DECEMBER 20, 2003
Review of the Year: 8th - Panasonic Toyota Racing
Panasonic Toyota Racing was one of the first teams to have its new car up and running and had completed plenty of testing before the first race of the year. The engine was good but the chassis was not a success and in the light of that it was no surprise that results were pretty disappointing with reliability being an issue and the car proving to be very difficult to balance.
The team seemed to be slightly at sea about what to do to solve the problem and it was not until the mid-summer that things began to get better with the two drivers picking up 10 points in three races. It was clear from very early on however that the team knew that it needed a top line designer to produce a better car to match the very powerful engine that Luca Marmorini and his team had designed.
It was an open secret that the man that Toyota wanted was Mike Gascoyne. Negotiations dragged on for most of the summer before finally there was a settlement which was most odd and enabled Toyota to get its hands on Gascoyne immediately, a huge bonus for the team in 2004.
One can only imagine that Toyota agreed to pay Renault a great deal of money for that...
Gascoyne's arrival will revolutionize the team and one can see a situation by the end of the 2004 season by which Toyota will be in a position to sign up a top driver and all the signs are that this will be Ralf Schumacher as the German's view of his own value is well in excess of Williams think he is worth. Ralf will not give and nor will Williams and so that is the end of the story.
Toyota had to put up with the embarrassment of a police raid at the end of the view because Ferrari had complained about information that was supposed to have leaked from one team to the other. The man at the centre of the enquiry was former Ferrari engineer Angelo Santini, who worked at Maranello between 1995 and the end of February 2002 before joining Toyota. Nothing was proved but that was not a surprise as rumors of these troubles dated back nine months and in all probability the official complaint by Ferrari was simply a question of the team trying to disrupt Toyota, in the hope that something would turn up. No charges have been made because nothing did show up.
In terms of the team there was a big change at the end of the year when it was announced that Ove Andersson would be standing down from his position as team principal. He is the boss of the team, the man to whom everyone looked for leadership and so his replacement, Tsutomu Tomita, is going to have to be able to inspire the same kind of loyalty, which will not be easy for a Japanese engineer dealing with Westerners.
In terms of the drivers it is difficult to really judge how both men did. Olivier Panis had more than his fair share of mechanical failures but his experience no doubt helped the team to solve the problems encountered with the chassis. Cristiano da Matta had to learn the ways of F1 and the European circuits and that no doubt hurt him. But he made good progress. The acid test will come in 2004 when he will be expected to outpace Panis on a regular basis. If he does not da Matta's long-term in F1 will be compromised.
Given the budget that the team enjoyed its second year in F1 was a bit of a disappointment. It could have produced a great deal more...
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