McLaren ‘expanding horizons’ with closer Toyota ties sparking rumours

Jamie Woodhouse
Oscar Piastri, McLaren, enters the pit lane.

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri enters the pit lane at Suzuka.

Rather than distancing their relationship, McLaren and Toyota are to begin exchanging performance ideas, fuelling rumours that Toyota could be eyeing-up fresh Formula 1 involvement.

Toyota joined the Formula 1 scene back in 2002, but the Japanese manufacturer were never able to hit the heights many had expected.

While 13 podium finishes and three poles were achieved, Toyota were not able to win a grand prix before bowing out as a constructor and engine manufacturer at the end of the 2009 season.

McLaren and Toyota ramping up partnership

Formula 1 is a far different beast now though to when Toyota left, with the existence of the budget cap, while the series continues to enjoy a popularity boom beyond anything it has witnessed before, leading to a scramble to be part of the action.

From 2026 Ford and Audi will join the fray when a new generation of challengers and power units are unleashed, while Andretti-Cadillac are also believed to be making process in their efforts to join Formula 1 as a new team.

Could Toyota be the next manufacturer to take an interest? Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe vice chairman Kazuki Nakajima gave a “clear no” for now, though left the Formula 1 door open for the future, and McLaren’s escalating of ties with Toyota is only fuelling the talk further.

McLaren has now concluded their use of the Toyota windtunnel in Cologne as they settle into their new, in-house facility, though over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, attended by Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, McLaren confirmed Toyota endurance racer Ryo Hirakawa as a reserve driver for the F1 2024 campaign.

McLaren team boss Andrea Stella shed further light on the decision and what it means for the relationship between McLaren and Toyota, his talk of information exchanges on the performance side highly intriguing at this time where rumours are rife on a Toyota F1 comeback.

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“There was the element of, having started a driver development programme, there’s quite a lot of people knocking on the door,” Stella told Motorsport.com.

“We actively chase talents, but we also have interest from other talents to join the programme, which is good. It shows that we have credibility from this point of view.

“So, we are certainly excited that Ryo and Toyota wanted to join the team in terms of the driver development programme.

“Then we took advantage to say well, let’s add him to the pool of reserve drivers. And this is not only for the driver himself.

“We are also interested in a bit of exchange of how we deal with performance, how we deal with driver development. So, we want to sort of expand a bit our horizons.”

F1 2023 has been a story of remarkable growth for McLaren on the track, the team having gone from scrapping for top-10 finishes to battling for podiums, Lando Norris crossing the line P2 in Japan and Oscar Piastri P3 to give McLaren a double podium in front of the Toyota boss’ watching eyes.

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