Recently, McLaren, the outfit based in Woking, concluded an longstanding agreement to utilize Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne. Instead, it has transferred to its own new facility located in Woking. However, this move does not signal the end of their collaborative relationship. On the contrary – it appears that the partnership is growing stronger and moving to a more intimate level.
Ahead of the recent Japanese GP, McLaren unveiled that they were recruiting Toyota factory driver Ryo Hirakawa to their 2024 backup driver roster. This move was a testament to the evolving association between the two giants. With the agreement, Hirakawa will be a part of the McLaren‘s simulator program and will conduct tests for its 2021 car model.
Hirakawa’s contract is a surprising pick as he wasn’t earlier on the F1 teams’ radar. But, it is evident that Toyota’s is eager to bolster and deepen its ties with the grand prix racing.
Adding to this speculation was the presence of Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda, who was a part of the Japanese manufacturer’s delegation at the Japanese GP last weekend. This event, in conjunction with the rumors of McLaren eyeing Toyota as a potential future engine partner, points to a rising interest in F1.
When Andrea Stella, McLaren team principal was questioned about the rationale behind choosing Hirakawa, he detailed that the decision was more holistic and an integral piece of a bigger plan with Toyota. In Stella’s words, “There was the element of, having started a driver development programme, there’s quite a lot of people knocking on the door.”
According to Stella, McLaren‘s Credibility has attracted other interested talents to join the program. They were thrilled that Ryo and Toyota showed interest in their driver development program. Additionally, the partnership would enable McLaren to tap into Toyota’s knowledge of performance and driver development to widen their understanding.
While there are talks of a deeper collaboration in the coming years, claims of Toyota’s immediate comeback to F1 appear premature at the moment. Toyota Gazoo Racing advisor, Kazuki Nakajima clarified at the Japanese GP that Hirakawa’s deal doesn’t mark Toyota’s comeback to grand prix racing but did not dismiss future possibilities.
Nakajima stated, “For now, it’s clearly no.” He further emphasized, “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.”