Valencia: Q&A with Toyota's John Howett
How do you assess the season so far from the team's point of view?
We are more than halfway through the season, having scored several strong results, and we have a competitive car at our disposal. Naturally we want better results and we expected to finish on the podium more frequently, but we are relatively pleased with the fundamental pace of our car. It was very satisfying to start the season so successfully and it was clear we were firmly in the top three for the first four races of the year. We have seen some fluctuations in relative performance since then, we just need to continue to add performance to the car and get the most out of the package that we have.
Has there been a highlight for you so far this season?
The all-Toyota front row in Bahrain was a proud moment for everyone in the team and to see two Toyotas leading the field, setting the fastest lap on the way, was really special. Of course, we all wish it had continued like that until the checkered flag but it wasn't to be. We are in a results business so the highlights for me so far have been our podium finishes, particularly in Australia and Malaysia, because these confirmed our belief that we are serious contenders in 2009. There are plenty of opportunities remaining in 2009 so I firmly believe the highlight of the year is still to come.
Are you happy with the rate of development?
We have been focused and ambitious in our development. Maybe it's not obvious to outsiders just how much development is going into the TF109 but we are pushing extremely hard to improve every conceivable area, with a particular focus on aerodynamics. Our development schedule at the start of the season was very ambitious and we have pushed on with that. We have made several significant steps forward this season which have certainly brought performance increase.
Is Toyota's target still to win a race this season?
Our organization exists to win races so that is always the goal and this year I believe we are closer than ever to doing that. But the surest way of winning our first Grand Prix is to pursue a relentless development program, driving performance on. This is a team effort and everyone is working flat-out together to fulfill the huge potential of the TF109. We'll see how the rest of the season goes but we have the passion and dedication to win this year.
How do you assess the performance of Jarno and Timo?
They have delivered a high standard of performance, as we expected, and they have both played their part in delivering a car this year which is genuinely competitive. Timo has been particularly strong in the races while in wet weather he is clearly one of the fastest guys in the field. He is still developing as a driver and he will become even better in the years to come, I am sure of that. We all know that Jarno is incredibly fast over one lap and he continues to show his fighting qualities in the races as well. He remains 100% motivated and he is pushing the team in a very positive way to improve the car.
What about the season in general? How strong is Formula 1?
It has been an exciting season and I think the fans enjoy seeing different teams fighting at the front. However it has probably been overshadowed by 'politics'. Now the new Concorde Agreement has been signed it is important we look forward and look for ways to improve the sport and add value for its stakeholders, particularly the fans. Formula 1 remains an extraordinarily powerful sporting brand and one which continues to enjoy a very large fan base. We should be enormously proud of Formula 1 but we must never become complacent.
Is the team still developing the TF109 or have you already switched development to 2010?
We still have targets to reach this season so we have not even considered switching all development to the 2010 car. Significant work is going on in parallel on the 2010 car, as was always planned, but we are still working hard to extract more performance from the TF109. We have an extremely competitive baseline this year so the challenge is to keep up development and unlock all the potential of our package. We have a duty to ourselves, our partners and fans to push on at full throttle with our development program but, more importantly, we know the leading cars are not out of reach so we must fight for every bit of extra performance.
Thinking about next year and beyond, can Toyota make another step forward? What are your expectations?
It is part of Toyota's challenging spirit and its DNA to constantly strive for further improvement and this is an ongoing process, so of course we expect to make another step forward. It is too early to talk about specific goals, that's clear, but our team exists to win so that is our natural target. However, we still have plenty we want to achieve in 2009, which remains our clear focus.