Panasonic Toyota Racing
One Team, One Aim: Cultures Combine at Panasonic Toyota Racing
The team has been based in Germany since 1979 but throughout that time there have been strong links to Japan; and that is as true as ever in 2008. The bond between Japan and the team has been strengthened in recent years with the increased adoption of the Toyota Way back at base in Cologne.
Following the Toyota Way principals, Panasonic Toyota Racing has returned to form this season - finishing on the podium twice and pushing to take fourth in the Constructors' Championship - and for Chairman and Team Principal Tadashi Yamashina, the reasons are clear.
"There are several key reasons for the improvement in our results," he says. "One is the operation of the team, the teamwork, in that everyone is pulling together. This includes the people who go racing and the people who stay behind at the factory. The operation has improved, so everybody is working to make the team better."
Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a cornerstone of Toyota Way philosophy - and it has become a key principal at Panasonic Toyota Racing as well. But how is this theory translated into practice in the team's technical centre? Yamashina-san has one simple explanation: "The principle of enjoying your job by exchanging information with others is fundamental to Toyota."
As part of that philosophy, he shares an office with the team's top management, making communication straightforward and showing the kind of open-minded attitude which allows innovation to thrive and sows the seeds of future success.
"Routine communication can be carried out by email, however far away anybody might be," Yamashina-san adds. "But for face-to-face discussions, people can get together straight away. If you want to say something to someone's face, you can do it there and then.
"Another thing is that you are more involved with everyone's daily work. With three of us in the room this means that you get more idea what is going on elsewhere within the company."
With over 30 different nationalities, Panasonic Toyota Racing is a united nations of Formula 1. Among the 650 or so staff in Cologne many are Japanese, and Yamashina-san believes all nationalities have learnt valuable lessons from each other, giving the team its unique potential.
"The strength of the Japanese engineers is that they have lots of experience of working in the Toyota Way," he says. "The strength of the European and other engineers is that they have been working in Formula 1 and motorsport for many years. We combine their respective strengths, so that the Japanese engineers teach their counterparts when the Toyota style of working is most appropriate, and learn from the local engineers when the Formula 1 approach is best, feeding what they've learned back to Japan. It's a mixed approach."
But the team has more than Japanese engineers and mechanics - it has its very own Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, a rising star who is third driver as well as a successful GP2 racer.
The 22-year-old, from Hyogo in Japan, has won races in both the GP2 Asia and GP2 Series this season; his first in the category since stepping up from the Formula 3 Euroseries. As if racing in Formula 1's unofficial feeder category was not demanding enough, he has also contributed to Panasonic Toyota Racing's strong form this year through his testing work.
Kamui's path to Formula 1 has been plotted by the Toyota Young Drivers Programme (TDP) for several years. The TDP scheme is designed to produce the best possible racing drivers for Toyota, but the fact Kamui is Japanese is a welcome bonus.
"It's our dream for Toyota to win the championship with a Japanese driver in a Toyota car, and we now have Kamui Kobayashi as our test driver," says Yamashina-san. "The team is right behind him and hoping that he can become a top driver. At the same time, I will definitely not be giving him preferential treatment and letting him drive our car just because he's Japanese. I've told him he'll have to work hard and get there on merit!"
And Kamui is certainly working hard; already this year he has competed in 30 GP2 races and tested for 11 days for Panasonic Toyota Racing. "I've dreamed of being in Formula 1 ever since I was a small boy," he says. "I passed the TDP audition, as they call it, when I was 14, and have been committed to Toyota ever since.
"I fully realise how lucky I am to work in such an environment. It doesn't really put pressure on me, but I put continual pressure on myself and I don't forget that I've been in a more fortunate position than others in getting this far.
"Now that I'm close to racing in Formula 1 and I'm trying to break through, I've realised what an incredible achievement it would be if I ever made it into Formula 1, when there are only 20 drivers in the world competing."
His efforts with Panasonic Toyota Racing, not to mention his rapid development, have certainly won him many admirers.
Executive Vice President Yoshiaki Kinoshita says: "He is amazingly bright. What's particularly outstanding about him is his opening lap. On the first lap after the race starts, he'll overtake three cars in dry conditions and something like seven to 10 in the wet! I've never seen a driver like that before."
Director Technical Coordination Chassis Noritoshi Arai concurs: "In terms of his skill and judgement as a driver, he's made great improvements. If he can hang in there and produce good results in races, I'll have nothing to complain about."
Great improvement is a theme running throughout Panasonic Toyota Racing and it describes not just the significant progress made in the last 12 months, but also the ambition for the years to come.
For a video feature on this topic featuring exclusive interviews with Tadashi Yamashina, Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Noritoshi Aria, Kamui Kobayashi and other team members, please visit the Broadcast Room at www.toyota-f1-world.com.