Thoughts on the Future... Toyota in Formula One.
Toyota want to be in Formula One for 2001. An interesting position,
since the FIA have fixed the maximum number of teams that may take
part in the Championship at 12, and Honda look likely to fill the last
slot for 2000. So what are they to do? Well, the three options
available are to (a) get the FIA to increase the limit; (b) buy a team
- the equivalent to getting a team to leave the championship; or (c)
to be an engine manufacturer providing works engines.
Frankly, option (a) is unlikely - the FIA give governments a hard time
over changing their policies, so a manufacturer attempting to break in
would have to show some pretty impressive reasons for changing the
rules on their behalf. Indeed, the only manufacturer who ever held
that sort of sway over the FIA is Ferrari!
So what about option (b) then? Surely someone can be induced to sell
their team? Well, here we can keep the field fairly narrow - in
recent years, some teams have changed hands and there is no reason not
to think more will do so. Lets check out the cases... We can rule
out some obvious teams - among the leaders, Ferrari, McLaren and
Williams will be around for a while yet. In the middle, BAR are new
and keen, and Peter Sauber has never looked likely to sell out, whilst
at the back, Prost and Minardi are sure to be around for the next
decade - though if Prost did sell out, it would be to a French buyer!
Honda would be in their second year, and not interested in selling so
So that leaves us considering the remainder... Rocco Benetton might
have had enough of running his own team by then, though it is more
likely he is just getting on top of the job, and keeping his team
consistently at the right end of the grid through a season. So he
would not yet be very keen to move on.
In the middle order, there is Jordan, which would have the additional
benefit of several years experience of running with arch rival Hondas
engines. A big bonus for a team whose sole purpose in the sport is to
beat that particular rival! And if the money is right, and Eddie is in
the right mood, who wouldn't believe the team to be available; so there
is a very real possibility there.
And at the back of the grid, we are looking at Stewart and Arrows.
Both teams are in need of some improvements to keep their spirits up -
and if Stewards Works engine deal with Ford ends before they have
shown any real results, where are they going to get competitive power
from? The selling option might appear attractive... as might option
(c) - the Toyota works deal.
A Toyota Works deal. Who would be interested in that? Well, all the
back runners without one would love the benefits of a Works engine
deal; the money freed up for other development and extra power of a
dedicated power plant could make a massive difference to their
fortunes over a season. Of the front runners, there is little chance
of change - with Renault returning to the scene, powering BAR and probably
Benetton, BMW for Williams, Ford attempting getting in on the act with
Benetton, and Ferrari as always keeping their own power plant, options
are distinctly limited.
So, where might such a deal work? Toyota would not be likely to
supply works engines to more than two teams; one is most likely.
Obviously, they would want to supply the best team possible in order
to get the best results. With the top teams powered up, that leaves
Jordan and Sauber.
But Jordan run Honda, and Sauber Ferrari engines, I hear you say...
well this is true at the moment - but there are sound reasons why this
might not remain so. Sauber have been looking to develop their own
engine for some years now, yet remain using the Ferrari plant for a
number of reasons. A major problem with that is the politics which
keep them on the same rubber, and the engine at least a year behind
the Ferrari plant - after all, Ferrari would be embarrassed if another
team beat them using their own engines! Without that restriction, who
knows how much better Sauber might be doing.
But with an outside chance also is Jordan. This team is attempting to
get their current contract with Honda extended to 2001. Also, they
have plenty of experience of working with Japanese engine
manufacturers... and Toyota will be able to develop its F1 engine in a
car that it's rivals used, enabling a very accurate rating between the
Honda and Toyota power plants to be made - so the benefits for them
are plain to see.
Or the Prost team. With Peugeot concerned about their expenditure in
Formula One, and threatening to withdraw at the end of next season,
there is a team with enormous potential that will be looking for just
this sort of deal.
But will they beat Honda? That is an important question. There will
be no Toyota in Formula One unless they believe they can at least beat
Honda - for if they are not at least competitive with their main rival,
their is no point in being there. This is why the Works deal looks
most likely: with a front runner if they can get it (Benetton are the
only possibility at this point; BARs plans tie it to the new Renault
plant, Williams with BMW, Ferrari as always their own masters), or a
middle order if not - which is more likely to be Sauber than Jordan,
if the latter gets its way and renews the contract with Honda to the
end of the 2001 season. Buying a team is a difficult proposition: do
you buy a back runner and build a new team, or a frontrunner and
attempt to integrate? Either way, expect a very interesting first
year of Formula One as the learning curve is very steep. Easier by
far to be competitive in the Engine department before committing to
buying a team.
That brings us on to a varient of the last option: running under
another name. Why should Toyota risk appearing uncompetetive if they
can simple get another manufacturer to run the risk for them? What
are the odds that, should there be a works deal in the offing, it is
Yamaha that appears on the engine cover... will we see Yamaha fronting
for Toyota, developing a top specification power plant to kick start
the Toyota entry when they put their own name on a car? The rumour
mill already has a Toyota, Yamaha, Arrows linkup - which has massive
potential: who cannot believe that a little bit of power in the
current John Barnard chassis won't transform the team? Maybe a Yamaha
plant would not power them along with the current front runners, but a
Yamaha developed with Toyota might be another story
So, the bottom line. Will we see Toyota in Formula One?
Probably. The odds are strongest for a Works deal with Arrows, Sauber
or Jordan, and maybe a second plant in the Prost. After that, Toyota
might purchase, in order of likelihood, Arrows, Jordan, Benetton or
But at the end of the day, I guess we all just have to wait and
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