At the team’s technical centre in Cologne, Germany, key figures from Panasonic Toyota Racing joined drivers Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Kamui Kobayashi to take the wraps off the TF108 in front of the worldwide media and thousands of fans live on www.toyota-f1.com.
Toyota’s challenging spirit and determination to meet ambitious targets has played a key part in the evolution of the TF108, with key features of the new car being a longer wheelbase, a major aerodynamic upgrade, revised suspension and a new gearbox. Wind tunnel tests and simulations show the TF108 is a marked improvement on its predecessor and the team expects to move closer to its long-term aim of winning races and fighting for the World Championship.
Chairman and Team Principal Tadashi Yamashina says: "Of course, our ultimate target is the middle step of the podium – we are in Formula 1 to win and we want to do that soon. Our clear target in 2008 is to make a big improvement in our results because we were not satisfied with our performance last year. We expect to have a truly competitive car so our drivers should be aiming to finish in the points regularly and challenging for the podium."
Using the renowned Toyota Way principles to encourage innovation and a spirit of challenge, the team have worked tirelessly to finalise the TF108 concept and put their innovative thinking into practice, as Yamashina-san adds: "At the factory everyone is motivated and pushing as hard as possible, always aiming for kaizen, continuous improvement.
"The team work is very impressive and communication is very good between all departments which has definitely helped in the development of the TF108. Everybody is working together as one unit so I am very happy with that. We have real team spirit.
"We have great potential in this team - we have the right people in place and the right resources so we have every reason to be optimistic."
Since making its Formula 1 debut in 2002, Panasonic Toyota Racing has strengthened and learnt from experience. The challenge of building the entire car – chassis and engine – under one roof, with a new team is significant but everyone at the Cologne technical centre is impatient to succeed and great strides continue to be made towards the ultimate goal.
President John Howett says: "We look in good shape for 2008, there is no question about that. The hard work continues all the time. We started the TF108 in earnest more or less the day the TF107 hit the track and the development has been remorseless, which it has to be because of the competitive pressure of Formula 1.
"The key issue has been to identify the major elements which contribute to performance enhancement and put more resources into those areas. Clearly the car is improving, I think, dramatically and continually, but so are the other cars. It is therefore the relative rate of performance gain that is absolutely critical. We have to work harder and smarter than our competitors."
The TF108 is significantly different to its predecessor, on the outside and the inside, as a result of the team’s continuous search for improvement, as well as regulation changes.
Formula 1 technology is constantly evolving and the team’s designers have kept pace, resulting in noticeable changes for the TF108. A key change is that increase in wheelbase, the distance between front and rear axles.
Senior General Manager Chassis Pascal Vasselon explains: "The main reason for making the wheelbase longer is to achieve more stability, but secondly we also expect greater aerodynamic development potential, giving our aerodynamicists wider surfaces and more space to play with."
As well as a longer wheelbase, the TF108 boasts a distinctive new aerodynamic concept and advanced suspension lay-outs.
"The aerodynamic concept of this car has changed," adds Pascal. "The TF107 was an evolution of the TF106 but this time the new package is a departure from recent Toyotas. The primary aerodynamic design philosophy for the TF108 is geared towards optimising the entire package. In mechanical terms we felt we had a strong basis so we have focused on making a few refinements."
A key element of Toyota Way thinking is genchi genbutsu - going to the source - and in developing the TF108, Pascal and his team have analysed the TF107’s characteristics to find performance solutions. He says: "In 2007, the performance overall was not where it had to be so there were obviously some weaknesses. The objectives for TF108 development are aerodynamic efficiency and drivability. For 2008, we want a car offering a wider operating window."
Improvement is not restricted to chassis development and under the skin of the TF108 lies a new gearbox and, importantly, a new electronic control unit (ECU) for the RVX-08 engine.
In 2008, all teams must use the same ECU while electronic driver aids such as traction control and engine braking have been banned. The change to a standard ECU represented a major challenge, as Senior General Manager Engine Luca Marmorini explains: "On a Formula 1 engine, or indeed any modern car engine, even the mechanical parts are controlled by electronics so this is a big, big change.
"For a high revving engine, like in a Formula 1 car, the engine will definitely change a lot from a dynamic point of view due to a change in the control system. It is a big investment from a development point of view to adapt it."
Once again, engine development is frozen so only minor modifications have been allowed in the interests of reliability. However, the development effort from Luca and his team has not lessened; the focus has merely shifted. This has meant concentrating on how the engine is used, dragging every last bit of performance from the package as well as constantly improving the elements around the engine where development is allowed – all this while optimising engine performance with a new ECU and the traction control ban.
"That work does have a positive effect on performance and lap time but we are not speaking about big changes because we do not have the freedom," Luca says. "We can only work within this very strict framework but we have done some interesting development and we expect to see positive results in 2008."
Of course, the launch of a new car is only the first step. Panasonic Toyota Racing has set ambitious targets for its latest car and intense development will continue up to and beyond the first race of the season in Australia on March 16, when the final aerodynamic package will be available.
The team is ready for the challenge ahead, as Pascal says: "Everyone has worked very hard to get to this stage but really the work is far from being complete. Now we will focus first on understanding the characteristics of the car on the track in order to steer set-up and development directions. There is a lot of work to do to get the most out of the car before the season starts so there will be no let-up in our efforts."
That work resumes immediately with the TF108 roll out on 13 January followed by its first official test a day later, also at Jerez. There are a further five tests before the start of a season which Panasonic Toyota Racing hopes to be its best yet.