2006 Team Review - Toyota 14 Nov 2006
While 2005 had been a season of solid results for Toyota, the promise of an even better year in 2006 never materialised. Technical upsets and far too few scoring opportunities saw Toyota take a backward step and accrue less than half the points they managed the previous year, dropping two places in the standings into the bargain.
On paper, with one of the biggest budgets in the paddock and two highly-rated drivers - Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli - staying on for a second year, Toyota looked to be in a strong position. But in Bahrain the team could hardly have got off to a worse start. The TF106 looked uncompetitive, leaving Schumacher and Trulli struggling home to a dismal 14th and 16th respectively. Described by team principal Tsutomu Tomita as a a shocking way to start the year, it was a poor beginning to Toyotas campaign.
While Schumacher alleviated some concerns with an eighth-place finish in Malaysia and a storming drive in Australia to take third, he was making the best of a bad situation. Toyota had switched from Michelin to Bridgestone tyres over the off-season and, although Ralfs all-important results proved the TF106 package had potential, it was struggling to generate sufficient heat - and hence grip - from its Japanese rubber. Along with the teams more public problems, internal ructions were also developing and in April technical director Mike Gascoyne departed.
The team experienced a fairly average mid season, only brightened by better qualifying performances and an occasional finish in the points. Even the eagerly-awaited debut of TF106B in Monaco was largely overshadowed by reliability issues. At first, Trulli looked set to finish in third but a sudden hydraulic failure forced him to retire. His demise moved Ralf Schumacher into eighth place, but one point, in a race where they had been in contention for another podium, afforded Toyota little consolation.
Although Schumacher would fail to finish the next three events, Monaco was a turning point of sorts for the team. A sixth place for Trulli in Montreal scored the Italian his first points of the year. His strong run signaled an upswing in Toyotas performance and in each of the next five races, at least one car finished in the top eight.
The recovery, however, wasnt to last. In China neither car made it to chequered flag, leaving the team empty handed and under threat from BMW Sauber in the constructors championship. A sixth and seventh at Suzuka may have impressed Toyotas home fans but ultimately it wasnt enough to secure fifth in the standings. After another double DNF at the final round in Brazil they wound up sixth, one point shy of BMW - and 51 adrift of Japanese rivals Honda.
Toyota will no doubt prefer to forget their erratic 2006 performance. Whether the teams deep pockets and bold ambitions can turn things around in 2007 remains to be seen.
More 2006 team reviews - Renault, Ferrari, McLaren, Honda, BMW Sauber, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso, Spyker MF1 and Super Aguri.