Probably most of you remember the Panasonic Toyota Racing team as the team that spent millions and millions of dollar in for just a couple of podiums and big dreams they could never materialise. Their best season was in 2005 when the team scored several second and third places. Before Toyota had their best season we have to go back al the way to 1999. Especially to the period the Toyota appeared with the Toyota AM01 on the circuit!
It’s the 21st of January 1999 when Toyota Racing makes the announcement that they are working on their own Formula One team. Their original plan is to debut in 2003. Toyota even abandoned their Le Mans and Rally programs to lay their focus on the Formula One. At their announcement they told they were ready to challenge their rivals Honda. Toyota was to work on their own V10 engine and Chassis. While their factory would be in Cologne in Germany.
While Toyota was shopping around in the paddock in 2000 to setup their team, the first steps were taking in their factory to design their first challenger. The Toyota AM01, this became later the Toyota TF101 when the project gained more interest. The Toyota AM01 was originally designed by Andrea de Cortanze. Who had previously F1 experience with Sauber and had lots of designing experience while working in the GT and rally series (especially with Peugeot).
Where the original plans to debut in 2003 in the Formula One, in early 2000 the plans were to debut already in 2001. Eventually this plan was scrapped as well and 2001 was used as a test year to gain lots of data and telemetry on several circuits. The Toyota AM01 appeared for the first time on the track the 23th of March 2001 at Paul Ricard.
During 2001 Andrea de Costanze was replaced by Gustav Brunner who came from the small Minardi team. This didn’t go without a fight. The deal was done when the case appeared in the courtyard. Brunner would oversee the development of the Toyota AM01 which would eventually evolve in the Toyota TF102 which would debut in 2002.
Mika Salo and Allan McNish were attracted as the teams drivers and would do most of the testing in 2001 as well. For McNish it finally meant his Formula One debut after testing with several teams. He tested for Benetton and Lola before he made his debut with Toyota. Mika Salo tested the Toyota AM01 most of the time at Paul Ricard. The team choose for the track as it had all the facilities needed. As well was build according the Formula One standards. Allan McNish tested with the AM01 on 10 tracks during the 2001 season.
In total both drivers did around 3000 laps in the Toyota AM01 on the 11 circuits they were active on. This equals around 21.000km! It’s a hack of amount of data the team received.
On the website of ScrabsF1 there is a article that sums up the progression the Toyota AM01 made during the months the team tested intensively with the car. Interesting is that Mika Salo revealed in the podcast Beyond the Grid that the Toyota AM01 was a heavy car that was impossible to drive with. It drove like a bus. That’s not really what you want to drive. It only improved after Gustav Brunner completed the design of the Toyota TF101.
There is only one question left. Why was the Toyota called the AM01 and in a later stadium it became the Toyota TF101? It’s a question I can’t give a clear answer on. When you use the Wayback Machine to visit Toyota’s page they don’t mention the AM01. They mention it as the TF101. All I could uncover is that the AM01 is the name of the internal project. The team went to the TF101 after the first big update and the project was well known for the public.