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Mosley attends Toyota F1 launch

THERE was a touch of irony in his mode of arrival. FIA president Max Mosley swept into the drive of the Balmoral hotel, on the fringes of Spa, coccooned in the luxury of a Jaguar XJ6 to attend the official announcement of Toyota's plans to enter the F1 World Championship for the first time in 2002.

Cynics would say that Mosley's official benediction was timely, bearing in mind that the Japanese car company had to pay what amounted to a 12 million dollar fine to the sport's governing body for delaying their F1 debut from the originally scheduled start in 2001.

According to Toyota, this delay was a direct result of the FIA changing its technical regulations to make V10 cylinder configurations mandatory, a decision which forced the abandonment of Toyota's projected V12 program.

The penalty, of course, is in addition to the 48 million dollars which every new team has to lodge with the FIA prior as an indication of their serious commitment - and which is paid back at the rate of 4 million dollars per month, plus interest, during the team's freshman season.

Mosley paid tribute to the Japanese company's boldness in taking on the challenge of building its own car and engine from its base in Cologne.

"My job is to welcome Toyota to the FIA F1 world championship," he said. "It is certainly a rare occasion when a new team comes into F1 committed to building its own car and engine, so this must be seen as a very courageous step.

"This is a very specialized business which requires particular skills, so for one of the three biggest car companies in the world to come in without the assistance of an established team is certainly very brave and should be applauded."

Team President Ove Andersson added; "We are very aware that as the new boys in F1 and the only German based team we will be watched closely by the world's media. In addition, as the largest Japanese automobile manufacturer, and the third biggest in the world, we will never be far from the headlines."

The first Toyota V10 engine is expected to run on the dynomometer next month and the first prototype car will start testing next spring.

However, many F1 insiders believe that Toyota has bitten off far more than it can ever be realistically expected to chew and basing its operation away from Grand Prix racing's UK heartland in a major tactical misjudgment.

One person who clearly does not have any doubts about the Toyota F1 program is Mika Salo, the Finnish driver signing a two year deal to develop the new Japanese machine and race it for at least its first season in 2002.

"My decision to test instead of race next year was not taken lightly or easily," said Salo who will share the test and development burden with Scot Allan McNish.

"But having seen how much effort is going into the Toyota F1 project, I'm happy to take this step in the knowledge that my F1 experience will contribute significantly to the development of the team.

"There can be no illusions; we have a very steep hill to climb. There will be heartache and disappointments, but I welcome the challenge of helping in the birth of a new F1 team. Sometimes it is more satisfying to be more than a race driver."

One might also be tempted to comment that testing for anybody might be regarded as a better bet than staying with one's career stalled in the F1 slow lane. Toyota is a gamble, but the fact that Sauber is going nowhere fast now seems one of the more certain facts in the F1 community.

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