Future is still bright for Gascoyne despite Toyota departure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2006, 12:00am

This week I had occasion to visit Bahrain's Sakhir F1 track. Having a good nose around I walked into an empty corporate box. It had a Toyota plaque outside, and inside covering an entire wall was a picture of the Toyota team celebrating second and fourth in the race here last year. Crowding around Jarno Trulli and Ralph Schumacher is virtually the whole team, including Mike Gascoyne.

Gascoyne had reason to be happy. The TF105 was the first car designed by the technical director for Toyota and throughout the 2005 season it would garner podiums and pole positions on the way to fourth in the manufacturers championship.

The smiles on the picture are a stark contrast to the atmosphere at Toyota right now. Gascoyne has gone, leaving a day after being suspended by the Japanese team. Ironically the announcement was made following the Australian Grand Prix, where Ralph Schumacher made it onto the podium. After the race, Gascoyne was interviewed about the race on British television. There wasn't a hint at the bombshell to follow. I'd hate to play poker against the man.

His departure from Toyota is the first hiccup in a stellar career for the man who lives in Oxford. He made his name at Jordan, where he designed cars at the end of the nineties that won races and challenged for the world title. Next stop was Renault, where he laid the groundwork for the success the team enjoyed last year. Gascoyne though always had his eye on the next project and took the job at Toyota before Renault had occasion to crack open the bubbly.

Toyota famously are reported to have the biggest budget in Formula 1, which of course means it is a very big budget indeed. A not inconsiderable sum of that budget has ended up in Gascoyne's own wage packet. He is taking home US$6.5million a year for his role at the company. That, by the way is US$17,808 a day. I use the present tense because although he's left the company, he will be paid until November. It shows just how important his skills are in designing a competitive car that he earns substantially more than many of the drivers on the grid.

So, with such a good track record and being held in high esteem, why did it all go wrong? Firstly, Gascoyne was very much his own man who knew his own mind. He needed the freedom to work the way he wanted and to mould those around him to his vision. This was never a problem at Eddie Jordan's outfit or to an extent at Renault, but Toyota is a different proposition.

Big corporations can be much more interventionist, and the inevitable layers of management didn't make for quick decision making or for letting Gascoyne dictate the terms under which he worked. He has never been much of a committee man, and he would have had to have worked under big company constraints.

Then there were the logistics. Gascoyne never moved to Cologne in Germany where Toyota F1 is based. He preferred to commute from Oxford than uproot his family. This would not have endeared himself to his bosses who would have wanted total commitment. When the early season form was nowhere near the maiden win the team so desires, his position was always going to be under threat.

Ironically things had been getting steadily better. A 14th and 16th in Bahrain became an 8th and 9th in Malaysia. The third in Australia showed there was life in the new car. Just this week, Jarno Trulli was quoted as saying the car was finally suiting him.

So where does Mike Gascoyne go from here? Well there's no doubt going to be a number of suitors knocking at his door. But with the bank balance hardly under strain he need be in no hurry to jump straight back into the maelstrom that is F1. Whenever he does return, watch out for a sharp upturn in both his pay packet, and shortly afterwards, the fortunes of the lucky team.