Q & A with Toyota's Howett, Yamashina
Toyota may have had one of the biggest budgets in Formula One in recent years, but even they have not escaped the raft of cost-cutting measures being forced on teams
After their 2009 launch was downscaled to an unveiling on the Internet, their team president John Howett and team principal Tadashi Yamashina decided to meet selected media at the Portimao track in Portugal on Tuesday for an update on progress with their new car.
Autosport.com heard from the pair as they discussed the future of the team, why they doubt KERS will be a success and Bernie Ecclestone's cheeky suggestion that he should pay teams less.
Q. Toyota are the only team on the grid not to have a Grand Prix in any shape or form. How confident are you that you can change that situation this year?
John Howett: I think the regulations have massively changed, so there is huge risk and huge opportunity. Last year the performance that we put on the car, from the research delivered, shows we were chasing 14 or 15 points of aerodynamic performance. By going back to a common zero point, we believe we have an opportunity to actually close the gap. We believe that we will have a very strong season, and we hope clearly to win our first race. We believe we have the team to do that.
Q. Jarno Trulli has expressed an opinion that it is vital for Toyota win to secure their future in Formula One. Do you agree with that?
JH: I think what I will say is that every team are facing increased scrutiny because of the financial situation, and we are no different from any other. I don't uniquely believe that it is cost that has driven certain teams out of their relative sport - it is a holistic view about the value that is delivered for the investment.
It is quite clear we need to reduce our costs and I am very confident we will do that. And we need to have an extremely strong season to demonstrate to Toyota that we are value to the corporation for the commitment they are and have made to the sport. It is our job as managers and leaders of the team to deliver.
So yes, we are under scrutiny. It isn't wrong to say that, but I don't think you should uniquely pull Toyota out from the remainder of the teams. We all need to perform in one way or another.
The car industry worldwide is in dire shape, and Toyota recently announced they were predicting a first operating loss in history. How confident are you that the F1 team is robust and the backing is there from the board to carry on into the future?
Tadashi Yamashina: Honestly speaking, we are also struggling to stay in F1. We discussed lots with the Japanese management, but fortunately Mr. Watanabe, our president, convinced the bosses to stay in F1.
As John mentioned, Toyota are doing some cost reduction to get some better performance, but we are still alive and for this season, from that sense, this season is very important. Even if the headquarters had some operation lose, we spend this money to fight to win the race, so it is very, very important for us to win this year.
Q. Can you give us an input on KERS progress? You've been doing some work with it at this test, so where are you at with it?
TY: Yesterday and the day before yesterday we tested with KERS, and we gathered lots of information. If we are confident to get better performance with KERS, and also with good reliability and with good safety, we will use it. Our thinking is also about cost - still it costs too much for each team. Cost, performance, safety and reality we must study from now on. I think a lot of teams still have to analyse the total performance of KERS.
Q. Toyota have some of the best wind tunnel facilities in F1, yet the FIA has recently announced a big cutback in wind tunnel useage. Do you feel victimised by this and can you move the resources around?
JH: What FOTA wanted to do was find a balance between those teams with massive, massive computer power and those with two wind tunnels. The current situation I think is a reasonable balance. It enables us to use both tunnels and also make significant cost reductions. It also gives the other teams the opportunity to reduce their wind tunnel capacity and use their computers, or reduce their computer power and optimise their single tunnels. It is a very good reasonable first step.
The idea of running one tunnel for one shift of 48 hours is probably a discriminatory action against those who have invested in two tunnels unless there is a severe restriction on teraflop. I am a great believer in pragmatism and common sense, and I believe from that initial step we will find a further step probably later this season or early next season. At the moment we are satisfied.
The spare capacity is something we will have to look at in the future. The facilities are probably more optimised for motorsport than road car, and we will have to see within the Toyota family and are other motor sport activities what can be done.
Q. Bernie Ecclestone appears to have raised the stakes in discussions over revenue saying he thinks F1 teams need less money now, not more. What is your response to that, and how important is it for FOTA to keep pushing for more revenue?
JH: I think first of all, FOTA wants to try to act in a non-controversial and non-confrontational way to establish what I believe is a sound future for the sport for all the stakeholders.
I think we are all aware that most promoters and circuits struggle to remain viable, the teams are facing significant challenges, and if one looks at the broader aspect of revenues from other sports, a far larger proportion of the revenue is distributed to the competitors. So rather than being sensational and controversial, we believe we need to sit down and have a constructive dialogue.
One can look at it another way and ask what is the value returned to the sport from that part of the revenue that is not distributed to the other stakeholders? I won't answer that, but it is something that is valid for someone else to look at.
Q. What about Bernie's suggestion that teams need less money?
JH: I think always in negotiation, you start and you try to move. It is a question of where you move. Even if we don't have an immediate revision because we have existing agreements, the point is then what do we do from 2013? And if we don't reach agreement, what is the value to the current holder if it has no future from 2012. All we are asking for is a sensible dialogue, and the main focus of FOTA is the future direction and evolution of F1 as the number one premier world motorsport - and it includes many more than the teams, it includes all the stakeholders including journalists.
Q. Toyota are the pioneers of hybrid technology. How sensitive a subject is it for you, and can you afford not to run it?
TY: Honestly speaking KERS in F1 is very different from current production cars. From the beginning, I was against this idea for KERS, just on cost grounds. There are development costs, and learning costs, so even if Toyota are not the first team to utilise KERS in F1, I am sure we will not be blamed. We are confident that KERS and the hybrid system are very different, and I am proud of the production car first
Some people have mentioned that through the development of F1 KERS, in the future production cars will have the same type of KERS. But I don't believe that.
Q. What are your impressions of testing over the last few days? And can you comment on the rule changes and whether F1 is entering unknown territory?
JH: For us, winter testing is business as usual. We are challenged by the weather, as this week we are doing a roll-out. Probably we won't see the real relative competitive performance of the car until Australia, although certainly the last test before we will leave will give an indication. So for us, this is our initial roll-out. We are focusing on KERS, not performance, and we have had a very successful test for two days. Today was fairly blustery and wet so it is too early to say, but reliability and general performance has been strong.
The one question we are all concerned about is whether the field will be strung out, because historically when there has been a massive regulation change in F1, there has tended to be a bigger dispersion of performance between cars. The last two seasons I believe have been very competitive, and that is one thing that is a concern for this racing season.
Q. It is no secret that Toyota is sourcing some KERS components from an Italian company. One team has expressed grave safety concerns about KERS. What are your comments about that?
TY: Last year there were lots of incidents in other teams, and from that sense we learned. Through the proper procedure and proper evaluation of testing, KERS might be safer, but yesterday and the day before yesterday we had some bit damaged in our car. We have trained our mechanics and engineers - even for me I have instructions of what to do. So far we have no issues about safety and reliability, but again through the proper procedure and proper method KERS can be operated safely.
Q. And if they crash?
TY: So far, nobody knows how much trouble it is. But we have confidence. We have done lots of tests regarding explosion safety and that sort of thing.
Q. Regarding KERS, you say it costs too much. How much has it cost?
TY: It is a secret, but in the first year, including the development cost, it is the same as the price of an engine. It might be reduced in future years, but under current economic situations no teams are able to spend that huge amount of costs.
Q. How hard is it for you to work with the system?
TY: It is my understanding that yesterday there was not so complicated just for mechanics to do the proper procedures. It is not so difficult to do that, but the new car is a new system - and nobody knows the details. From our current knowledge and common engineering sense, I am sure current KERS is safer but something may happen.
The F1 world is composed of families and young children and I don't want them involved in harm from a serious accident, so we must secure the safety first.
Q. Wouldn't the simple solution be to ban battery KERS?
TY: I think the same...once the accident happens then there are several thousands volts - so nobody knows what will happen with those cars. Some team directors have said it is the same in terms of the fuel tanks, which has fuel inside, but currently the fuel cell itself is much better since the early F1 period. It will get safer but nobody knows what will happen with any system.
Q. Where do you like to see KERS going?
JH: I think if you look at a road car hybrid system, one of the advantages is fuel saving. In other words, it achieves benefit because it recovers energy and saves fuel. When you go into endurance racing, there is an element of fuel saving, so therefore it is probably a more relevant technology for that type of racing than it is for a formula based on the lowest possible lap time. As a technology, given its current status and given it benefit, probably that (fuel economy) is the correct direction to move.
Q. Would you like to keep it in F1?
JH: For a performance technology, there is a question - if F1 wishes to have it as a platform to promote using the power of F1's ecological and environmental awareness and support, it is positive. That is why there is a direction to using a standard KERS, which means the costs base will be significantly lower and F1 is using its power to promote the benefits of utilising environmentally conscious and aware technology. Plus the point of competitive differentiation, which is probably not that relevant in our point, is diminished in our sport.
Q. How happy are you with the eight engines per season rule, and the clarity of it?
JH: We understood the benefit in terms of cost-saving to teams, and we will reduce our costs. It is a positive thing given the current circumstances for F1. Eight engines is certainly feasible for a season, and the flexibility gives a better opportunity for teams to use the mileage appropriately for a Friday and a race weekend.
There are a couple of loopholes the teams would like to just clarify, as to when we can change the engines - like before qualifying or after qualifying? But given that they are closed and a common understanding is there for all teams we are not concerned.
Q. What is your opinion of the facilities at Portimao?
TY: It is huge! It is so impressive to see, especially this paddock area. Actually I have not yet walked the circuit yet, but I don't like this type of weather! If not that, the facility would be wonderful.
Q. There was an announcement about a senior management change at Toyota in Japan. Can you comment on it and say whether it will have any impact on the team?
TY: I don't think it will have any impact to our team. Mr. Toyoda pretty much likes motorsport, and he himself did some racing - for example at the Nurburgring 24 Hours. Also, Mr. Watanabe, sometimes after June will be vice-chairman - and he is very supportive for us. So our future is very clear, but we must win.
Q. Did you ever think about using the mechanical KERS?
JH: Obviously Toyota studied the possibility of using a rival device, and in theory it is more efficient than other forms of storage device. There are huge challenges with the reliability of that system. We use, I would not says batteries, but a form battery storage device. The area between batteries and capacitors is blurry, but we have worked with Litec in Germany and they have developed a phenomenal device for us.
Overall we think our system is very, very advanced. The question still is whether or not there will be a competitive advantage for lap time versus the fairly significant cost. I think Williams will be hoping to supply the device should it be advantageous, and still the motor control system we have can couple to any storage device.
The fundamental question for us is the cost benefit of running KERS in relation to lap time, and the safety aspect when are sure they are totally eliminated even in a serious crash. But our confidence is growing in that area day-by-day.
Q. You have said several times here that you must win. Is there an ultimatum about what will happen if you don't win?
JH: I don't really think so. It is the value. I think we just feel it is about time we won. We are the newest team in F1, it is clear, and the other teams have people who bought existing infrastructures.
We have a great team of people and I think we just feel we need to win and it is about time we won. We need a strong season. If we have a weak season we have no future. Whether we really have to win to stay is difficult to stay, but we feel we have to win. It is our desire and our passion shared by our people in Cologne. We feel we must win, then we can cement and secure a very bright future in F1.
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