Japanese team still aiming for maiden win in 2006
Ralf Schumachers fourth place at the French Grand Prix on Sunday was a positive result for Toyota. The German finished ahead of Kimi Raikkonens McLaren, and was only denied a place on the podium by Ferraris Felipe Massa. However, Jarno Trullis failure to finish highlighted the fact that questions still remain concerning reliability and the teams overall performance. We caught up with Toyotas Motorsport President, John Howett, to ask him about their past, present and future
Q: With a net worth estimated at US$195 billion, Toyota is the only car manufacturer among the worlds ten most valuable companies. Image and reputation are key to such a position. Is there a great deal of pressure to be successful in Formula One racing in order to enhance Toyotas image?
John Howett: The project is a rounded project within Toyota, not purely a project based on marketing initiatives. Toyota has a long heritage in motorsport and it was natural to one day face the ultimate challenge and enter Formula One. It is clear that Toyota is a winning company and that the objective in Formula One is to win.
Q: Some observers continue to wonder why, with so many resources at its disposal, Toyotas success has so far been limited
JH: I am not sure that I agree that many observers do in fact agree with this observation. To put it into context it is clear that Toyota is the only manufacturer in recent history that has challenged to establish a team from a green field operation covering both chassis and engine. It is this challenging spirit, which differentiates Toyota from its competitors. It has been acknowledged that our engine is at the top level and we are confident that we are making good progress with the chassis.
Q: With almost two-thirds of the season gone, Toyota are fifth in the constructors championship standings, 11 points behind Honda and just one ahead of BMW Sauber. What is a realistic target for the team to achieve by the end of the season?
JH: We currently have the fourth quickest package on the grid. We have a number of upgrades planned for the remainder of the year and we are still challenging to win our first race this season.
Q: And what of the reports that Toyota will supply engines to Williams instead of Midland next season?
JH: With regard to engine supply Toyota has decided to support Formula One by supplying its engines to a second team. It is not yet finally decided for 2007 but in the spirit of true competition we are open to supply any team.
Q: Since its Formula One debut, the team has experienced a massive amount of change at management level. Has this fluctuation impacted the teams strategy and unity?
JH: Massive is a relative description and looking to other teams one can see similar fluctuations. It is also very common for it to take time to establish a new organisation. Overall we are very stable and our staff turnover very reasonable particularly considering the current pressure created by the increased activities of new or expanding teams. We have no regrets about any of the changes we have made.
Q: And your driver line-up for 2007? Both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli staying on
JH: We expect to keep the same driver line up next year and if we did not think it was a sound move we would not make it.
Q: What have been your best moments so far in Formula One racing? And worst?
JH: I am sure the best are yet to come. However, I am disappointed by the lack of focus on the issue of growing and improving the total sport and its value to fans and spectators.
Q: Have you found it difficult to explain the vagaries of Formula One racing to the management board in Japan?
JH: You said vagaries, not me. Contrary to common belief we are empowered by Toyota to act as a team. It is common in Toyota that decisions are made on the spot where they need to be taken. Naturally we report on F1 and our activities to our shareholders and to the divisions with which we co-operate in Japan. I believe that Toyota is well informed and aware of what is happening in TMG and Formula One.