Toyota's F1 operation continues to insist that its participation in the top flight remains secure, despite its parent company warning of a three-fold increase in its forecast operating loss for the current business year.

Despite being ranked number one globally by unit sales, Toyota has not been immune for the economic downturn, and yesterday predicted a $4.9bn deficit for the twelve-month period to March. More worryingly, it also warned that it could suffer its first net loss for 59 years, after scaling back its sales forecast for the year by a further 220,000 units. More tellingly, perhaps, the company has also withheld sales and production forecasts for next year, figures that would have been expected two months ago.

The Japanese giant, which has been involved in Formula One since 2002 but has yet to justify the enormous amount of money poured into the programme with either a race win or championship challenge, has already embarked on a swathe of cost-cutting initiatives - including the suspension of production, scrapping of bonuses and culling of jobs worldwide - in order to try and reduce costs by a minimum ten per cent, but insists that there will be extreme measures, such as closing factories on a permanent basis.

Toyota's sales fell by 34 per cent in the USA alone last month, and by 23 per cent in Japan, and, having posted an operating loss for the period between October and December, has already laid off most of its temporary workers. A cull of full-time jobs in Britain and North America are likely to follow.

Worryingly for F1 fans, Toyota's figures appear to be worse than rival Honda, which has already shelved its involvement in the top flight in order to shore up its business plan. Despite that, Honda, which ranks behind Toyota in success, is still expected to announce a profit for the year.

While Toyota's presence in F1 is safe for another year, however, motorsport president John Howett has already warned that the company has 'no future' in the top flight if it fails to live up to its budget in 2009. Pulling no punches, Howett admits that that means having to win at least one race this season - something that has yet to materialise in 123 races, despite rumours that the team, at times, possessed the biggest budget in the sport.

"The goal for me is clear - we want to win our first race," Howett insisted, "We are hungry to win and ready to win, there should be no doubt about that. The new regulations pose an extra challenge but, at the same time, offer an opportunity. We have everything we need to win; we have some exceptionally talented people and huge motivation to succeed so now it is down to us to actually make it happen.

"The global economy affects everyone. Most sports will be affected in some form, that is inevitable when you have a global economic trend such as this. However, I believe F1 is in a strong position because of its global reach.

"Commercially, this team has a strong future. The key issue is whether F1 continues to deliver the value and return on investment that Toyota expects. If it remains the pinnacle of motorsport and a genuine technological challenge, then I can see a long and bright future for the team. If the sport is dumbed down too much, or too many standard components are forced into the system, Formula 1 could become just another racing series. That would leave it as only a sponsorship opportunity and I believe interest would drop rapidly."

More encouragingly, meanwhile, BMW - whose participation in F1 has also been queried - earned a profit in 2008, with fourth-quarter sales beating expectations.



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