Toyota Motor Corporation confirmed officially on Wednesday its decision to pull out of Formula One with immediate effect. Given that the team was told it had "two more years" for success in December 2007--a deadline that has come and gone without a race win, despite a generally strong showing this season--the decision perhaps ought to be unsurprising.
"Based on the current economic environment, we realize we have no choice but to withdraw," said the Japanese carmaker's president Akio Toyoda at a news conference in Tokyo. The economic situation actually put even this season's run in doubt, with the team boss commenting on the near-cancellation this March.
The decision to pull out of F1 could mean that up to 550 Toyota F1 employees will be out of a job, however.
A Toyota staff member told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport magazine that, following the announcement of the carmaker's withdrawal from F1, he heard rumours that only 150 employees will remain at Cologne for the next racing project.
About 700 staff currently work on the team's F1 engine and chassis programs in Junkersdorf, in the west of Cologne.
One option for the withdrawing owners of F1 teams is to sell the operation as a going concern, but team president John Howett said on Wednesday that he believes Toyota Motorsport GmbH will instead be scaled down in order to participate in "grassroots motor sport."
Le Mans has been mentioned as a likely alternative. About a year ago, Toyota denied rumors that it was looking at leaving F1 to race Le Mans.
There's also a storm brewing over Toyota's role in recent decisions made in the Concorde Agreement for the 2010 season, and what impact the team's withdrawal might now have. The current Concorde Agreement is purportedly binding on the teams and the commercial rights holders with the FIA until 2012.
"Urgent clarification is now being sought from the Toyota F1 team as to its legal position in relation to the championship," read a statement issued by the FIA, whose newly-elected president is Jean Todt.
"This will have a direct bearing on the admission of any future 13th entry," the FIA added. Up to thirteen teams could be on the grid for next year's F1 season, but the latest round of withdrawals has cast the final tally into doubt.
Toyota team president John Howett told the Times that he did not know if the FIA would pursue legal action, and Bernie Ecclestone commented: "We're looking into it."
The F1 chief executive told the Daily Express: "The problem is that their team manager John Howett fought against drastic cost-cutting all the way and was against new teams coming in."
The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) reacted to the Toyota news by acknowledging the "financial pressures" on carmakers at present but also mentioning the recent "period of uncertainty and unnecessary confrontation in F1".
Ferrari went one step further, boldly hitting out at the "war waged against the major car manufacturers by those who managed formula one over the past few years".