Toyota have announced that they are leaving Formula One with immediate effect. The company have said that the current economic situation is the main reason for the decision to pull out of the sport.
A statement from Toyota reads, “Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announces it plans to withdraw from the FIA Formula 1 world championship at the end of the 2009 season,” said a Toyota statement.
“TMC, which had viewed its participation in F1 as contributing to the prosperity of automotive culture, remained dedicated to competing at the pinnacle of motor sports even in the face of the abrupt economic changes that started last year.
“However, when considering TMC’s motorsports actitives next year and beyond from a comprehensive mid-term viewpoint reflecting the current severe economic realities, TMC decided to withdraw from F1”
The news is no surprise to many Toyota posted it s first ever operating loss earlier this year and they had also removed their Fuji track (which had hosted the 2007 and 2008 Japanese Grands Prix) from the F1 calendar. Following customer team Williams deciding to end their engine deal a year early and given that other manufacturer teams Honda and BMW had already pulled out of the sport, there had already been rumours in the paddock that Toyota would follow suit and leave.
However Toyota themselves appeared to be in two minds as to whether to leave F1 or not: the team recently signed the new Concorde Agreement, committing them to the sport until at least 2012, and team boss John Howett had said that they would be on the grid for 2010 albeit racing with a smaller budget. Toyota had also approached several drivers, including Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica, in a bid to sign them for 2010. Given his impressive F1 debut, many also expected Kamui Kobayashi to be offered a race-seat within the team.
Toyota s sudden departure announcement could be good news for BMW Sauber however. The Hinwil squad had been hoping another team would drop out of the championship so that they could reclaim a spot on the 2010 grid.
Toyota may also not be the final casualty: Renault are thought to be holding a board meeting today to discuss their future plans. However it is understood that Renault is committed to Formula One and they are not expected to follow Toyota s decision.