Toyota has confirmed that it will pull the plug on its Formula One program immediately. The news was announced by company boss Akio Toyoda in Tokyo some 11 days before a much anticipated meeting where the team's budget was to be discussed.
Toyota's withdrawal comes following the departure of Honda 11 months ago, and confirmation from Bridgestone on Monday that it will leave F1 at the end of 2010. It leaves Japan with no strong connections to the sport for the first time since Honda's return in 1983.
Toyota arrived in F1 amid great fanfare in 2002, and while it has earned pole positions and podiums--the red and white cars finished second in two of the last four races of this year--there had been no wins.
Although there had been doubts about the company's long-term commitment, the fact that it had signed the new Concorde Agreement in July and appeared to be actively negotiating with drivers seemed promising. The incumbent drivers had been let go, but it's believed that no contracts had yet been signed with any replacements.
It remains to be seen whether Toyota is able to sell the team, but the fact that it is based within a larger site owned by the company means it will be much harder to sell as an independent entity.
The facility is much too large for any purchaser who will inevitably want to downsize and cut staffing levels, as happened when Honda was passed on via a management buyout to Ross Brawn. It also not clear if an engine supply arrangement would be made available to any buyer, although this would seem unlikely.
If the team does not continue there could be legal action against Toyota from the FIA and/or Bernie Ecclestone, since the team had made a three-year commitment when it signed the Concorde Agreement. BMW chose not to do so, having already decided to pull out. But that meant Sauber team purchaser Qadbak had to start as a fresh entity and has been waiting on the reserve list for one of the other 13 teams to drop out.
Toyota could scale down the motorsports side of the Cologne operation and operate a sportscar, rally or touring car program. It last competed at Le Mans in 1999.