McLaren, a prominent name in Formula One, is cultivating a closer partnership with Toyota, sparking intriguing rumours of the Japanese manufacturer’s possible return to the sport.
While McLaren recently moved its wind tunnel operations to its Woking facility, ending its long-standing arrangement with Toyota, the relationship between the two companies appears to be evolving rather than diminishing.
New collaboration is emerging
A clear indication of this evolving partnership came in the run-up to the Japanese Grand Prix, when McLaren announced the signing of Toyota factory driver Ryo Hirakawa to its reserve driver roster for 2024. The announcement marked a significant development in the relationship between McLaren and Toyota.
As part of this collaboration, Hirakawa will join McLaren’s simulator programme and test with the team’s 2021 car. While Hirakawa’s selection may have been unexpected, it reflects Toyota’s strategic efforts to forge stronger links within Formula One.
Toyota’s growing interest
Further fueling speculation about Toyota’s increased interest in F1 was the presence of Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda at the Japanese Grand Prix. Toyoda was part of a Toyota delegation and his presence added weight to the idea that Toyota was seriously considering a return to F1.
Rumours also began to circulate that McLaren were exploring the possibility of Toyota as a future engine partner, should the team decide to return to F1.
McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella, when asked about the background to Hirakawa’s appointment, revealed that it was part of a wider agreement with Toyota.
Stella explained that the decision to bring Hirakawa into the McLaren fold was influenced by the team’s commitment to driver development.
He said: “We are actively pursuing talent, but we also have interest from other talent to join the programme, which is good. It shows that we have credibility from that point of view…”
Stella went on to explain the partnership, saying, “We are certainly excited that Ryo and Toyota wanted to join the team in terms of the driver development programme. Then we took the opportunity to say ‘let’s add him to the reserve driver pool’.
This collaboration extends beyond the individual driver to include an exchange of knowledge and expertise in performance and driver development. Stella emphasised McLaren’s intention to broaden its horizons through this partnership with Toyota.
Uncertain future for Toyota in F1
While the potential for a deeper collaboration between McLaren and Toyota is evident, it’s important to note that Toyota’s definitive return to Formula One remains uncertain at this stage.
During the Japanese Grand Prix, Toyota Gazoo Racing advisor Kazuki Nakajima made it clear that the Hirakawa agreement was not a decisive step towards a Formula One comeback for the manufacturer. Nakajima emphasised that the deal was primarily aimed at supporting the driver’s ambitions and had nothing to do with Toyota’s involvement in the sport.
On the subject of Toyota’s possible return to Formula One, Nakajima said, “At the moment, it’s clearly no. This deal is really purely focused on one driver, supporting one driver’s dream. But I can clearly say it’s no, and it has nothing to do with that. For the future, you never know.
The developing partnership between McLaren and Toyota is a fascinating story in the world of Formula One. While it remains unclear whether Toyota will return to the sport for good, their increased collaboration with McLaren underlines the dynamic nature of the Formula One landscape.
As the two companies embark on this journey, the motorsport world is eagerly awaiting further developments and Toyota’s potential return to F1. Certainly McLaren are still learning a hard lesson in modern Formula 1 since ditching the Honda works deal; to win and win championships, customer engines are not the answer.
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