Exclusive - Howett on victory, cost cutting and Toyotas future 26 Jan 2009
Although wind, rain and even hail affected the TF109s first test at Portimao last week, John Howett, Toyotas President of Motorsport, was satisfied with what he saw from the teams new car at the Algarve track. Not only is he pleased with his outfit's interpretation of this seasons new rules, but hes as confident as his drivers, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, that they could finally claim their first win this year...
Q: John, Toyota have started other seasons with high hopes of taking their first win. What makes you so convinced that 2009 will be the year? What is different?
John Howett: I dont know if it is different, to be honest. With the massive changes, it is a huge risk and a huge opportunity. The encouraging point last season was that what we changed and the car delivered, so the fundamental parameters are very strong and there is no reason why we shouldnt have a good year. The worry is that one team has interpreted the new regulations in a specific way, which maybe other teams may have missed - so there is that risk. Overall, we have a strong team of people, two good drivers, so we expect to have strong year.
Q: From what has been seen of the 09 cars so far, there is not much indication that one team has interpreted the new rules very differently
JH: I think that you can see some differences. For example the nose height - two cars have a similar height and the others are different. Those differences will probably become exaggerated over the next four to six weeks.
Q: Luca Marmorini, your engine department head, will leave the team. Why, and what impact will that have? Plus how motorsport-focused is his replacement, Kazuo Takeuchi?
JH: Personally, I am very sad that he left. I think that he was frustrated on the one hand that there was really no opportunity for engine development, and also probably didnt agree with some of the strategic decisions - probably our more conservative approach to KERS. In the end, I think he didnt really want to leave and we didnt want to lose him, but there was still a gap that led to that. Mr Takeuchi is 100 percent a motorsport person, who has been involved in the original car programme, the IRL program and NASCAR, so he is an absolute racer.
Q: You will go into the season with two highly-regarded drivers. Last year Timo Glock caught up with Jarno Trullis performance very quickly, and both are aspiring to claim Toyotas first win. What is your guess - who will deliver?
JH: I couldnt tell you. I think that Jarno is probably still the quickest qualifier in Formula One. We showed last year that provided we can keep a consistent balance in the car, he was able to attack and defend. And we have the young enthusiasm of Timo. So it all depends on the circumstances. Either can win. I have no preference.
Q: The biggest technical gamble this coming season will be KERS. How far advanced is the Toyota system and whats your stance on it, given that some would like to see the back of it?
JH: From our perspective, if you really look at the philosophy of KERS in a road car, the main advantage is fuel economy. Given the need for lap times, I think that one has to say the restricted testing may lead to the fact that the actual advantage of KERS, considering the number of track variations where it gives advantage, means that you are better off focusing your energy in other areas. How advanced is it within our team? I was very impressed by the two test days after our rollout. I would suggest we have a very strong system. We completed all the activities we wanted to and we just have to wait and see when we will integrate it, in terms of safety, reliability and performance.
Q: In 2009 it wont be obligatory, and some teams are already way behind schedule. What if it turns out to be the device that gives you the extra boost to win races? Will you run with it at the first race?
JH: Its very unlikely. As it is not obligatory in 2009, we will only use it when we see that it holds a competitive advantage. It is extremely costly. And given the current financial circumstances, we are studying very carefully what is the real value of the technology within the sport we have.
Q: You are second in command at the Formula One Teams Association, FOTA. Why wasnt such a body introduced much earlier, instead of in the middle of a crisis?
JH: I cannot comment as I am still relatively new in Formula One. I think that FOTA has made some very constructive cost-saving activities and I believe it wants to work in a non-controversial, non-confrontational manner to improve value for all stakeholders. I think it should not be taken as a threat but more as a positive approach to try to establish a better Formula One for everybody in the future.
Q: Theres a unity among the team principals thats never been seen before in terms of cost cutting. Some argue, however, that if there had been unity before, the issues you face wouldnt have been so serious
JH: My experience is that teams can normally find a consolidated position, so I think now there is a much bigger interest to communicate this common position. In the last three or four years there has been a lot of synergy and a lot of common positions which have been ignored or have not been communicated in a positive way. Now through FOTA it is possible to have an understanding of the outside world from a common position. I think there hasnt been so much of shift. The common position has been there, but because we did not have a single voice to the outside world, it hasnt been understood.
Q: Aside from the cost-cutting measures developed by the FIA and FOTA, what does the team plan to do internally to bring costs down? Toyota has one of the biggest team headcounts, is this something that you will look at?
JH: I think our headcount is probably no larger than any other teams. When I look at some of the independent teams, we are probably similar or lower. FOTA gives us a strong platform, but we ourselves can reduce costs dramatically - I would say in the range of more than one third of our costs between 2008 and 2009. This is a huge opportunity. Less people, and reducing the costs for producing each part, through good process.
Q: You recently said that Toyota will have a long and bright future in Formula One racing. Can you tell us what that means in Toyota terms?
JH: I think there are two issues. I believe that Formula One itself is a strong and powerful sport. We can either be very pessimistic but I think the debt in Formula One is probably less than in football. We are a global sport, which means that certain regions will recover from the recession earlier. I believe you could say that people will have less disposable income, so they will probably stay home at the weekend and watch Formula One. We have to look at the up side as well. I think generally the sport is in a good position, and provided we have a competitive season and not too much politics, then the value of staying in Formula One is strong. And I would admit, as a team, we need a strong year.