Toyota says sayonara to Formula One
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The cost-cutting decision by the world’s largest auto manufacturer comes after the company posted its largest financial loss earlier this year. Toyota failed to win a grand prix in its eight seasons in Formula One and actually apologized to its fans for its limited success.
Toyota’s exit makes it the third auto manufacturer to leave the sport in less than a year. Last December, Toyota’s Japanese rival, Honda, withdrew from F1. BMW competed in its final grand prix Sunday, and on Monday, Bridgestone announced it would no longer supply tires to the series after 2010.
[UPDATED 11:23 a.m.: Renault reportedly is considering to pull out of Formula One.]
Of course, no one should be surprised by Toyota’s decision. It was obvious months ago it was thinking of abandoning Formula One when the team didn’t re-sign drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock. And when the Williams team announced last month it would be switching from Toyota to Cosworth engines for the 2010 season, it was pretty clear Toyota wouldn’t be back next season.
Like other major manufacturers before them, Toyota couldn’t justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a racing/marketing campaign when it’s laying off employees.
The only good news to come out of this whole mess is that another team -- the new owners of the BMW Sauber team -- will likely receive a spot on the grid from the FIA next season. If that happens, there will be five new teams in F1 in 2010. US F1, Campos Grand Prix, Manor Grand Prix and Lotus F1 already have been authorized by the FIA to race next season.
Though its nice to see privateers getting back into Formula One, Toyota’s departure once again shows how Formula One must keep costs in check to maintain financial feasibility. F1’s bosses (mainly Bernie Eccelstone and new FIA President Jean Todt) need to understand that auto manufacturers see Formula One primarily as a marketing tool while fans recognize it as a sport.
Formula One needs to continue its recent trend of making the sport more attractive to privateer racing team owners who don’t have billions of dollars at their disposal. Otherwise, big-money teams such as Renault and Red Bull could end up leaving the grid.
-- Austin Knoblauch
Photos, from top: Toyota’s Jarno Trulli qualifies for the Belgian Grand Prix on Aug. 29. Credit: Michel Spingler / Associated Press. Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashita gets emotional during a press conference to announce the company’s withdrawal from Formula One on Wednesday. Credit: Junji Kurokawa / Associated Press