What is Toyota actually waiting for?
Three years is a heck of a long time in motor sports terms. Think about it, it’s three full seasons of competing, development and investments. And that’s exactly the amount of time Toyota is allegedly ready to wait before making a final decision on whether they want to join WRC or not. They will, of course, make the decision earlier than that, and they will also play a major role in shaping of these new rules, scheduled to hit the WRC scene in 2017. It’s only obvious and inevitable – if they’re waiting for those new rules, then they have a darn good reason to do so. Reason that goes beyond the romantic ideals of returning to this oh-so-glorious rally battlefield in which they won this many titles and scored that many victories. Toyota’s comeback will not be inspired nor led by their heritage. If they do come back, they will invest outrageous amount of money into development – Volkswagen did the same – but in order to do so they will also want to make sure good bit of that money will be returned through promotion and palpable sales results. But what kind of ROI is Toyota expecting to find in WRC in three years as opposed to now? Brace yourself, it’s the dreaded H word.
The popular rumour says Toyota is “waiting to see” what the 2017 rules will be like. The only problem with this rumour is – Toyota is too damn big to just sit around doing nothing. They are not your back alley company, eager to join this big WRC thing, but being unsure of the current rules vs long term commitment they will sit patiently, waiting for new rules to appear before them. Waiting costs money even if you don’t actually spend any, and if Toyota is ready to join a major motor sports series then they’re already working very hard behind the scenes. If we just forget the lovely Castrol liveries and fascinating cars of old for a moment, all that is left is – cold cash. Toyota equals cash these days, lots of cash. With that cash they have the power to move things around, to turn the tides and lobby as hard as Sebastien Ogier is not trying to win, yet he always does. Toyota will not wait for rules to change into this and that, instead Toyota will make sure rules change in a very precise manner. Because cash.
Is Toyota trying to bribe WRC and those who shape the future of the sport? Nah, no, that would be very rude thing to say. They are simply sending out this message, saying they are interested to join the party but only if the DJ promises to play the tunes from their playlist. What makes Toyota these days? Econoboxes, hybrids and promise of more econoboxes and hybrids. Throw in some sports cars, such as GT86 and the upcoming will-it-or-will-it-not Supra, but all in all, Toyota is not a sports car manufacturer nor is Yaris their primary source of income. Otherwise they would just throw bazillion dollars at their TMG operation in Cologne this year and have a winning car ready for 2015. They don’t care about the current WRC, I’m pretty sure of that.
Did you catch that “h” word earlier? Hybrids! The dreaded, expensive, complex, far-from-clean, “green”… things. Toyota is spending huge piles of cash on hybrid cars and technologies all while we have no idea whether this particular technology is the right answer to whatever plagues modern world, forcing it to invest big into something that has no clear long term future. It’s safe to assume Toyota is also reaping some rewards from all those investments into hybrids, which then encourages them to invest even more. Eventually, everything Toyota does will have a hybrid prefix, and that means motor sports too. Of course, hybrids in motor sports are nothing new and some of the hybrid supercars are fucking insane, but does that “entitle” Toyota to crash into the WRC offices, waving their dollars around, yelling WRC must turn to hybrids or else they will take their business and cash elsewhere?
Poor Formula 1 is squealing under the hybrid-esque boot at the moment. In fact, as it is, Formula 1 looks like a much better playground for Toyota and their complex desires, compared to WRC, which is still relying on the good old internal combustion, turbocharged 1.6 Global Racing Engines. Why the hell would WRC want to introduce hybrid anything into their cars, raising costs even further, making the cars more complex, but without gaining anything from it. Why the hell would WRC car want to have electric motors powering this or that wheel for a full few minutes, or giving the cars a temporary boost of XY horsepower, just so they can call it hybrid, next-gen and environment friendly. What can WRC gain from this? Well, there is Toyota’s cash and the inevitable influx of sponsors which would follow its arrival, of course.
Perhaps it doesn’t look like it, but I feel WRC is not out of the woods yet. Actually, this 2017 looms over the sport like a veiled threat, but we’re kinda used to this idea of not knowing anything about the future plans or at least tiny bits of possible developments. Nope, peasants, you’re not entitled to know. Funny thing about Toyota is they’re kinda lonely in their pursuit of holy hybridism – Volkswagen is doing quite well without “hybrid” being every other word in their vocabulary, despite the fact that big VW is also planning some hybrids of this and that kind because one must have them, yes. Will Volkswagen be ready to accept the challenge of this new hybrid, semi-electric, KERS-buttoned, DRS-empowered WRC after they win all the titles in the years leading to 2017? Perhaps. And perhaps they’ll just wave goodbye to the sport and jump into something more in line with the actual moment. I dare say WRC is more in line with the current world than its hybrid counterpart would be at the moment. Maybe by 2017 world will change sufficiently for hybrids to really stop being expensive weirdos and technologies will grow sufficiently to allow hybrids to become the real mainstream. Otherwise WRC should just stay the hell away from them. Even if it means losing Toyota. Do we want WRC with one uberrich manufacturer and few other semi-factory-whatever teams not able to keep up? Hell no! Keep it simple and keep it fun. Please.
Disclaimer: I can’t wait to sleep over this and see how much fun (or not) I’ll have reading this over coffee tomorrow morning. Adios!