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FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
08/11/2009

Toyota Motorsport is to leave Formula One. I trust this will not affect pending criminal charges against former employees over the acquisition of Ferrari data. Now that the team will no longer be a major employer in the locale, perhaps Cologne's Finest could get their fingers out and take a closer look at current employees who knew about the scam. There was, for example, the internal e.mail in May, 2003, instructing everyone to destroy Ferrari data. That e.mail came from someone who is still employed by Toyota.

It would be pleasant to say that Toyota will be missed, but it would be untrue. We are speaking of the same outfit which was banned from the World Rally Championship for cheating big time. Toyota has spent more than any other team and never looked like winning a race.

While Toyota has been struggling in F1, the parent company has become the world number one car maker. That is an amazing achievement and it is well-deserved. Unfortunately it also torpedoes the notion that if you win on Sunday, you sell on Monday. Toyota has been selling without winning.

The fact that Toyota was in negotiations with Kimi a few weeks ago is neither here nor there. It is possible that the team did not know it was for the chop; it is also possible that negotiations were a charade. The company lost less face having seen the season out and, in Japan, 'face' is everything. What I would call 'honour', from my perspective, is another thing entirely.

There have been mixed messages from Tokyo. One day, reports said that the team was up for sale; the next day they said that Toyota was to simply close the factory with the loss of about 750 jobs, down from a peak of more than 1,000.

Toyota signed the Concorde Agreement so the team has value, with a place on the grid and a share of TV revenue. A problem is the sheer scale of the enterprise. Toyota Motorsport had a bigger budget than the GNP of Afghanistan. The only buyer I can think of, and for whom the team could be an asset, is Hyundai.

Hyundai entered the car market in 1984 with the 'Stellar', a Ford Cortina platform with Mitsubishi running gear, and it was dreadful. Japanese cars were once dreadful as well, they sold on price and equipment. Japanese makers were quick to learn and an early lesson was to make different seats for Western markets. And world-leading American backsides.

Hyundai has learned and the product has improved out of all recognition. The company now offers the best warranty in the world, better than Rolls-Royce, and recent sales in the UK have more than trebled. A presence in Formula One could give the company an improved profile especially since South Korea is to have a Grand Prize.

Even if Toyota was prepared to sell, Cologne would have to further downsize. Hyundai does not have Toyota's clout, but it does have huge ambition. Perhaps the opportunity came a little too soon.

The FIA is reported to be examining the 'legality' of Toyota's withdrawal, but if Toyota doesn't want to race, nobody can do much about it. The Inscrutable Ones will have had lawyers on the case. The FIA could impose a financial penalty and Toyota could decide to pay, so that it may compete in FIA-sanctioned events in the future. I wonder what would happen if Toyota gave the FIA what we Brits use two fingers to do while Americans use one.

I wonder how solid is the FIA. If the world's most successful car maker ignored the FIA. I wonder if anything could be done. If Toyota wished to return in the future, I wonder whether the FIA would be as accommodating and embarrassingly servile as it has been with Renault.

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