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GP Week : Issue 7
F OR a team now entering its seventh season of competition, Panasonic Toyota Racing has had not nearly the results it might have expected when it first entered Formula 1 on the crest of a wave of publicity and anticipation in 2002. A scant six podiums, equating to one a year, is little reward for a manufacturer the size of Toyota, nor for the investment, manpower and resources available to the team. Too often over the last few seasons there has been a feeling of frustration at the team, of unfulfilled potential. But with the first three races of 2008 out of the way, a new pattern is emerging. Toyota, for the first time in a long time, is a team brimming with confidence. With Jarno Trulli currently sitting behind only the drivers of the top three teams in the standings, there is every reason to believe that Toyota may just have turned the corner onto the path towards that race victory they savour so much. “Based on our assessment of the last two or three tests of the winter season, I suppose we’re roughly where we expected to be,” says Toyota Motorsport President John Howett as testing began last week in Barcelona. Howett plays with a straight bat. There’s no bravado or flowery excitations. He tells it like it is. And right now, it’s looking rather good. “Yeah, I mean clearly the gap between us, BMW and McLaren looks realistic but for us, to be honest, Ferrari have always been the team with very significant pace. We were a bit surprised they weren’t quicker in Australia, but for us certainly they are the team at the moment which has the quickest car and a fairly good delta over the remaining teams. But between ourselves, McLaren and BMW there’s probably three to five tenths of a second.” That pace was highlighted in Bahrain where Jarno Trulli’s lap-times were highly favourable to those of Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren. With Ferrari leading the way, BMW making a step up towards being genuine contenders and McLaren an ever present reality at the front end, breaking into that group will be tough. And for Toyota, it’s not as if the team had a solid 2007 base to work from. The TF108 looked tricky in testing. Either lightening quick or dead slow, it is however always tough to tell what pace is real in winter testing. When the team turned up to the Bahrain test with Ferrari, there were occasions on which Toyota ran alarmingly slow in comparison and the media at large presumed the worst for Toyota’s 2008 hopes. Howett, however, says he never had any Closing In: John Howett, main pic, says Ferrari are the benchmark for Toyota – and that they are getting closer and closer, above. 24