How Toyota became F1’s most expensive failure

published on July 2, 2020


Toyota entered Formula One in 2002 but

did not win a race and never finished

higher than fourth in the Constructors


in eight seasons in 2009 the same year

it established itself as the world's

biggest car manufacturer Toyota walked

away from f1 has arguably the biggest

failure in Grand Prix history given the

sky-high expectations

and billions spent three pole positions

and 13 podium finishes in 139 Grand Prix

was a disastrous return for a company

that had everything it needed to succeed

so why did it fail after success in the

World Rally Championship during the

1990s and producing the quick and iconic

but ultimately unsuccessful GT one

sports car it was natural Toyota turned

its attention to f1 but this was a time

when f1 teams were rapidly expanding in

size and technical know-how and by

coming in as a full works operation

producing both car and engine Toyota

faced a double challenge Toyota

initially planned a v12 engine but in

January 2000 prompted by lobbying from

teams who feared the looming threat of

Toyota rules mandating the use of v10

engines were finalized this was used as

the official reason for Toyota delaying

its planned entry from 2001 to 2002 but

realistically the company never

seriously intended to make the grid for

that first year given it was starting

from nothing I was happy to write off

its eleven million dollar deposit but

has invested plenty of time and money in

a v12 project it had to scrap not the

last time Toyota would lose out

politically Toyota instead spent 2001

testing its test car was heavy and well

down on downforce unveiled on March 23rd

2001 the car went on to log over 20,000

kilometres the struggles led to the

departure of technical director and

radar curtains and the recruitment of

Gustav Brunner from Minardi to replace

him Brunner was highly rated as a

designer are not considered ideal


rector material for a team that required

strong leadership in that area while its

first season in 2002 with the new TF

1:02 with downplayed as a learning year

its haul of two points including mickr

solo 6th place on the team's debut in

Australia wasn't considered good enough

this should have been recognized as a

warning of how much still needed to be

done but was instead partly seen as


even though the car had few upgrades and

the focus switched early to the TF 1:03

a car heavily inspired by the 2002

Ferrari there was at least recognition

early on that the staff levels demanded

of f1 necessitated a dramatic increase

of the operations head counts further

proof the challenge was underestimated

at first Toyota had a tendency to point

the finger at drivers when it came to

under performance during the early

testing program drivers mickr solo and

allan mcnish were told by a member of

the toy to board who was watching that

they weren't braking as late as the

quicker cars running failing to

recognize that they had a lot less

downforce to contribute to the stopping

power while Toyota never had a genuine

superstar driver

Yano truly Olivier panis and Ralf

Schumacher were all Grand Prix winners

while the other six drivers to race the

Toyota Sarlo McNish cristiano da matta

Timo Glock Ricardo Zonta and Camry

Kobayashi all had fine Seavey's none of

them did a perfect job but this mindset

proved disruptive and distracted from

guessing to the real heart of the

problem the Toyota its cars winning in

f1 was never enough it needed its whole

corporate ideology to prevail the Toyota

Way is a comprehensive philosophy that

encapsulates a culture and way of doing

things well honed for its more

conventional road car and associated

products but it was not compatible with

the demands of f1 this was at the heart

of the criticism of the Toyota f1 team

has been to corporates insistence on

taking its approach into f1 rather than

adapting to meet the unique requirements

of its new environment decision-making

was considered to be too slow with

personnel who had thrived elsewhere

constrained by this corporate

straightjacket honed in a world that

moves at a very different pace to the

short sharp f1 season this played a part

in the failure to recruit enough f1

personnel early on some had f1

experience but not enough initially the

team was led by former rally driver of

Anderson who had proved his prodigious

skills as a team boss in rallying and

sports cars but who crucially didn't

have f1 experience and wasn't given the

support he deserved with other senior

recruitments toyota also curbed the

flashes of individual brilliance any

team must harness to win inevitably

these problems were reflected in both

the chassis and engine department things

started to pick up when Mike Gascoigne

was brought in from Renault in December

2003 as technical director he laid the

foundations for a 2005 season that

proved to be Toyota's best with five

podium finishes for Ralf Schumacher and

Jarno Trulli and fourth in the


Toyota very publicly set its sights on

beating Ferrari in 2006 and challenging

for its first victory but after a

difficult start to the season

Gascoigne was sacked this highlighted

several problems

Gascoigne was axed for a number of

reasons but throughout his time there he

did face resistance for not doing things

in the Toyota way his more

confrontational style didn't sit well

with the culture so he was always going

to be vulnerable if results weren't good


while in 2005 you couldn't dispute his

effectiveness in 2006 the underlying

problems came to a head in a campaign

not helped by a first attempt at a v8

engine that wasn't up to the standard of

those produced by Mercedes and Renault

but the key reason Toyota didn't press

on in 2006 and failed to build on the

previous year was a decision imposed by

Japan to switch from Michelin to

Bridgestone rubber against the wishes of

the technical team while it worked well

for Toyota as a wider company

commercially this didn't mesh with a

suspension concept that was carried over

on the tee f-106 which was very much an

evolution of its predecessor and played

a key role in its struggles that year

the needs of the f1 team baits second

fiddle to the wider concerns of Toyota

yet the team was still somehow expected

to beat Ferrari another problem was that

following Gascoigne's departure Toyota

reverted to a more consensus based

approach at a time when the team was

well placed to bring in a big-name

technical director to take it to the

next level it needed another forceful

personality able to make Toyota realize

the error of its ways perhaps most

baffling Toyota later failed even to

pursue a clear opportunity to speak to

Ross Braun who instead joined Honda

Toyota issued the traditional approach

to f1 of setting up a headquarters in

the United Kingdom in favour of using

its motorsport base in Cologne while it

was well equipped and heavily invested

in its made it more difficult to recruit

but even more problematic communication

with Toyota was slow as decisions often

had to be referred there this created

lag one decision waiting a day for a

response might seem trivial but I've got

multiple such delays and you can lose a

huge amount of time such flat-footed

nurse has been commented on by many of

those who worked at Toyota when it was

in f1 there was also a feeling that the

team was too focused on the factory

operation and not enough on trackside

requirements McLaren had pioneered the

race room concept at its headquarters

with meetings taking place between

factory personnel and those at the track

but there were cases where important

work at the circuit was interrupted for

lengthy meetings that those

participating in reckoned usually

involved too many people Toyota was

putting the cart of corporate culture

before the racing horse in Toyotas final

years in f1 Pascal vessel led the

technical side as he is proved with a

subsequent Toyota sports car project

he's another accomplished operator but

wasn't an established f1 technical

director and didn't come from an

aerodynamic background although the team

made some encouraging progress under him

some inside the team felt it needed

further strengthening with senior

technical personnel

the failure to recognize that

aerodynamics were overwhelmingly the

most important battleground in f1

carried on through much of Toyotas time

but there were signs things were

beginning to change in later years with

the willingness to adapt perhaps boosted

by being beaten in the Constructors

Championship by new customer team

Williams in 2007 in late 2007 mark

Gillan was bought in as head of

aerodynamics with Frank Durney

consulting and under vas Ilan's

technical leadership things did start to

look up the toyota TF 1:08 was an

all-new car and showed significant Aero

games as f10 war raged Toyota was still

slow to adapt its development processes

to look away from peak downforce figures

and ensure it delivered a car that

worked well across a range of conditions

but in 2008 the curve was less pitch

sensitive and it looked like the team

was finally heading in the right

direction while they were still

weaknesses in terms of Aero efficiency

something that would carry over into

2009 Toyota appeared to be on the right

trajectory and finally operating more

like a modern f1 team yet during this

period Toyota also fail to play the

engine politics game as well as it might

have done while Renault lobbied

extensively and successfully to get

breaks during the engine freeze era that

was about to come in Toyota like Honda

was less willing to play this particular


Toyota withdrew from f1 at the end of

2009 amid the global economic crisis but

that decision might have been very

different had it delivered on the

potential of what was a very quick car

at times the Toyota TF 1:09 was along

with the Brawn the only car to have both

a version of the controversial double

diffuser and the front wing concept that

would become de rigueur in f1 Toyota

started the season with a very real shot

at finally taking that breakthrough

victory three podiums in the first four

races could have been better and when it

locks out the front row in Bahrain and

ran first and second with Glock and

truly a strategic error of moving on to

the harder tire at the first pit stops

cost Toyota a shot at Victory the season

started to go awry after the team proved

to lack confidence with its Spanish

Grand Prix upgrade which it took off the

car following practice and it spent the

middle stages of the season struggling

some in the team felt Toyotas overly

conservative approach was still holding

it back but at spa Toyota had probably

its biggest missed opportunity truly

started second but was fuel corrected

fastest in qualifying before an

electrical problem slowed his start and

he picked up front wing damage in turn

one without that there was every chance

of a straightforward victory this

precipitated a mini revival with second

places at Singapore for Glock and truly

at Suzuka but this wasn't enough to say

Toyota in f1 economic crisis or not a

win and the strong season that could

have been which surely a persuaded

Toyota to keep going the hope was that

the unraised tighter t f110 would have

represented another step forward but

Toyota's withdrawal means we will never

know what do you think is Toyota the

biggest failure in f1 history given the

expectations and investments or was it

on the brink of cracking it when it

pulled the plug let us know in the

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