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GP Week : Issue 41
>>F1 insight T WO races, two podiums, second in the championship. All in all, it’s not been a bad start to 2009 for Toyota. The promise had been clear from the first competitive run of the car in winter testing. Toyota, never ones to toot their trumpet before a season gets underway, had an air of confidence about them. The garage had a spring in its step. The car looked quick, and it looked stable. It’s high nose, sculpted body and clever diffuser was the talk of the pitlane. Had Toyota really pulled it off and for once created a competitive car that could fight for wins straight out of the box? Protested in Australia, thrown to the back of the grid for the unrelated flexi- wing controversy … and still a red and white car made it onto the podium. One week later and with the wing issues sorted the Toyotas lined up second and third on the grid and in the race recorded their second 3-4 finish in two races. But after so many false dawns Toyota, and its Team President John Howett, is well versed at keeping expectations in check. “I think we need two or three [more] races to really understand the relative performance ranking of the teams at the moment,”he told Motorsport News in Sepang. “The car is very fast I think in free air or out of traffic. But historically Melbourne is a rather unique track. In testing we’ve had a pretty good season. Winter tests were maybe a bit restricted for cost saving, but we were fairly confident that we had a car that has very good basis to be strong this year.” That successful winter of testing, and the early season signs of genuine race- long pace, have given the team cause for confidence. “I think so,”Howett smiles. “One is always nervous because you still never really know until you … well you know what they say, until the flag drops, and then it [the bullshit] stops, so basically I think that is the real situation and still now we’d like to see a few more races to understand different tracks and where we really are.” Where Toyota is right now is second in the constructors’championship on four times as many points as BMW in third. Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock sit third and fourth in the drivers’championship, split by half a point and with only the Brawn drivers ahead of them. So what’s made the change? Many point to the new regulations and the clean sheet to the next couple of races to really see what the car can do We Are looking forward of paper it has provided for the teams to start from scratch and really show what they can do. “The new regulations have probably brought everybody back to a zero datum line, which has probably helped us and those teams that were behind. In terms of the biggest change it’s the fact that there is no testing from now on, and that means we have to take more risks in what we do, and also to be honest, because we are reducing resources in many areas, we have to focus on what we invest in. we have to drop things that don’t deliver an immediate improvement in performance. “I think there have been additional costs, there’s no question. It’s the dilemma of this year. It’s probably one of the most difficult years financially for Formula 1 and yet we have major, major revisions. I think the issue has been less carry over parts because we’ve gone to slicks, so we have more mechanical load on the wishbones and the suspension, so a lot of those items are new rather than carried over or revised. The aero is slightly more expensive but we’re constantly developing the car anyway. I think overall there hasn’t been necessarily a massive financial impact from that.” Toyota is one of three teams currently running under appeal over an intelligent diffuser design, which their rivals claim is not in the spirit of the regulations. Be these diffusers found legal or not, F1 will soon reach a level of comparative parity in which all the teams are either able to run such diffusers or Toyota, along with Brawn and Williams, will have to change theirs. Any advantage at this point will be critical. Toyota was one of the first teams to publically state it would not run KERS at the start of 2009, and despite the threat of losing the advantage created by the diffuser, Howett insists KERS will not be rushed. “I don’t think that the diffuser and KERS are related directly. I think KERS has an issue in centre of gravity, height and weight distribution, and that’s probably one of the bigger issues versus the actual laptime or shall we say tactical advantage that it can offer. So we’re still developing KERS, at the moment we are still unsure, probably more so after seeing the results in Australia.” But after two races, and two podiums, Howett says he is incredibly proud of the work the team back in Cologne has done in creating what is now clearly one of the best cars to come out of the box. “Yeah, very good, really happy for the guys,”he beams. “But still it’s a long season. We’ve got to show we can keep on developing and we still need to understand where we are relatively here, Bahrain and I think by the time we get back to Barcelona and see how the first European races [play out.] “We’re looking forward to the next couple of races to really see what the car can do.” And as for wins? “I think that’s why we race. It’s why we’re here and that is the ambition of the team. I think we feel we’re in a stronger position now than we ever have been before to do it.” For the first time in Formula 1, the thought throughout the paddock is the very one expressed by Howett. For it seems likely that soon – make that very soon – it could be that Toyota’s cars are as formidable in GP racing as they are in the marketplace. 37