Hot on the heels of Bridgestone’s exit last week, Toyota made the announcement that they were leaving F1. While it had been suspected for some time, and indeed it’s hoped that 2009 season find Kamui Kobayashi will land on his feet elsewhere in F1 next year, apparently Toyota had been playing its cards very close to its chest. Follow the jump to learn who was taken by surprise at Toyota’s announcement.
Toyota announced that they’d be holding a press conference ahead of their annual budget meeting, which is when they traditionally have allocated their F1 team’s budget in the past. That alone was apparently not enough to tip off Toyota F1’s sponsors, who had been told nothing prior to Toyota’s formal (and tear-filled, it was said) announcement to the world regarding the fate of their F1 team. Panasonic’s response, nevertheless, was that in the light of the world’s economic situation, they respected Toyota’s decision. For the record, Toyota Racing Development will still be continuing their involvement in other forms of motorsport, particularly their eight teams in NASCAR—just not Formula One.
Meanwhile, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has now drawn Renault’s F1 future into question. Saying that the team is currently considering its options, Ghosn refused to comment definitively, saying instead that a firm decision will be reached and announced before the end of the year. Tough luck for Robert Kubica (whom the team snapped up like hungry alligators after BMW’s exit), if that happens.
Following these latest announcements of major manufacturers pulling out of F1, the press was awash in opinions regarding what all this actually means for the sport. Williams CEO Adam Parr offered a fair point of view from the perspective of an independent team owner, saying that he believed this meant that the time of manufacturer dominance in the sport had now come to a close:
“It’s not that manufacturers are not welcome in F1; it’s just that the maths doesn’t make sense. If you spend £750m a year to own an F1 team and come ninth two years in a row, you are going to stop. But for an independent, at times like these you just put your head down and keep going – because you have no choice.”
Mercedes-McLaren supremo Martin Whitmarsh claimed otherwise—from his vantagepoint, Toyota simply weren’t as important to the sport as McLaren or Ferrari. From the sidelines, Ari Vatanen offered still another opinion—that Renault should absolutely consider pulling out with the way things are going, and the disrepute the sport has fallen into just in the past season alone. These observations and several more can be found in this fascinating Financial Times article, which offers a broad spectrum of informed opinion on where all this is actually going.
Finally, both Toyota and Renault signed the Concorde Agreement—guaranteeing that both teams would remain in the sport until 2012. It remains to be determined whether or not Toyota now stands in breach of that contract—or, indeed, whether Renault will be guilty of the same, should they make the decision to pull out of the sport.