McLaren keen on developing closer ties with Toyota

(L to R): Ryo Hirakawa (JPN) McLaren Reserve Driver with Akio Toyoda (JPN) President Toyota Motor Corporation and Zak Brown (USA) McLaren Executive Director. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
© XPB 

The McLaren F1 team team is working on an 'ideas exchange' programme with automotive giant Toyota, it's been reported.

McLaren has just ended a deal to use Toyota's ageing wind tunnel facilities in Cologne in favour of its own just-completed brand-new set up in Woking.

But Toyota factory driver Ryo Hirakawa had been added to McLaren's roster of reserve drivers for 2024, in a deal that would also see him joining McLaren's simulator driver and get some real world tests on a 2021 car.

Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda's presence last weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka as part of a delegation hosted by McLaren has also given rise to speculation that Toyota features in the team's plans.

Toyota competed in F1 as a manufacturer in 139 races from 2002 until 2009 with drivers including Mika Salo, Alan McNish, Olivier Panis, Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock.

After ending its time in F1, Toyota pivoted to endurance sportscar racing with multiple wins in the top LMP1 class of the Le Mans 24 Hours event since 2012, with Hirakawa part of their winning driver line-up in 2022.

But now there are rumours that Toyota is seeking a return to F1, as a possible engine partner to an existing team after the change in engine regulations being introduced in 2026 which has already tempted its arch rival Audi back.

This week, McLaren team principal Andrea Stella told that Hirakawa's appointment was indeed part of a 'bigger picture' strategy for Toyota.

Ryo Hirakawa (JPN) McLaren Reserve Driver. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

"Having started a driver development programme, there's quite a lot of people knocking on the door,” Stella said when asked to explain how the Hirakawa decision came about.

“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.

“We are certainly excited that Ryo and Toyota wanted to join the team in terms of the driver development programme," he explained.

“We're 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.”

The podium (L to R): Ryo Hirakawa (JPN), Brendon Hartley (NZL), Sebastien Buemi (SUI) #08 Toyota Gazoo Racing, second; Koji Sato (JPN) Toyota President and Chief Executive Officer; Jose Maria Lopez (ARG), Mike Conway (GBR), Kamui Kobayashi (JPN)#07 Toyota Gazoo Racing, race winners; Andre Lotterer (GER), Kevin Estre (FRA). Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) #06 Porsche Penske Motorsport, third. 10.09.2023. FIA World Endurance Championship, Round 6, Six Hours of Fuji, Fuji, Japan, Sunday. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Toyota Gazoo Racing advisor Kazuki Nakajima said last week that the Hirakawa was not a first step in Toyota coming back to F1 but acknowledged that this could change in future.

“For now, it's clearly no," he insisted in Suzuka. "This deal is really purely focusing on a driver, supporting a driver's dream.

"At the moment it really has nothing to do with [Toyota returning to F1]. 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."

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