McLaren and Japanese automotive giant forging closer ties as rumors of an F1 return gain momentum
McLaren and Toyota have forged a partnership for their driver development programme, sparking further speculation of an F1 return. The Japanese giant has collaborated with the Woking squad to announce Roy Hirakawa as their reserve driver for the 2024 season.
The Hirakawa deal has sparked rumours about a potential engine partnership between McLaren and Toyota in the future. The last time the Japanese automotive giant was in the sport was in the early 2000s.
They exited the sport after a failed venture as an engine supplier and works outfit. Since then, Toyota has been an active part of the World Endurance Championship, where Fernando Alonso won the iconic 24 hours of Le Mans race twice with their team.
Explaining the collaboration to the Motorsport Network, Stella said:
“There was the element of having started a driver development programme, there's quite a lot of people knocking on the door. 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.”
Commenting on a potential return to the sport at the Japanese GP, Toyota Gazoo Racing advisor Kazuki Nakajima said:
“For now, it's clearly no. This deal is really purely focusing on a driver, supporting a driver's dream. At the moment, it really has nothing to do with that. I know, of course, you can think about it, and there are a lot of rumours. But I can clearly say that it's no, and nothing to do with it. For the future, we never know.”
While Toyota’s racing advisor Nakajima and McLaren’s team principal Stella have clearly stated that the collaboration focuses on driver development, the tie-up has led to speculation. McLaren had previously used the Toyota wind tunnel in Cologne for their car development in the past but chose to develop their 2024 car at Woking as they completed refurbishing their own wind tunnel.
Stella explained that they are looking forward to expand their horizons with a broader partnership in the future, which has led to speculation that there may be an engine partnership deal on the table if the Japanese manufacturer decided to return to the sport.
Nakajima denied the suggestion of a potential F1 return at the moment but refused to predict the potential of one in the future. Toyota’s last venture in F1 was an ambitious one with enormous financial backing but a lack of results.
McLaren successfully upgraded their wind tunnel facility
McLaren team have announced the successful completion of the reconstruction of their wind tunnel facility at their headquarters in Woking. Before the team heads to Qatar for the next race, their top management and drivers took a tour of the new facility where the 2024 car will be developed.
The refurbishment of their wind tunnel had started in 2019 when they demolished the previous one and reconstructed a brand new state-of-the art facility. The team have announced on their website that they have notified the FIA of their move to develop their car at their own facility instead of Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne.
Speaking about the wind tunnel construction, Hannah Allan, Engineering Project Manager said:
“Once the project had been approved, we carried out our design process simultaneously with the demolition of the existing wind tunnel. Demolition involved breaking down the old steelwork into much smaller pieces so that it would fit through the doors and out of the building. Looking at the empty space where the old test section once stood, we thought ‘there is no going back now!‘.”
Explaining the magnitude of the project, Director of R&D and Technology Christian Schramm said:
“It was an enormous project and the biggest investment in Racing since the construction of the MTC. It was an amazing team effort. There were a lot of sacrifices, extra hours, and extra shifts worked, both during the week and on weekends. This was a complex project, but the team’s hard work ensured we were successful.”
The original wind tunnel in Woking was lying unused since 2010 as the team developed its cars in Germany, as then the original facility could only develop 50% of the car and not 60% of it as required in the current era of the sport. The completion of the facility is a huge benefit to McLaren who are on an upward trajectory to become frontrunners on the grid.
After turning around most of their performance woes in the 2023 season, the papaya orange squad has surged through the grid to compete with Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin. They are currently fifth in the championship standings with a total of 172 points.