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Toyota coming - but when?

AS we have been predicting since 1996, Toyota is planning to enter Formula 1 racing. The news was announced in Tokyo last week by the company's president Hiroshi Okuda. Japan's largest industrial concern and the third largest automaker in the world says that work on the project will begin immediately with the aim of entering F1 in either 2002 or 2003. Toyota says it will build both the chassis and the engines.

Our sources suggest that there is a small possibility that the company might be able to bring forward that date if it can hire the right people. In order to race in 2001, however, a prototype would have to be ready for testing 12 months from now. This would be quite possible if Toyota took over an existing engine program.

There have been suspicions in the 1990s that Yamaha's unsuccessful F1 program was little more than a toe-in-the-water operation for Toyota to keep an eye on developments in F1 racing. This was always denied but it is worth pointing out that the Toyota-Yamaha connection in racing goes back to 1965, when Yamaha developed a six-cylinder engine for the Toyota╩2000GT sportscar.

If Toyota is to rush ahead with the program it is possible that the company could acquire the Yamaha V10 and develop it. It is worth pointing out that last spring Toyota personnel were spotted visiting John Judd's Engine Developments factory in Rugby - where the Yamaha F1 engines were designed and built. The fact that Toyota is already installing four new dynos in Cologne suggests that it is planning to do most of the work in-house in the long-term. The Toyota F1 team will be based in╩Cologne, where Toyota's World Rally Championship team - Toyota Team Europe - and the sportscar program are currently headquartered.

The Toyota announcement said that the chassis would be designed by Toyota Technocraft, a Tokyo-based subsidiary of Toyota. This may eventually happen but at the moment it is clear that Toyota is relying on European skills with Andre de╩Cortanze having joined the Cologne operation and F1 aerodynamicist Rene Hilorst joining last autumn. It would be logical to expect that Toyota will follow Honda's lead in using experts in Europe to set up the program and then train Japanese engineers in the art of composite engineering.

The major problem for Toyota is that there is currently enormous demand for F1 design and production staff because of the expansion of all the teams and the arrival of big new operations such as Stewart Grand Prix, British American Racing and Honda F1. One way around this problem will be for Toyota to buy an existing team - it will probably have to do so anyway in order to become one of the 12 signatories to the 1998-2008 Concorde Agreement. The obvious teams to buy are Arrows, Minardi or Sauber. The advantage of Sauber is that its staff are used to living and working in a German-speaking country and they are more likely to stay with the team than if Toyota were to buy a British or Italian operation.

There have been a number of attempts in recent years to get Toyota into F1, the most serious being in 1992 when the TOM'S company commissioned John Barnard to design an F1 car in the hope that Toyota would back the program. Toyota also has strong links with Dome, which has long had F1 aspirations.

For the moment Toyota will continue in rallying, sportscars and in CART racing in the United States. The only really successful topline competition program has been rallying in which Toyota has won four Drivers' World titles with Carlos╩Sainz╩(1990 & 1992), Juha Kankkunen (1993) and Didier Auriol (1994) and two Manufacturers' titles in 1993 and 1994. Toyota blotted its copybook in 1995 when it was given a 12-month ban from the World Rally Championship for illegally tampering with a turbo restrictor.

The company says that it is entering F1 in order to support its European expansion plans but also to help shake off the company's conservative image. The company still has over 40% of Japan's domestic market but is not doing well with the younger generations.

Under Okuda Toyota has tried to shake off the traditional "nemawashi" decision-making which has handicapped much of Japanese industry as it is based on consensus and is very slow. This is part of the company's aggressive policy which aims to win 10% of the world's car sales in the years ahead. "I am not saying that we are going to win straight away," Okuda commented at the announcement, "but we want to win as soon as possible."

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