Q & A with Toyota's John Howett
|By Jonathan Noble||Monday, May 25th 2009, 10:00 GMT|
While Brawn's success on the streets of Monaco was not much of a surprise, it was at the other end of the grid where the biggest shock of the weekend took place. A month ago in Bahrain, Jarno Trulli locked out the front row of the grid, while in Monaco they were at the back.
AUTOSPORT caught up with Toyota F1 team president John Howett to find out what went wrong, and what it means for the future of the Japanese manufacturer, and how discussions about F1's cost cuts are going.
Q. BMW Sauber had a similarly poor weekend to you in Monaco, and think it could be related to tyres - an anomaly that could be cured at the next race. Would you say that is what happened to Toyota too?
John Howett: We could not get tyre grip. During the race it was definitely better, there is no question, so we have to understand why that happened. We had slow speed sections in Bahrain, where we were pretty quick, so we need to understand.
Q. This is the first race where Bridgestone had compounds close together. Could it be that your car is not well suited that particular range?
JH: For me, looking at the compounds and judging by the race pace of the lower working range compounds, some of the other cars had a dramatic reduction in pace. My perception from the times watching it is that quite a few cars were struggling on the optimum tyre.
Their relative pace was varied, and some were dropping quite dramatically. So I felt actually that there is a problem, probably because the lower working range tyre does or doesn't work. In Timo's case it seemed to be exceptionally good.
Q. How much of a shock was the result this weekend - Jarno was expecting a dip, but not like this?
JH: Shock, yeah. We have just got to hold our nerve and try to understand and improve, no question. We also need to see if it is purely on slow speeds parts of the track that we have a problem. We have to understand more in the next week.
Q. Is it coincidental that after four strong races at the start of the season you have had two bad ones?
JH: I don't believe in coincidence. We have got to find what is wrong, and what is there. There is something there, no question. It could be that a certain area of aerodynamics is not there, or it could be that the mechanical traction is not good enough – I don't know.
Q. Did you find that if the cars had to go off line to let someone quicker through they struggled to get heat back into their tyres?
JH: Yes. Much less in our case with the option, but if other drivers made the comment it was the same. It took one and a half to two laps before the tyres came back into the heat.
Q. You've said several times since the beginning of the season that the pressure from Japan to get that first victory is there. Does that fact make a swift recovery even more vital?
JH: Yes, even for the motivation of the people.
Q. There has been a continual rumour this weekend that Toyota is looking at exiting F1. Do you have a comment about that?
JH: I believe it is spin. It has been put there deliberately to create some more tension in the situation. I think that is going now wider than Toyota, onto one or more manufacturer teams. I don't know the source, but I can only say in our case that there is a clear wish to enter next year's championship.
That is easier to say than do, though, because to some extent there is now a very short deadline - earlier than I believe has been in recent years. And at the moment until things are clarified it is very difficult to place an entry.
Q. If a Concorde Agreement was put forward that Toyota was happy with, would you sign it until 2012?
JH: For 18 months we have been confirming that without any hesitation. I don't believe, from the drafts I've seen, that have been agreed with all the FOTA teams' lawyers, that it is is anything other than a totally professional and reasonable document. I think in the case of the Commercial Rights Holder, we are very, very close to actually managing to conclude the issues. Honestly, we are very open to discuss that document with the federation.
Q. So you would say Toyota is closer to staying than going?
JH: I don't think this is something people like to think about. It is the same with all major corporations – they have to look and say is this a sport in which we would like to be associated? You have to say that there have been a lot of tensions recently, but I think with a proper governance structure then it is no issue.
Q. And if you were to exit F1, would you find another racing category to compete in?
JH: That is something, honestly, that is above my head as it is a board decision. But Toyota is very passionate about motorsport. We have our heritage in motorsport for many years, competing in three major continents with three of the major series. And Toyota believes it is part of the duty of a manufacturer to be involved in motorsport because still a car is an extremely passionate and emotional purchase, and many car owners love motorsport. So it is something we genuinely feel we want to sustain and support.
Q. There have been lots of talks about the future of F1 here. Max Mosley said he was optimistic a solution to the row could be found soon – perhaps with a delay to the budget cap. Do you share his feelings?
JH: I think we have to wait and see. There are still some gaps. While there has been definite movement, I think we have to wait and see what the solution is and whether it is accepted or not in the next week or so.
Q. Are the teams unified in their stance regarding deadline?
JH: At the moment I think there is a very solid position, but I think some of the smaller teams feel more vulnerable. But as of this morning (Sunday) it was a fairly solid position from the FOTA members.
Q. Stefano Domenicali has said that teams want the regulations to revert to the 2009 regulations. Can you comment on that?
JH: I think it is important, if you look at all the detail changes. That is an important factor – for the future regulations to be developing in cooperation with the FIA. Ideally that is the governance process that we wish to be established.
Q. Do you think that would prevent new teams coming in though?
JH: Honestly speaking, I don't believe any of the manufacturers or larger teams have any problems with new teams coming in. I think approached in a less confrontational way, we are developing young drivers. You understand what I mean?
There is a commitment from the bigger manufacturers to create an environment of motor sport. If you look at Formula BMW, Formula Renault, in Japan we have Formula Toyota, we have an F3 engine in Asia and Formula Nippon. Everywhere you look you cannot deny that there are a lot of manufacturers, from the grass roots to the top, trying to contribute positively to motor sport. I think we are generally very positive.
Q. Was the lack of new teams coming in in the past the result of the $48 million bond?
JH: I think in the past it was a major barrier to entry. Now that has gone, it is easier. I would say that if you really attack the regulations as they are written, then £40 million is far less to build a car with energy recovery of all four wheels, a 120kw KERS, unlimited engine RPM, no restriction in testing, no restriction in wind tunnel. We would probably need double our budget for this year to operate a program at that level.