Toyota has underperformed in F1. It’s time to deliver.
At the end of the 2003 Formula One season Toyota twice qualified on the second row of the grid. Low fuel levels played a part — what else was the team going to do in Suzuka? —but nevertheless the car giant appeared to be making serious progress and its prospects looked as good as those of rivals BAR-Honda.
The reality was rather different and Toyota bumbled through 2004 without ever posing a threat to the top five works teams, or even to humble Sauber. The red-and-white cars sometimes qualified in the top 10 but were hopelessly inconsistent in races as they used up their tyres. A huge effort went into building a new chassis for the middle of the season, and yet it didn’t make much difference. Inevitably the knives came out, the highest profile victim being Cristiano da Matta.
Messy. But perhaps when we look back a year from now it will be a different story. Certainly there will be nowhere to hide in 2005. Having hired Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, the team has two drivers capable of taking poles and wins, although both also have a reputation for underperforming when the car is not to their liking.
Much depends on technical director Mike Gascoyne. Not everyone in the paddock is a fan of the man who got his break under Harvey Postlethwaite at Tyrrell — mega salaries tend to generate jealousy — but Gascoyne achieved solid results at Jordan and Renault. His job is to get systems working, and kicking shoddy wind tunnel programmes into shape is his speciality.
Will Toyota get its sums right and give its star drivers the car they want? It has to. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.