NOVEMBER 1, 2000
Toyota goes up a gear with Fuji acquisition
TOYOTA is not only determined to fly in the face of established F1 convention by building its own cars and engines, but is also determined to harness its newly acquired majority stake in Japan's Fuji speedway as a home-grown development circuit. The cost of F1 may be a drop in the bucket of the global research and development budgets put aside by all the key motor industry players, but one is bound to wonder if Toyota is spearing off down a well-intentioned, but distinctly misguided route.
It is no coincidence that the majority of F1 teams located in a 100-mile crescent round the South-west of London, Grand Prix racing's "silicon valley," if you like. OK, so Ferrari has learned to exist with spectacular success away from the UK technological mainstream - although it tapped into it with relentless consistency throughout the late 1980s and early 90s as it struggled to reinvent itself into a credible force. But the rest of the non-British brigade is nowhere.
Sauber continues to plough its lonely, consistently unsuccessful Swiss-based furrow, Prost is struggling to emerge from a state of French-based chaos and Minardi simply comes along for the ride to have an enjoyable time. The evidence is there for all to see, yet Toyota is proposing to design, build and develop its F1 project in Cologne - and supplement that with some sort of testing outstation on the other side of the world. Not obviously the most rational decision.
There is no magic to the F1 business, just the application of logic, hard work and total commitment. Yet history again teaches us the lesson that Toyota's way is unlikely to work. Honda ditched its own fledgling F1 program in favor of an engine supply partnership with British American Racing, BMW opted for a similar deal with Williams after toying - and rejecting - its own in-house F1 program eight years ago, while Mercedes was bright enough to see that a partnership with McLaren opened the fast lane to Grand Prix success. As indeed it has.
Renault bombed out of F1 with egg on its face in 1985 after its works team was humbled by Lotus, its own engine customers, and later cut a deal with Williams. Very successful it was too. Now Renault is taking a leaf out of Jaguar's book - buying an established F1 team and giving it a quick spray job.
For all the short-term razzmatazz which will accompany their move to control the Fuji speedway, Toyota, quite clearly, just haven't taken time out to read the history books.
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