MARCH 26, 2001
Toyota set to learn the facts of F1 life
BARELY 48-hours separated last Friday's high profile launch of Toyota's first F1 test car from its first accident, apparently caused by a mechanical failure, during testing at Paul Ricard. A salutary lesson, one might be forgiven for thinking, in the capricious ways of the F1 business; certainly not the first or last.
Toyota has a mountain to climb, both in terms of hard performance and F1 credibility. Put aside, if you will, the basic challenge which is involved in taking part in the F1 game. British American Racing, the sport's most recently high profile arrival, had a dismal first year. If you get through that, it's still tough. Most teams don't win races. Think Arrows, Sauber, Prost, Minardi, Jaguar. Most are cast in a supporting role, bit part players, if you like. They provide the backdrop against which the super-teams weave their magic.
Moreover, in F1 terms, Toyota is attempting to prove that the sun actually rises in the west. It is pursuing a strategy of building its own car, own engine, own factory - much against the historical odds. Moreover, it has sited that factory well away from the UK's traditional F1 "silicon valley," out on a limb, in northern Germany.
This is not to say that Toyota cannot get the job done. The Japanese company has the resources and the infrastructure to support a serious F1 operation. Yet one is left with the nagging suspicion that it is only been based in Germany for reasons of expediency, building purely on the geographic fact that Toyota Team Europe's rally headquarters was already located near Cologne.
It was also fascinating to see Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone on hand to give what amounted to official benediction to the project. At a time when the commercial future of F1 is so very obviously bound up with the interests of the major car companies, the presence of the sport's Dynamic Duo should probably have come as no surprise.
Unquestionably, Toyota will be well prepared when it comes to the team making its race debut at the start of the 2002 season. The infrastructure will be well-oiled and the personnel properly integrated. Just how much re-working of the original script will be necessary if the car finds itself struggling to qualify - and just how effectively the company accommodates that possibility - will be the ultimate test of Toyota's F1 resolve.
Competing in F1 is difficult enough. Winning is another matter altogether. And, remember, when you've had a year free to prepare, you can reasonably expect the first season to be reasonably competitive.
The Sauber and Stewart teams demonstrated this harsh reality. Handling the next step beyond that is the real test of the organization. Toyota will need all its resilience and focus to surmount that particular F1 hurdle.
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