By Jonathan Noble Friday, October 2nd 2009, 02:13 GMT
Toyota is making a major push to beat Renault to Robert Kubica's services for 2010, AUTOSPORT has learned, as the Japanese manufacturer sets its sights on securing a top-line driver pairing.
Despite recent rumours suggesting that Toyota could pull out of F1, the team's F1 president John Howett told AUTOSPORT in Suzuka on Friday that the team was not only fully committed for next year - but that it was increasing efforts to sign a star driver that would help it capture its maiden win.
Although Kubica has been most strongly linked with Renault for a deal for next year, AUTOSPORT understands that talks between the Polish driver and Toyota are at an advanced stage - with the ball now in Kubica's court as to whether he wants to take up the option with Toyota, or pursue the one he has with Renault. A decision is expected in the next week.
Howett would not confirm the identity of the drivers his team was talking to, but he has not held back in his belief that the team needs a better driver line-up in 2010 if it is to make the final push to win.
"We know who we would like in the car and we are working hard on it," said Howett. "But their [the drivers'] decision is a holistic decision as well. Will we have a winning car next year? There are drivers who haven't come here in the past who probably regret their decision.
"There is always risk and opportunity, and drivers don't always take the right decisions, do they? That is just looking historically over the past five years."
Howett said that the team has opted to release both Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli from their options for next year because Toyota wants a totally clean deck when it comes to choosing drivers. This decision comes despite Glock's second place finish in the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend.
"We want the options as we think there could be quite a big movement in the driver market," said Howett. "I think he [Glock] did a fantastic job in Singapore and we are talking to him, but honestly speaking we feel that could have been that result in other races if we could qualify in that position.
"I am sorry, it is a very tough life, and our job is to deliver results. He could still be in the car next year, but we wanted to keep our options open. And if we didn't release him by a certain date, we would be fixed for 2010."
He added: "We have a car that is more regularly capable of being on the podium and much closer to the top this year. We are not delivering, and there are things beyond the team and the chassis itself."
Howett, who was seen in talks with Kubica's manager Daniele Morelli at Suzuka on Friday morning, said he was hopeful that one of the big names his team was speaking to would commit.
"I think personally that they would be stupid not to," he said. "We have got a lot of inertia. I think there is a lot of uncertainty about a lot of teams, to be honest.
"We seem to be the focus of everybody's attention but to be blunt there are a lot of teams on the inside we hear rumours of, that are more severe than our condition. I think we have had a fairly competitive car, and we seem to be constantly coming.
"I think the drivers also can see when they are driving around the circuit as well how the cars work and their relative differences. I think there should be at least one or two seriously interested to come."
Howett also reiterated his team's desire in luring Kimi Raikkonen to Toyota, even though the Finn appears set to move to McLaren for 2010.
"We have always expressed interest in Kimi," he said.
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