F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

1st November, 1998

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 soon.

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 altogether.

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 Stewart.

But at the end of the day, I guess we all just have to wait and see.

Do you have an opinion? Voice it on the F1 Forum.

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