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Top teams eye Toyota 02 Mar 2003

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Top F1 teams are keeping a wary eye on Toyota after the speed the Japanese company's new car has been showing during winter testing.

BMW Williams technical director Patrick Head and chief operating engineer Sam Michael have both been impressed by the Toyota's pace. In 2002 several rival drivers commented favourably on the Toyota V10 engine's power, and now that a lower and more powerful evolutionary version has been installed in a more sophisticated chassis, rivals expect the motor giant to pose a strong threat this season.

Toyota is a big team, employing between 550 and 800 staff (way beyond Ferrari, McLaren and BMW Williams) at its factory in Cologne. With funding from the parent company in Tokyo, and lucrative sponsorship deals with Panasonic, Esso and AOL Time Warner it has the third biggest budget, at $280m, not far behind big spenders Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes.

"We have our eye on them, and we know they will be serious competition in the future," BMW Williams team principal Sir Frank Williams admitted recently. He said something similar about Ferrari back in 1996...