Formula One has lost its third team in less than 12 months with the news that Toyota will quit the sport with immediate effect.
The Japanese car company revealed the decision during a news conference in Tokyo. It said the current economic situation had prompted its departure.
“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 team’s Formula One future had been widely doubted since Honda withdrew at the end of last season. Toyota originally entered the sport in 2002 to compete with its rival, which had returned as an engine supplier two years earlier.
Toyota had also pulled its Fuji Speedway racing circuit, which hosted the 2007 and 2008 Japanese Grands Prix, blaming the worldwide financial problems.
However Toyota did signed a new Concorde Agreement, committing it to the world championship through 2012, and team boss John Howett was adamant that the squad would be on the grid next year although there were hints of a reduced budget.
The team had been pressing ahead with its 2010 preparations including the possibility of signing big name drivers like Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica. There was even talks of signing impressive stand-in Japanese racer Kamui Kobayashi for next year as recently as last weekend.
Toyota’s current drivers, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, had already been expected to move on.
“TMC also wants to express its heartfelt gratitude to all Panasonic Toyota Racing drivers to date and to all Toyota Motorsport GmbH employees who have helped make the team’s achievements possible,” said the statement.
“TMC intends to do its best to find a solution for those parties who will be affected by any inconvenience this decision may cause.”
Toyota entered Formula One in 2002, and was tipped to swiftly become a championship challenger given its massive budget and resources. But the team has yet to win a race and has just three pole positions, 13 podium finishes, and a best result of fourth in the 2005 constructors’ standings to show for its 139 grands prix.
The departure of Toyota is set to throw the former BMW Sauber team a lifeline, as the Hinwil squad and its new owners had been relying on another team dropping out in order to claim the final spot in next season’s expanded 26-car entry.
Toyota added that it would continue to use its Formula One experience in “developing exciting production vehicles” and that it would remain involved in motor racing, albeit at a lower level.
“In motorsports, [Toyota] will not only race in various categories, but will also actively contribute to further development of motorsports by supporting grassroots races and planning events in which it is easy for people to participate.”