Toyota’s driver dilemma — what are they playing at?

I must confess to being rather perplexed by Toyota’s stance in the driver market over the past couple of months. It may be correct that neither Jarno Trulli nor Timo Glock have the potential to truly set the world alight. But neither are they complete disasters. In fact, they are both rather competent.

Even though he has a tendency to fade away during races, Trulli is very quick over one lap and brings with him a wealth of experience that very few alternative drivers would be able to offer. He has also had a couple of highly impressive results this year, including an convincing 2nd place in Japan. But, fair enough, he’s a poor racer, so I could understand Toyota ditching Trulli in favour of another experienced driver or an exciting young talent.

But to, at the same time, appear to be absolutely desperate to also get rid of Timo Glock seems absolutely bonkers to me. Glock’s real talent remains to be seen. He has never won a race, and he tends to qualify poorly — but often races extraordinarily well. In this sense, he is almost a mirror-image of Trulli.

It is worth remembering, though, that Glock is still relatively young and therefore has a lot of potential to improve. I thought his 2nd place finish in Singapore was a hugely promising sign, in addition to some other impressive performances this season.

Yet, Toyota appear to be totally nonchalant about his potential, even on the back of that result in Singapore. Ever since then, they have contrived to replace him with Kamui Kobayashi, a Japanese Toyota protégé but an unknown quantity. He supposedly had a cold in Japan, so was replaced during Friday Practice at Suzuka. But no-one saw that Glock had much of a sniffle.

Then, since his qualifying crash the following day, he has been forced to sit out as a result of “cracked vertebrae”. But eyebrows are raised as Glock happily walks around the place. Phantom colds and injuries — it is almost as though Toyota’s doctor has been slipped a tenner to fabricate reasons for Glock to sit out the rest of the season.

Of course, Glock’s impact was mighty hefty, so he could well be injured and sitting out as a precaution. But it is very convenient that it should open the door for precisely what Toyota appear to have wanted, which was to put Kobayashi in the car ASAP.

Toyota have been in a strange position during this year’s Silly Season. They have been positioning themselves rather oddly. Experienced journalists are reading between the lines and saying that it’s because they will not be in F1 next year, despite having committed until 2012 by signing the Concorde Agreement. This is further underlined by the fact that Williams’s engine deal with Toyota has been terminated a year early.

Joe Saward has an excellent post today analysing the situation. Toyota leaving F1 is the worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario seems to be having a reduced budget next season. Since at least September, there has been talk of the Toyota F1 team having a massively slashed budget for next season.

For a number of months, Toyota boss John Howett has been talking down the chances of Jarno Trulli racing for the team next season. The claim is that Trulli is asking for too much money.

Why a team that is so low on money would go on to court Kimi Räikkönen of all people remains to be explained. Räikkönen has openly scoffed at the offer, by ruling out every team bar McLaren as a destination for next season. Quite right too. Räikkönen would be better off driving a bus than driving a Toyota F1 car.

No doubt Räikkönen is a better driver than Jarno Trulli or Timo Glock. Despite question marks over his motivation, at least Räikkönen has proved that he can do it. But let us face it — Toyota are living in a dream world if they think they can attract a driver of Kimi’s calibre for a cut-down price.

I was flabbergasted to read what John Howett had to say about his current drivers, who I think have done a good enough job this season:

We like Timo very much, he did a great job, but still we have a car that is more regularly capable of being on the podium and much closer to the top this year. We are not delivering, and there are things beyond the team and the chassis itself.

It is not difficult to decode Howett’s message. Don’t blame the car, blame the drivers. That is despite the fact that Toyota — in their eight seasons in Formula 1 — have never even looked close to having a car capable of winning an F1 race.

I also think that it is a bit rich of Toyota to complain about its drivers. They have always behaved a bit strangely when it came to their drivers. This is the team that did away with the promising partnership of Mika Salo and Allan McNish after just one season, for no good reason. This is the team whose most sophisticated driver choice was to hire a boy called Ralf then parade around the place saying “Schumacher drives for us!”, which at least pleased the marketing men.

Jarno Trulli is rightly miffed about John Howett’s stance.

Now I don’t know whether Toyota really wants to retain me or not. And with someone trying to denigrate me through the press… I’ve read many incorrect things about me. I haven’t spoken with the team about my contract for at least two months. So, either someone is playing dirty or maybe this person has been misquoted. But I keep calm and good.

Meanwhile, while Timo Glock has been lying in his “sick bed”, negotiations with Toyota for a drive next season are said to have completely collapsed.

So what are Toyota playing at? Do they seriously believe that replacing known quantities such as Trulli and Glock with the likes of Kobayashi, Nakajima or Sutil will pave the way for a more successful future? If so, I am sure they are the only ones in the world who believe it.

If Joe Saward is right, and this is all a final desperate attempt for the Toyota F1 employees to keep the gravy train running, they are surely only ensuring a bigger death a year or two down the line.

If Toyota leave, good riddance I say. Throughout their entire existence, I have found them to be easily the least likeable team on the grid by a long shot. Their behaviour this season has only further underlined my impression that Toyota is an entity that has no place in F1 and wouldn’t succeed in a million years.


  1. Toyota seems to have studied at the Frank Williams School of How to Hire the Worst and Fire the Best Drivers in F1.

  2. I often wonder if it’s a Japanese culture problem… It’s said that a favorite Japanese sporting event is one where perfectly matched contestants fight brutally to a tie. And the famous Japanese business tradition “salarymen” doesn’t describe an atmosphere of dynamic individual performance…

    …But that’s what seems to be required for success in Formula One. The personalities who’ve really made the sport so enchanting are larger than life, whether in the cars, the garages, or the boardrooms.

    By the way, anyone know what that badge was that Humphreys and Coulthard were wearing on their shirts during quali yesterday?

  3. Poppies are worn in Canada for Remembrance Day as well, in fact “In Flanders Fields was” written by one. A Canadian, not a poppy.

  4. Well, today during spanish TV race comments with Pedro de la Rosa, (he’s working with LaSexta tv as comentator)one interesting comment came out….
    They said that De la Rosa was not going definetly to Campos-Meta, but when speaking about how competitive was the Toyota car a happy-funny comment came from Lobato to De la Rosa, that in the end let a strong feeling that he is at least in conversations with Toyota and may be he has a seat with Kobayashi…

    Sorry Duncan for my horrible english, if you need to, make it undestandable.


  5. EGC,

    No problems, I hear you loud and clear! Thanks very much for that interesting insight. Very intriguing, since I thought that Campos was his obvious destination and I hadn’t even considered that he might be an option for Toyota.

    This is what I love about the blogosphere. Interacting so regularly with people in other countries, I discover so much more news than I otherwise would. Thanks EGC! 😀

  6. Personally, I think Toyota should get rid of Trulli. Waste of space, as far as I am concerned. I have been impressed by Kobayashi so far, they’d be mad not to give him a seat for next year. I think Glock has done well enough to retain his seat, although he may not want to after all of this ho ha.

    As for Kimi driving for Toyota, the only thing I can say to Howett is “Tell him he’s dreaming” (quintessial Aussie quote taken from the movie The Castle).

  7. Thanks Duncan,

    In the end if you think about “De la Rosa + Kobayashi” it makes sense, they are both “cheap” drivers, and they would have a “Kamikaze” and a very experienced tester and driver (remember him taking Montoya seat)…

    So, something as the tandem Barrichello- Hulkenberger (or whatever he’s)new blood+experience at a low price…. 10% of Kimi salary and may be a better performance…

    I look forward of this drivers line-up in Toyota, looks very interesting…

    Good night,

  8. EGC, I think it’s a very interesting idea. I do rate Pedro de la Rosa. He is not the greatest driver in the world, but I thought he was better than just being restricted to a test role, so I think it would be fitting for him to race again.