“We just used the old car to gain experience in the team to learn the tracks to learn the procedures, how to operate at the track.”
Such a deadweight was the TF101, that mercurial designer Gustav Brunner was poached from Minardi, to completely start again and pen a new car, the TF102.
“It wasn’t a great car,” Salo remembers. “But the engine was mega, really beautiful – so it made up for some of the faults in the car.”
“By the time we got to Melbourne, we had got reliability done,” adds McNish.
With a relatively solid foundation now to work from, Toyota finally made its racing debut at the 2002 Australian GP, actually scoring a famous first result – and it all hinged on one moment.
Salo and McNish qualified in 14th and 16th respectively, but a huge opening-corner pile-up took out both. As McNish remembers, a bit of Le Mans know-how brought his team-mate back into play whilst the race was stopped.
“They got into a problem to find the solution – in F1 normally you would have said ‘That’s it, it’s done.” Allan McNish
“Mika had damage to a track-rod or a wishbone, and they changed it,” he says. “That was not an F1 philosophy, but a rally philosophy, a sports car philosophy.
“So there was some parts of it was actually good because they got into a problem to find the solution – in F1 normally you would have said ‘That’s it, it’s done.'”
Salo was back in the restarted race, and came through to score a point with a sixth-placed finish, but Gass actually notes at the time that Toyota wasn’t satisfied with a credible first-time result.
“Mixed emotions,” he says. “We were coming up on Mark Webber, and Mika really should have already taken him – but messed up and spun. So the feeling was we should have had two.”
Development went further off-track due to inter-team disagreements
Grand Prix Photo
However after one more point scored by Salo in Brazil, that was all the reward this gargantuan F1 effort would get in its first season. Though the Brunner-designed car was reliable and therefore a solid base to work from, inherent issues in performance were quite simply not addressed fast enough, leaving the race team on the back foot for the rest of the season, as McNish explains.
“There were already some political aspects between the engine and chassis departments” Dieter Gass
“Traction was not good,” he says. “I didn’t like ‘understeery’ cars, it was never my thing. And we were in the grooved tyre era, so it kind of sat into a bit of an understeer.
“Generally we lacked downforce [too] – I would say drivability wasn’t too bad but you didn’t have maybe the working window that you would have had in other cars.
“But it wasn’t as if it was was a horrible car to drive, it just lacked overall performance.”
However, as Gass reveals, the shortcomings in the TF102’s design revealed deeper fissures within Toyota’s F1 organisation. He suggests that the engine might not have been as good as some thought, and that a general lack of cohesion was hampering efforts.