In for the long haul - Exclusive Q&A with Toyotas John Howett 08 Dec 2008
Hondas withdrawal from Formula One racing may leave them as the only Japanese manufacturer team, but after a much-improved 2008 season Toyota have made it very clear that they remain 100 percent committed. Team President John Howett is one of those spearheading efforts among competitors to find ways of getting spending under control. By bringing smart cost-saving measures to the fore, he believes the recession is a very manageable one
Q: From the outside Hondas sudden pullout came as a big surprise. Was it something you had anticipated? And what has to be done to ensure that nobody else follows suit?
John Howett: It was a surprise to all of us. I certainly cannot speak for other manufacturer teams - I can just explain what we are doing. Toyota is contributing to the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) activities which will achieve significant cost reductions whilst maintaining the spirit of the sport. We hope FOTAs proposals and activities will be given the widespread support they deserve, as they provide the sound, stable base Formula One requires at this time.
Q: Hondas exit highlights the effects of the global economic slowdown. What other immediate impacts do you see? And what about in the long term?
JH: I think if you look at the situation you would say the banks were and are very hard hit, the construction industry has followed and it is filtering down to all other industries, including automotive. As an organization we have a very clear view of what drives costs and we have a very clear view on how to manage and control them, so I am confident that we can and will survive the recession. Simply put, we will have to make less resource go much further and I predict that the motorsport supply base will be the hardest hit as teams do less and in-source much more.
Q: The teams have formed FOTA, led by Ferraris Luca di Montezemolo with you as second in command. What do you see as its core mission - and has that mission shifted as more of the global economic crisis has become visible?
JH: I perceive that my role in FOTA is to represent the members position, opinions and requests. I do not believe the mission has shifted. FOTA wishes to maintain the core and unique values that differentiate Formula One from other series; improve the value that we provide to existing fans; attract new people to the sport and provide a stable and sustainable future for all members.
Q: In light of the economic situation, Toyota has cancelled its traditional car launch event. The presentation of your 2009 car will be a virtual one, online. This saving seems a drop in the ocean. What is your favoured cost-saving package that Toyota would be willing to embrace?
JH: The question is fairly loaded. Any implication that a virtual launch brings less than an actual launch is very harsh and may be wrong. To say that this action is a drop in the ocean misses the point that true value-added cost saving comes from the accumulation of many small savings which minimize the impact on your final target. The most important element of reducing costs is having stable regulations with no changes or very manageable changes. This year all teams are faced with additional costs for KERS, even excluding the development costs, and mastering a completely new aero package which by definition means we have far less opportunity to use carry-over parts. So stability of regulations has a fundamental impact on costs.
Q: There have been reports that FOTA is considering proposing a new qualifying format whereby the slowest car is knocked out at the end of each lap. What are the benefits of this, especially for those near the back of the grid who desperately need television air time to attract sponsors?
JH: At this stage FOTA has not proposed a new qualifying format. A member has proposed a concept which has been referred to the Sporting Working Group. In the past some unsuccessful and unpopular changes were made to qualifying. FOTA acknowledges that the sport needs to do more to improve qualifying but believes any change needs careful study before implementation.
Q: Coming back to the team, you finished fifth in the 2008 constructors championship. Was that close to the target you wanted to achieve?
JH: Of course, our goals are higher than this but I guess any team that has not won the championship has work to do. We have raced well, the car performance has increased in line with the front runners evolution and we have lost points through reliability issues. Most importantly we have been in control of the performance and have gained what we expected so the direction is very good.
Q: How satisfied were you with your drivers? Timo Glock especially showed a very strong performance towards the end of the season. Was there ever a moment of doubt after his somewhat bumpy start to the season?
JH: One could say that some experienced drivers had bumpy seasons! There should be no doubt; we are delighted with both Timo and Jarno (Trulli). Timo has exceeded our expectations while both Timo and Jarno have had very good seasons, racing and qualifying strongly.
Q: The Toyota team seems much more of an entity than in recent years. Is this because any east-west glitches have finally been eliminated?
JH: You are correct in the sense that we are much stronger, but it has nothing to do with east-west glitches because they do not exist - this is a popular misconception. The facts are that over time we are establishing a strong, cohesive team and our knowledge of the key factors which deliver performance and how to extract more is constantly improving.