Exclusive interview - Toyotas John Howett 06 Mar 2006
The Toyota Formula One team took a huge leap forward last year. Now, the sleeping giants of 2005 are very much awake and ready to make their mark on 2006. Following a successful winter testing programme, John Howett, Toyotas Motorsport President, is confident the team are in a position to deliver the results befitting a parent company expected to become the worlds biggest car manufacturer by 2007.
Q: Toyota ended up fourth in last years constructors championship. With the winter test results in mind what are your realistic expectations for the first three flyaway races?
John Howett: It is difficult to predict because the winter conditions have been very cold and not representative of the conditions we will encounter in Bahrain or Malaysia. The TF106 combined with the new aero package is a significant step forward and we have completed our own internal development and test programme very successfully. Our target for the first races is to be the best Bridgestone runner.
Q: The Toyota engine was among the strongest last season - does that mean the winter focus has been on chassis improvements? What have been the cornerstones of that development?
JH: Firstly we are still focused on having the strongest engine package this season. For the chassis every area of the car has been considered and improved. Obviously with the introduction on the 2.4litre V8 a lot of effort has been placed on aerodynamics and efficiency.
Q: With both companies being Japanese, the new Toyota-Bridgestone relationship seems a logical one. Are there benefits to be had from the cultural synergies between the two parties?
JH: We have to say that we have enjoyed over a number of years a very good and successful relationship with Michelin. We decided to change to Bridgestone because we believe this was and is the correct decision to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming world champions. We are very pleased with the initial phase of our partnership with Bridgestone and we expect to see the full benefit deployed onto the track as the 06 season evolves.
Q: From the very beginning Toyota used its Formula One commitment in its advertising campaigns. What is the official corporate line on promoting Formula One racing?
JH: Formula One forms part of the total marketing mix. One of Toyotas strengths is its challenging spirit - an example would be the very early move to adopt Hybrid technology. Toyotas entry and approach towards Formula One is also typical of this spirit and it is therefore used in our advertising campaigns.
Q: Toyota is said to be the team with the biggest financial resources. Are there signs of pressure coming from your parent company for the team to finally become winners?
JH: Many things are said in Formula One which are myths or untrue. Toyota is a winning company world wide and is passionate to win in Formula One and it is clear that we need to continue to build from last years strong performance. However I have to say the biggest pressure comes from within the team. We have great people, they are involved in Formula One to win and are working very hard and are hungry to win. When we dont, its tough but we have to believe in our capability and continue to improve everything we do quicker and faster.
Q: Cultural differences and cultural similarities play an enormous role in the smooth running of the team. Communication and social relationships have a practical impact on the day-to-day operation of the team and its ultimate success or failure. Now that Toyota has an English person in charge, what's the net result?
JH: I guess it is the same in any organization. With the simple mobility of labour within the EU a lot of companies are now multi-cultural. I believe the biggest challenge the team has faced is the massive expansion in size and the integration, not of cultures, but of differing work practices beliefs and knowledge. Ultimately the net results are last years performance and what we will now see in 2006.
Q: Believe the rumours and Toyota are likely to be next manufacturer team to sign up for the post-2007 Concorde agreement. What is your take on that?
JH: I believe that positive progress is being made. Provided Formula One delivers the platform Toyota expects and it is clear that it will remain the worlds premier motorsport series I can see no reason why Toyota would not continue to compete and support the series.