The spotlight has been placed on the car maker’s role in managing motorsport programs due to the frequent turnover of senior staff at the Alpine Formula 1 team, resembling the turnover seen in football management. It is evident that having seven team principals in a span of 10 years for the Enstone team does not contribute to the stability necessary for success. The team could gain valuable insights from Toyota’s approach to the WRC, especially in how the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world, Akio Toyoda, effectively manages their highly successful rally operation with passion and a unique style.
His mantra is a simple one but it goes a long way in explaining Toyota’s run to three WRC manufacturers’ titles (2020-2022) and four drivers’ crowns (2019-2022) since rejoining the WRC in 2017 after a 17-year absence.
“I believe that those individuals who are in close proximity to the events unfolding possess the greatest knowledge. Therefore, I advocate for allowing these knowledgeable individuals to carry out their duties effectively. This approach is not only applicable to my involvement in the rally but also to the operations of Toyota as a whole.”
Manufacturers participate in racing primarily to sell cars and utilize the knowledge and technology gained from competition to enhance their road vehicles. Winning undoubtedly aids in accomplishing this objective. Naturally, pursuing success in racing involves significant financial investment and an equal amount of pressure to deliver.
Alpine created pressure for itself by establishing a 100-race strategy to regain a top position in the F1 grid. This plan was introduced by the former CEO, Laurent Rossi, when the Renault team rebranded as Alpine in 2021. Despite not reaching the halfway point of this plan to compete for the world championship, the higher-ups decided to initiate a second round of personnel changes. Otmar Szafnauer, who held the team principal position, only remained in the role for 18 months. This decision arose from a disagreement between the F1 team’s management and the car manufacturer regarding the pace at which they were progressing according to the established timeline.
Since Toyota announced its return to the World Rally Championship (WRC), the only notable alteration in management occurred in 2021. This change involved four-time WRC champion Tommi Makinen, who played a crucial role in establishing the team, stepping down to allow Jari-Matti Latvala to assume the position of team principal.
Latvala became Toyota team principal in 2021, but was given a round off to return to the driver’s seat in Finland
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Manufacturers naturally desire immediate success when they invest in motorsport, but it is unrealistic to expect overnight triumph. Achieving a world championship requires time, a positive work atmosphere, and above all, trust between the manufacturer and the team striving for success.
Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda who founded Toyota, strongly supports the idea mentioned above. His leadership approach was demonstrated at the recent Rally Finland, where he assumed the position of team principal. The fact that he allowed Latvala to temporarily step down from his role as team principal and participate in the WRC event in his home country reflects Toyoda’s character and serves as a recognition for his recent achievements.
Toyoda is an extremely enthusiastic and dedicated leader in the automotive industry, particularly in motorsport. He played a crucial role in Toyota’s return to the WRC in 2017. Recently, during an announcement about the construction of a new WRC development center in Finland, he openly expressed his deep affection for the sport, stating, “I must admit, my love for the WRC is akin to a child’s love for ice cream.” His words are not empty; Toyoda’s genuine passion has driven him to personally participate and compete in his company’s rally cars. Whenever he is immersed in the world of motorsport, his face lights up with a joyful, childlike smile. This unwavering enthusiasm and positive energy are intended to lead the team to triumph.
“In addition to the regular morning greetings, what I told them were simply three things: ‘One team’, ‘never give up’, and ‘we hate to lose’. And one more Finnish word that I learned this time: SISU [the Finnish word for courage]” Akio Toyoda
“I have two main motivations for returning to WRC. Firstly, we aim to participate in order to enhance our car manufacturing capabilities through valuable experiences. Secondly, we recognize the importance of human resource development. Without these two aspects, our company’s purpose would be compromised. Therefore, I can confidently state that Toyota’s commitment to WRC and its development center is a long-term commitment.”
In Finland, Motorsport.com was able to witness Toyoda’s management style as a team principal, and it is clear to see why Toyota has been so successful in WRC. It is built on allowing staff to do their jobs to the best of their ability amid a palpable sense of team unity. He portrayed this ‘one team, one dream’ mantra as team principal by attending every service to talk to his staff and conducting interviews with the media in all weather. He cheered on his drivers from the stages and back at the service park.
Toyota has successfully fostered a strong sense of teamwork within its ranks, despite the inherently individualistic nature of the sport.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Toyoda expressed his sense of belonging in this environment and conveyed his gratitude towards the team and its diligent members.
“Prior to assuming the role of team principal, I refrained from interfering with the drivers as they possess the necessary expertise in their field. Being professionals, my sole aim is to provide encouragement to the drivers. Although I am also a driver myself, I am curious about the team principal’s instructions to inspire them.”
“The first job was to talk to the team members. In addition to the regular morning greetings, what I told them were simply three things: ‘One team’, ‘never give up’, and ‘we hate to lose’. And one more Finnish word that I learned this time: SISU [the Finnish word for courage].”
Toyoda believes that the best demonstration of unity occurred when world champion Kalle Rovanpera provided guidance to his teammate Takamoto Katsuta, resulting in the Japanese driver achieving a stage win and ultimately securing his first podium finish in Europe.
“After completing the final stage, Takamoto [Katsuta] mentioned that he received advice from Kalle,” Toyoda stated. “Although we were unable to repair Kalle’s car, he is still actively involved with the team, which fills me with pride as both a team principal and owner. It exemplifies the spirit of our team, where individuals support and share smiles with one another. This demonstrates our unity as a cohesive unit. I am once again thankful to Jari-Matti for establishing and guiding such an exceptional team. I extend my gratitude to him and the entire team for an incredible week.”
Is it possible for Toyoda to be requested to return as the Toyota team principal following his successful first appearance?
Photo by: Toyota Racing
As the temporary team principal, I had the opportunity to recognize the immense effort put in by each team member in their respective roles, which renewed my appreciation for everyone. Jari-Matti will resume his position as team principal for the remaining events. We will persist in working and fighting together, guided by our shared values: unity, perseverance, aversion to defeat, and SISU.
While he will be among the first to shy away from the plaudits, Toyoda now has the enviable record of leading a team to success in his one and only outing as team principal, thanks to Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin claiming a home win for Toyota.
What is the experience of working directly under Toyoda like? Latvala, Toyota’s team principal, is the ideal person to provide insight, as he is responsible for leading Toyota to success in the WRC, except during Rally Finland.
“I have had a great experience working with him. He advised me to have fun, stay calm, and keep a positive attitude,” Latvala shares with Motorsport.com. “It is remarkable to witness his participation in Meet the Crews, autograph signings, interviews, and presence at the stages. It is not common to see a high-ranking individual from a car manufacturer so enthusiastic and willing to perform these tasks. This contributes to our success.”
Manufacturers aiming for success in motorsport, regardless of the specific field, can undoubtedly gain valuable insights from Toyoda’s approach.
Toyoda is being celebrated with podium excitement but chose not to accept credit for the team’s achievement.
Photo by: Toyota Racing