Feature: Second Season a Struggle for Toyota

Toyota were tipped by a good many pundits as a likely surprise package when the Formula One season's predictions were being made.

Feature: Second Season a Struggle for Toyota

Toyota were tipped by a good many pundits as a likely surprise package when the Formula One season's predictions were being made.

Their 2003 car had an air of Ferrari's dominant F2002, their engine was known to be good and the wealthy Japanese manufacturer had money to spend. But as the season reaches the halfway point in Canada next weekend, the main surprise is that Toyota have looked quite so out of it.

The team that won respect in their debut year are in danger of being left behind in their second season - with even tiny Minardi lapping faster in the first qualifying session for this month's Monaco Grand Prix.

Toyota are ninth out of 10 teams in the World Championship standings with three points. Only Minardi, who have no points, are behind them.

Team boss Ove Andersson warned at the end of 2002 that the second year would be harder than the first and he grinned ruefully when reminded of that prediction.

"This is what I was told," the 65-year-old Swede said in an interview in Monaco. "I was hoping that they were not right but I think they are. In the beginning of the season we were quite okay...The only thing is that we had this stupid fuel problem which I suppose robbed us of some points.

"But now we don't seem to be able to keep track with the development of the other teams. We fall behind. Our progress in improving the car is not as big as our competitors' is.

"There are always predictions," added Andersson. "Maybe you can be proud when people think that about you but it's very disappointing when you can't fulfil it."

Right Priorities

Toyota's French driver Olivier Panis and Brazilian rookie Cristiano da Matta, CART champion last year, struggled in the opening races with a fuel pressure problem. Panis has retired from five of seven races so far while da Matta has finished six and taken three points.

The team ditched Finland's Mika Salo and Briton Allan McNish at the end of last season to bring in Panis and da Matta. Andersson said he still had no regrets on that score but experience was needed.

"This is a matter of really knowing the business and getting priorities right and so on," he said. "It's a matter of getting the team to function in a proper way and I've always said this is a bigger challenge than the technical one and I still believe that.

"We should be able to improve," said Andersson. "I don't think we will be able to catch up with the teams that really are in front of us. Jaguar at the moment are very good. The way that Toyota has approached the whole project, starting basically everything from zero, you have to allow this to take time.

"My hopes were that we should be in a position to compete for points in every race. I haven't given up yet that we will achieve that before the end of the year but it's looking to be a close call," said Andersson.

Marching In

Technical director Gustav Brunner said the team had been unlucky but the situation would improve.

"The Toyota machinery is rolling, the army is marching and it will happen," said the Austrian.

The new qualifying rules have not helped, with da Matta having an hour to learn unfamiliar tracks before the first single lap session. An experienced team can handle the challenge but it is much harder for newcomers still building up their operation.

Brunner said that the company structure had its drawbacks as well and suggested that talent might have to be bought in.

"We are already maybe a little bit conservative in our approach, we are a big corporation. We try to analyse it all but if the clock is running it needs somebody with experience to make a decision," he said. "A little bit of experience we will probably get. It is difficult because the Japanese philosophy is not to buy experience but to grow by yourself.

"But on the other side they also want success reasonably quickly. I'm all for buying a little bit of experience."

Media speculation has linked the team to a number of top personnel from rival teams, including Renault technical director Mike Gascoyne and former Ferrari chief aerodynamicist Nikolas Tombazis.

"Toyota is probably not a bad team given the situation...We need a little bit more experience on the racing side," said Brunner.

Brunner said a wind tunnel problem had also slowed development: "All the aero updates which we had planned to come in are coming in a little bit later. In the meantime the other teams have improved."

Da Matta said the team had missed opportunities.

"I think we are improving. But I think maybe compared to some of the other teams that we were in reasonable shape with, we are a little bit behind now."

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