Toyota exit as Renault discuss F1 future

FORMULA ONE manufacturer Renault are understood to have held a board meeting in Paris yesterday relating to their involvement in the sport.

The meeting was held hours after Toyota said it was quitting F1, becoming the third car company to leave the sport in the last 11 months.

Renault has endured its worst season for many years, both on and off the track, finishing a lowly eighth in the constructors’ championship, but it was the ‘crashgate’ scandal that severely damaged the team.

It emerged Nelson Piquet Jnr was deliberately ordered to crash his car in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix.

Whilst Flavio Briatore lost his job as team principal, Renault escaped severe sanctions from the FIA as they were handed a ban, suspended for two years. Due to the effects of the global economic crisis, the team also lost primary sponsor Ing.

Star driver Fernando Alonso, who has spent four of the last five years with the team, is also on his way as has signed for Ferrari for next year.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp president Akio Toyoda reacted to the painful decision by saying he believes he has betrayed the team’s fans.

Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder, insists he had to act for financial reasons, notably after Toyota announced the biggest loss in its history in March.

Toyota’s departure continues the exodus of Japanese companies from motor sport as Subaru and Suzuki withdrew from the World Rally Championship prior to this season.

In motorbikes, Kawasaki pulled out of MotoGP, whilst on Monday, tyre manufacturer Bridgestone announced they will not be renewing their supply contract in F1 after next season.

“Toyota Racing took part in 140 races and surely developed their ability one race after another,” said Toyoda.

“I would like to show my respect to their hard work in the competitions against top teams in the world.

“I would like to express my gratitude from my heart for sharing the dreams with them. I myself support motor sports, and have worked hard to make motor sports a part of motor culture.

“However, after taking the presidency in June, my situation has changed and I hope you can understand that.

“Since the economic crisis last year, we have discussed within our company whether we should continue in F1 or not, and our F1 team worked on the cost cutting.

“After the final race finished (Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix), we held an extraordinary board meeting and came to the conclusion we had to decide to withdraw. Betraying the fans was a hard thing to do, and I was the one who made the final decision.”

Speculation surrounding Toyota’s future was rife throughout the year, in particular after the parent company’s financial results were aired.

However, Toyota soldiered on and signed a new Concorde Agreement with motor sport’s governing body, the FIA, over the summer tying them to F1 through to 2012. It appeared at that stage any doubts as to their future had been erased.

But it is clear Toyota find the penalties they are likely to incur, and the cost of redundancies for the 650 staff at their Cologne factory a less painful financial pill to swallow.

Toyota will retain a presence in other forms of motorsport.

Toyota’s departure does at least open the door for Sauber to take up the now vacant 13th position on the grid.

After BMW confirmed their own withdrawal from the sport at the end of July, with their final race in Abu Dhabi, it left Sauber fighting for survival.

They were eventually taken over by Qadbak Investments Ltd in mid-September, just hours after Lotus were awarded the 13th slot.

The FIA agreed to the possibility of 14 teams competing in F1 next season on the proviso of there being unanimous agreement from all the other marques, which was not forthcoming.

It left Sauber playing an anxious waiting game these past few weeks, one that is finally over in the wake of Toyota’s exit.

Following a strong start to the season, Toyota went on to finish fifth in this year’s constructors’ championship.

Just three manufacturers now remain in F1 – Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Renault – with the focus likely to switch to the latter in light of their previously precarious circumstances.

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