McNish grabs Toyota's F1 lifeline

BRITAIN's representation in the 2002 formula one drivers' world championship was boosted to four yesterday with the news that Allan McNish will join fellow Scot David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine and Jenson Button on the grands prix grids as a member of the all-new Toyota team.

Elevation to the formula one elite comes late in the day for McNish who, at 31, was regarded as one of Britain's likely comingmen more than a decade ago before his prospects faded after he never quite lived up to his early promise.

Initially McNish gained a reputation as a rising star in the European Opel Lotus single seater series in 1989 as team-mate to Mika Hakkinen. Yet as Hakkinen's career went onwards and upwards, McNish gradually stalled in the slow lane after inconclusive performances in both formula three and F3000.

Yet McNish gained a back door into formula one thanks to his performance as a consistent and dependable sports car driver during the mid-1990s. As a result, when Toyota decided to enter formula one with its own ambitious team, McNish was signed up alongside the higher profile former Tyrrell and Sauber driver Mika Salo.

Although Toyota stated from the outset that Salo would definitely race for their formula one team from the start of 2002, McNish's place in the final equation had seemed hedged with ifs-and-buts.

Many formula one insiders felt that the Japanese car maker was keeping its options open in the event of an established star driver becoming available, but as it became clear this was not going to happen, McNish received his due reward for a year of conscientious test and development work at the wheel of the Toyota formula one prototype.

"I've been involved with the team from the very beginning of the project," said McNish. "In the process my ability was recognized. I'm very happy."

McNish was placed third in the 1981 world karting championship, was also an F1 test driver for McLaren and Benetton before moving into sports cars where he won the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1998 for Porsche. The highlight of McNish's sports car career, which also saw him race the Daytona 24 Hour Race for the Risi Ferrari team, was last year's championships victory in the American Le Mans series for Toyota.

"As our team has yet to participate in active F1 competition there are numerous challenges that we must face down the road," said Tsutomu Tomita, Managing Director of the Toyota Motor Corporation.

"Allan McNish is fast and is gifted with exceptional development potential. As such we have concluded that combining Mika and Allan in our first year would be the best way to go."

Following a press conference at Suzuka to announce McNish's appointment both he and Salo went straight into three days of testing at the Japanese circuit.

Follow grandprixdotcom on Twitter

Print News Story