, it should be remember this was only their second season in F1, and one that did have a number of positives - not least running one-two at the rain affected British GP, and qualifying third and fourth in Japan, and third in the US GP.
For 2004 there was no change on the driver front - Panis, da Matta and third driver, Ricardo Zonta all staying put.
Behind the scenes though there was two significant developments, namely the signing of Mike Gascoyne - Renault's former technical director, to bolster the design team and news that Tsutomu Tomita was to take over as team principal, replacing Ove Andersson, who is now an 'advisor' to the company.
The TF104 was on track extensively during winter testing and the aims for the year were simple - namely to see 'improved race results' and 'if conditions are favourable, score that first ever podium position'. Neither was achieved however, Toyota scored points in only three races, their best finish, when Panis came home fifth at the US Grand Prix. In total they only managed 9 points and were again eighth in the constructors', despite introducing a B-spec car at the German GP.
As a result of their lack of form, da Matta was dropped for the final six races, initially replaced by Zonta, before Jarno Trulli, who was signed for the following season, stepped in for Japan and Brazil, where incidentally Panis stood aside so Zonta could race in front of his home crowd.
In 2005, Toyota opted for Trulli and ex-Williams driver, Ralf Schumacher, while Panis, despite retiring from racing, remained at the team as a test driver, working alongside Zonta.
The year finally saw Toyota 'come of age', as it claimed its first ever F1 podium finish at the Malaysian GP, courtesy of Trulli, who then followed it up with two more in Bahrain and Spain. Ralf also got in on the act, finishing in the top three in Hungary and China, Toyota ending the season with five podiums in total.
The Cologne-based squad managed 88 points during 2005, scoring points in every race it contested, bar the opening Australian GP and the farcical USGP. It also nearly took third place in the constructors' standings, before eventually having to settle for fourth place, twelve points behind Ferrari.
All in all, it was a promising season, and one that gave the team a very good platform to build on in 2006. The TF106 was launched early, in December '05, and the squad was hopeful that that would give it an advantage in terms of extra track and development time. Schumacher and Trulli remained on board, determined to give Toyota its first F1 victory, despite the team having to re-learn its tyre data following a Tokyo-inspired switch to Bridgestone during the off-season.
As it turned out, the extra lead time, the unchanged line-up and the switch to race-winning rubber provided a false dawn, with Toyota slipping back to sixth in the constructors' championship after a disappointing campaign.
The Bahrain GP proved a pointer for the year ahead, with the tyre change affecting the performance of a car that had been mildly re-designed to remain on Michelins. The apparent interference from Toyota top brass ultimately led to Mike Gascoyne parting company with the team, although ironically coinciding with the first signs of progress that eventually led to the introduction of a B-spec TF106.
A more representative 2006 design, capitalising on the shorter V8 engines, the car was closer to the pace, but never likely to be a podium threat, especially as reliability proved to be a problem and the drivers were often inconsistent.
Schumacher peaked with a fortuitous third in Melbourne and fourth in France, while Trulli's fourth at Indianapolis was his best as they struggled to tenth and twelfth in the standings, scoring just 35 points between them.
Despite rumblings to the contrary, both drivers remained on board in 2007, where they were backed up by former Renault tester - and Super Aguri racer - Franck Montagny. The technical team continued to be led by the Japanese, but with Europeans Pascal Vasselon and Luca Marmorini overseeing chassis and engine departments respectively, and former Jaguar aero ace Mark Gillan joining the line-up.
The TF107 however didn't provide the break-through Toyota was hoping for and like its predecessor was a pretty average car.
In many ways the outfit actually slipped back during 2007 and Trulli and Ralf combined to notch up only 13 points. There were no podiums, no fourths and not even any fifth places. Two sixths - one courtesy of Trulli at Indianapolis and one thanks to Ralf in Hungary - was as good as it got.
Toyota still took P6 in the constructors' though, although in reality it was seventh, as McLaren were stripped of all points following the spy row.
2008 saw a few changes on the driver front and, while Trulli remained on board for continuity, Ralf was replaced by fellow German Timo Glock, rewarded for his success in claiming the 2007 GP2 title. ‘Third' driver Montagny, meanwhile, was also dispensed with, in favour of Kamui Kobayashi, a product of the Toyota Young Drivers Programme (TDP), who combined his development role with a season racing with DAMS in GP2.
The TF108 finally brought Toyota into line with the majority of its rivals, and brought instant rewards in as far as promoting the team into the thick of the midfield battle. While unable to trouble McLaren or Ferrari, both Glock and Trulli occasionally had BMW Sauber in their sights as Toyota set out its stall as the fourth best team in the field. Both drivers were able to claim podium finishes – Trulli’s battling third in France coming just days after the untimely death of founder Andersson – but Glock also had a couple of major shunts to temper the second place he took on merit in Hungary. Ultimately, Renault’s return to form meant that it claimed fourth in the constructors’ championship, but Toyota could look back on 2008 with a degree of satisfaction.
What the Cologne-based outfit now needs to do is build on its improvement in 2009, but the new rulebook could be a deciding factor in achieving that ambition. The TF109, however, has been a consistent performer in testing and, with the benefit of an unchanged line-up, the team might just have the springboard to finally taking its challenge all the way to the top.