Da Matta and Toyota
JULY 26, 2002
You might not recall the details, but in the 1970s there was a Formula 1 team which was (reputedly) run by a retired undercover operative. He had a curious sense of humour and so the team's logo was the profile of a black-cloaked figure in a wide-brimmed hat. The team was called Shadow.
Shadow was quite successful in its day and even won a Grand Prix in the days before Alan Jones was a famous name.
The team founder was called Don Nichols and in the late 1950s and early 1960s he was in Japan, working as a tyre dealer and motor racing entrepreneur. The Mole thinks that this was probably more to do with sending agents into South East Asia on behalf of the American government than it was about selling Firestone slicks to men with names that are impossible to spell correctly.
The Mole happened to be in Japan in the same era (although it would be indiscrete to say more) and developed a considerable respect for the Japanese nation which, at the time, was hard at work rebuilding after the disasters of World War II. One of the biggest stars of that era, and therefore a company which The Mole knows well, was the Toyota Motor Company.
Toyota is a company which grew strong from its ability to watch, learn and adapt to what was needed at a given moment. Company folklore will tell you that the founder's father Sakichi Toyoda started the ball rolling when he watched his grandmother weaving by hand for hours and hours. By doing this he reached the conclusion that what was important was not what happened when things were going well but rather what happened when things went wrong. When he designed a weaving machine it had an automatic stopping system for when the threads broke. The Toyoda Spinning and Weaving Company made a fortune and with the money raised by the sale of the patent Sakichi was able to fund the adventures of his son Kiichiro, who wanted to build automobiles. Kiichiro was like his father. He toured Europe and America to look at automobile manufacturing facilities and read and re-read Henry Ford's book "Today and Tomorrow". Before Toyoda built his first car there were three years of experimentation, starting with basic American engines and refining them. And later when the company was up and running (as Toyota rather than Toyoda) Kiichiro and his staff never stopped refining the production process to ensure rapid product flow and built-in quality. This was the basis of the company's success.
Good preparation has been the hallmark of Toyota ever since. But it is about much more than just money, factories and machines. If money could buy success then BAR and Jaguar would be further up the grid. Formula 1 is about people and having the right people in the right places at the right time.
At the start of the Toyota Formula 1 programme The Mole felt that the company had made a bad mistake in siting its factory in Germany. In many ways this still seems a strange decision although there are signs that elements of the motorsport industry are moving from Britain to Germany, specifically precision-engineering metalwork and materials research. The British industry, however, is still by far the strongest in terms of composite technology and aerodynamic knowledge. Toyota's argument was that there was a strong team in existence in Cologne and that it would be a mistake to get rid of this and try to build up a new organisation in Britain. This was good thinking except that almost none of the staff had any worthwhile F1 experience. The prototype chassis had to be junked.
Employing Toyota logic, The Mole has taken a step back and looked at the programme and thinks that the chassis is clearly an area where much work needs to be done. The engine is very good but could always be better. The team still needs to learn. Overall the job done has been quite a good one. It will take several more years to see whether being in Germany will affect the performance. British teams move forward quickly because knowledge washes between them on an almost daily basis. They may be competing with one another but clustered together they are moving faster than they would if they were apart. In recent times however Ferrari has got ahead and the British seem unable to catch up. Much of Ferrari's success has been thanks to imported engineers but the Italian team is leading rather than following and that is an important difference.
Toyota may dream of being in such a position but there is still a long way to go.
The other question is what to do about drivers. Neither Mika Salo nor Allan McNish has done anything really outstanding this year but nor have they done much wrong. They were employed to do a good solid job and both have done that. McNish has been less fortunate but otherwise there has not been that much to choose between them. Toyota knows that continuity is important in making progress so one of the two is going to be retained. Most Japanese companies would keep them both. But Toyota has always been a little bit different. They want the best and as they cannot have Michael Schumacher or Juan Pablo Montoya they are looking to find someone who might be at the same level. They are not interested in the men in the midfield.
Conventional F1 wisdom would say that a Heinz-Harald Frentzen or an Alexander Wurz would be perfect for Toyota right now. They have lots of F1 experience and are quick. But both have flaws which have been exposed earlier in their careers and Toyota Japan logic suggests that it is therefore better to look elsewhere. The Toyota searchlight has settled upon Cristiano da Matta as the man they want. He has shown himself in recent years to be a very capable CART driver. He may even be special but with CART it is always a little difficult to tell. Toyota is pulling out of CART at the end of the season and, knowing that da Matta wants to go to F1, have been looking at the possibility of signing the soon-to-be CART champion. Toyota in Cologne is not convinced that a driver who is new to F1 is what is needed at the moment.
Using Toyota company philosophy, The Mole has to say that he thinks that the choice of da Matta makes sense.
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