Salo on Toyota: 'a tough decision to make'

Mika Salo admitted he took one of the toughest decisions of his life to bow out of Formula 1 for a year and join Toyota

Salo on Toyota: 'a tough decision to make'

But he said it was the Japanese car manufacturer's massive commitment to Grand Prix racing with a staff which is being increased to 550 - the biggest in F1 - that persuaded him to make the move which could be the last of his racing career.

The 33-year-old was unveiled in Belgium today (Thursday) on a "long term contract" of at least three years as team mate to Scot Allan McNish, 31, who is already on testing duty for Toyota.

Salo has opted not to take up the offer of a second year at Sauber and will spend a year testing with the German-based Japanese team in 2001, before heading up its debut season in F1 in 2002.

"My decision to test instead of race next year was not taken lightly or easily, but having seen how much effort is going into the Toyota F1 project I am happy to take this step in the knowledge that my F1 experience will contribute significantly to the development of the team," he said.

"There can be no illusions; we have a very steep hill to climb. There will be heartache and disappointments but I welcome the challenge of helping in the birth of a new F1 team. Sometimes it is more satisfying to be more than just a race driver."

He joins the Cologne-based Toyota squad on a long-term contract thought to run for at least three years and perhaps even longer than five, taking him beyond retirement as a team consultant.

Salo has been racing since he was six and has driven for a number of teams including Ferrari, when he deputised last year for the injured Michael Schumacher and was ordered to hand over certain victory in the German Grand Prix to help Eddie Irvine's world championship campaign. Before that he had driven for Lotus, Tyrrell, Arrows, BAR and now Sauber.

Meanwhile, Salo's testing team mate Allan McNish has welcomed the challenge of steering the fledgling Toyota team towards its F1 debut.

The 31-year-old Scot, who has won the Le Mans 24 Hours, has already been at work testing various hydraulic and mechanical systems on the Toyota GT-One test car and feels he has joined the team at the right time.

"To join Toyota at such a significant stage in the company's motorsport development is a great challenge," he said. "Its a wonderful opportunity and Im really enjoying playing a major part in the F1 programme."

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