APRIL 4, 2002
The performance of Toyota
THE biggest surprise of the Formula 1 season to date has been the performance of Toyota Motorsport GmbH. The team has done much better in its first season than all the other new teams in recent years - one reason being that the team has handled the public relations in a much more sensible fashion than other big operations such as British American Racing and Jaguar. Toyota set out to have a low profile, not because it was trying to underplay the situation but rather because the team management actually did not know how good (or bad) the cars were going to be.
All the signs were that the package was not going to be a success. The controversial decision to build the team in Germany and use a large number of non-F1 staff was seen as unwise and the prototype chassis produced in 2001 was little short of a disaster. But the engine was good, thanks to the recruits that Toyota was able to assemble - and because of help the company received from companies with F1 experience. There have been rumors for some months about whether or not Mecachrome has been doing some development work for Toyota. On a more low-key basis there is no doubt that Yamaha has been doing some R&D work for Toyota. The Yamaha F1 engine might not have had much success in its time in F1 but the engines were ahead of their time and many lessons were learned.
The hiring of Gustav Brunner was an important step forward for Toyota because it brought not only an experienced F1 designer but also meant that his experience could be used to attract other good men. In the end Toyota took on many of the department heads from Minardi - a big setback for the Faenza team but a big leap forward for Toyota.
But there were still worries about the performance of the new cars. In pre-season testing the cars did not look special but in Melbourne fortune favored the team and the first corner accident gave the team the chance to score a point on its debut. There was a lot of good fortune in that result but a good team uses the good luck when it comes along. Toyota did just that.
Alan McNish's seventh place in Malaysia was followed by another sixth place for Salo in Brazil.
The team admits that it is surprised by the results
"I think we probably performed at the level we thought we would be performing," says Allan McNish. "The car was little better than we expected. I have to be honest. We have been faster in comparison to the opposition than we expected to be at the beginning of the year. I think that some of the others have underperformed."
The most impressive thing for many observers is that the team has worked well. This is what team boss Ove Andersson wanted when he took the decision to base the team in Germany. Building a team is the hardest thing to do. One can hire individuals but building a team is a time-consuming process.
Andersson is aware that the danger lies in not being able to hold on to the staff when things do not go as well as hoped. When a team is moving forwards and paying well it is not hard to keep people, but things get tough when the results do not come. There are also worries about the team not being "in the loop" of all the information that flows between the teams which are located in Motorsport Valley in Britain.
These are questions which only time will answer and in the meantime while Toyota is being feted as a team which will soon be challenging for podiums and so on, Andersson is trying hard to keep the team's feet on the ground and working to make sure that the good start will not fade.
For the moment however one has to say that Toyota has done the job and deserve the credit for what has been achieved.
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