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Toyota quits Formula One

November 4th, 2009 No comments

Jarno Trulli, Abu Dhabi, 2009It was always a bit worrying that Toyota wanted to wait until a November board meeting to confirm its Formula One involvement for 2010 but the team had recently been making noises about its possible driver lineup for next year so today’s announcement that Toyota are quitting the sport immediately comes as something of a surprise.

It comes a week after Bridgestone said it would be leaving the sport after 2010 and a few months after BMW’s exit announcement. At least BMW hadn’t signed the Concorde Agreement committing themselves to 2012. Toyota’s breach of that contract could leave them open to some kind of legal challenge from Bernie Ecclestone but, ironically, Toyota’s exit could smooth the way for the ex-BMW team to rejoin the grid next year.

The world’s largest car manufacturer revealed it had made its first ever loss of $4.74 billion last year and is predicting to lose almost double that amount this year. Ultimately this is the reason for Toyota’s announcement today.

In a statement, Toyota said that their time in F1 was an “irreplaceable experience that provided an opportunity to develop both human resources and its R&D operations,” but in a press conference Toyota President Akio Toyoda expressed his regret at not achieving the results they wanted:

Based on the current economic environment, we realise we have no choice but to withdraw. This has been a very painful decision. I offer my deepest apologies to Toyota’s many fans for not being able to achieve the results we had targeted.

Despite being one of the most well-funded teams in Formula One, Toyota never won a race and their best result was fourth in the 2005 Constructors’ Championship. This lack of success was surprising considering Toyota’s considerable achievements in Rallying, winning the World Rally Championship three times between 1993 and 1999.

So where does this leave the drivers? Both Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock were expected to move on anyway but team boss John Howett had hinted he might give Kamui Kobayashi a full-time seat next year.

Kobayashi will now be looking to one of the other teams for a job and I hope one of them picks him up. Based on his performance in the last two races I think he is the most exciting rookie of 2009.

Image: Toyota

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BMW to leave Formula One

July 29th, 2009 No comments

Nick Heidfeld, Turkey, 2009BMW have announced they are exiting Formula One at the end of the 2009 season.

The shock announcement made at a press conference held at BMW’s headquarters in Munich comes as the teams prepare to sign a new Concorde Agreement, the document that governs the sport.

Although BMW have been struggling this season, team boss Mario Theissen had previously stated that BMW’s commitment to Formula One had not changed.

However, in a meeting of BMW’s Board of Management yesterday it was decided that BMW should concentrate on the development of new drive technologies and projects in the field of sustainability.

Dr. Norbert Reithofer, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. said:

Premium will increasingly be defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead. In line with our Strategy Number ONE, we are continually reviewing all projects and initiatives to check them for future viability and sustainability. Our Formula One campaign is thus less a key promoter for us. Mario Theissen has been in charge of our motor sports program since 1999. We have scored a large number of successes in this period, including some in Formula One racing. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mario Theissen and his team for this.

BMW will continue with its motor sport programmes in touring cars, Formula BMW and the American Le Mans Series.

What will this mean for BMW drivers Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld?  I’m sure Kubica will find a drive somewhere else – of course, there are already rumours about him replacing Massa at Ferrari – but Heidfeld could find it more difficult.  He is an experienced driver, having competed in over 150 races.  But he also holds the record for the most Grand Prix starts without a win.

This also means there will be space for another team on the grid in 2010.  Who will it be?  Prodrive?  Lola? Litespeed?

Let the rumours begin!

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Brawn GP’s kill count

July 3rd, 2009 No comments

Brawn GP welcome sign, Brackley factory Like the nose of a WWII bomber, the welcome sign at the Brawn GP factory in Brackley has a tally of victories the team has notched up so far this season.

They’re not being overconfident, though — there are nine races left this year but only space on the board for another six wins, at least not without adding a second row.

But Brawn GP are not the only Formula One team with a connection to airplane nose art.

In World War I, Francesco Baracca was Italy’s top fighter ace scoring 34 kills. In recognition of his former cavalry regiment, Baracca adopted the embem of a prancing stallion — the Cavallino Rampante — and he became known as ‘The Cavalier of the Skies’.

After the war, Enzo Ferrari won a race in Ravenna where he met Baracca’s mother, the Countess Paolina.  Legend has it that the Countess asked Ferrari to use the prancing horse on his cars saying it would bring him good luck, as Enzo himself explains:

The horse was painted on the fuselage of the fighter plane flown by Francesco Baracca, a heroic Italian pilot who died on Mount Montello: the Italian ace of aces of the First World War. In 1923 … I met Count Enrico Baracca, the pilot’s father, and subsequently his mother, Countess Paolina. One day she said to me, “Ferrari, why don’t you put my son’s prancing horse on your cars; it would bring you luck.” … The horse was black and has remained so; I added the canary yellow background because it is the colour of Modena.

Ever since then the Cavallino Rampante has been the symbol of the Scuderia.

Francesco Baracca posing by his SPAD S.XIII.

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Happy 30th anniversary Renault!

July 1st, 2009 No comments

Jean-Pierra Jabouille, 1979A couple of days ago, in a post asking when will Toyota win their first race, I included a list of the current Formula One Teams and the years they won their first Grand Prix.

By chance today happens to be the 30th anniversary of Renault’s first Formula One Grand Prix victory by Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the 1979 French Grand Prix.

In 1977 Renault introduced the RS01; the first Formula One car to be powered by a turbocharged engine.  Completely different from every other car on the grid, the innovative but unreliable RS01 soon earned the nickname ‘Yellow Teapot’ and would often end the race billowing smoke.  The massive turbo lag also made the car uncompetitive on tight circuits.

Despite the problems, Renault were determined to make the new technology work, as Jabouille recalls:

The new technology was what interested Renault – they wouldn’t have come into F1 had it been a question of building another V8 like the Cosworth. They wanted that challenge, but on top of that, we were also developing Michelin’s new radial tyres. It was a lot of work, complicated work, in a short space of time, and with the engine, it wasn’t just a question of developing the technology, we then had to make it drivable. There was a world of difference between the engine delivering good power on the dyno, and being usable in the car.

The RS01 eventually developed into the RS10.  First introduced at the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix, the new car overcame the turbo lag by using twin turbos and had one of the new ground-effect chassis.

The RS10 went on to take five poles and Renault’s first win and in so doing kick-started the turbo years of the 1980’s.  Once Renault had claimed the first win for a turbocharged car in Formula One, all the major teams started developing turbos.  Soon the engines were producing up to 1500bhp or as Martin Brundle said ‘way more power than grip’.

Incidentally, the 1979 French Grand Prix also produced one of the most epic Formula One battles for second place between the Renault of René Arnoux and the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve.  After practically driving each other off the road in the final laps, Villeneuve crossed the line 0.24 seconds ahead of Arnoux in a race he would later describe as ‘my best memory of Grand Prix Racing’.

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How long until Toyota wins a Grand Prix?

June 29th, 2009 No comments

Jarno Trulli, Britain, 2009Despite being one of the most well-funded teams in Formula One, Toyota have still not won a Grand Prix; something that every other team on the grid besides Force India have managed to do.

Toyota’s debut season was in 2002 and, despite scoring a point in their first race in Australia (when half the field was wiped out in the first corner), the team had little success until 2005 when, after scoring points in nearly every race, they finished second in the Constructors’ Championship.

It has now been seven years and although Toyota have committed to racing until 2012, the bosses in Japan must be wondering when their massive investment will translate into a win.

But is seven years such a long time to go without a win in Formula One?  Well, yes, actually.  While teams have come and gone in the past without their drivers ever standing on the top step, when you compare Toyota to the other teams on the grid at the moment their development begins to look a bit stunted.

Here is a table showing the debut year and maiden win year for each of the current F1 teams:

Team Debut year Maiden win year Years before win
BMW Sauber 2006 2008 2
Brawn GP 2009 2009 0
Ferrari 1950 1951 1
Force India 2008
McLaren 1966 1968 2
Red Bull 2005 2009 4
Renault 1977 1979 2
Toro Rosso 2006 2008 2
Williams 1978 1979 1
Toyota 2002

I suppose you could argue that Toro Rosso actually took 23 years to score a maiden victory, if you include the Minardi years, but then Minardi never had a budget of $400m.

Image: Toyota

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