AUGUST 28, 2001

Should Toyota be allowed to test?

THERE is much discussion at the moment about whether Toyota should be allowed to test during the forthcoming testing ban.

THERE is much discussion at the moment about whether Toyota should be allowed to test during the forthcoming testing ban. The Japanese company says that it has not yet entered the World Championship and thus should not be bound by its rules. In theory this argument has some validity - even if it is not very sporting. However Toyota is overlooking the fact the intention to compete predates the testing ban and so there is no argument that this has been foisted upon the Japanese manufacturer.

Toyota announced that it would enter the FIA Formula 1 World Championship as long ago as January 1999 - more than two and a half years ago. In October that year, in an effort to ensure that Toyota would be able to enter F1 with its own team, rather than having to buy an existing operation, the FIA introduced a rule that allowed "applications to compete in the championship" to be made two years prior to the championship in which the applicant wished to compete. However, having suffered at the hands of Honda, the FIA demanded a $48m deposit to be submitted with the application. This will be returned in 12 monthly payments (including interest) during the first year of competition but if the applicant failed to appear it was agreed to allow this to happen if $12m was forfeited.

In December 1999 Toyota paid the $48m deposit to enter the World Championship in 2001. In July 2000 the company announced that it was not going to be ready in time for 2001 and would therefore enter the World Championship in 2002. As a result the company forfeited $12m.

Rival teams argue that although the official deadline for entries for the 2002 World Championship is not until November 15 the fact that Toyota made a commitment to enter F1 in December 1999 - and put down a deposit to guarantee an entry - indicates that the company has made "an application to compete" and so should be bound by the rules. The testing ban between the last race and December 31 (starting in 2001) became an FIA regulation in January 2000 so right from the start of its program Toyota was aware of the rules.

Toyota argues that it will not be entered in the World Championship until the FIA announces the result of its application on December 1. This is an interesting approach but rather highlights the naivety that exists in the management of the Toyota project. The company seems to be under the impression that just because it is a big automobile company it can do as it pleases but it has overlooked the fact that its entry does not have to be accepted by the FIA. It has also overlooked the fact that the teams can vote to reduce the number of signatories to the Concorde Agreement to 11 if they choose to do so. To date Toyota has ignored FIA requests not to test during testing bans - continuing to do development work throughout August while the other F1 teams not in action.

The attitudes in Cologne and Toyota have annoyed F1 team owners and they are now demanding that the FIA take action. Toyota may think that the federation is a toothless organization but it should perhaps remember the troubles which British American Tobacco had getting an F1 entry a couple of years ago because of similar corporate arrogance.

To date Toyota has ignored a great deal of sensible advice that it has been given by F1 people because it believes that it knows better.

It is a story which F1 people have seen time and time again...