TOYOTA HAS STUNNED the motoring world by announcing it will quit Formula 1 with immediate effect following a costly and ultimately fruitless eight years in the sport?s ultimate category.
In a hastily drawn press conference, Toyota President Akio Toyoda told reporters that the Board?s decision was prompted by the pressures of the economic crisis, which has placed the carmaker under severe financial duress.
?This was a difficult but ultimately unavoidable decision,? Mr Toyoda said.
?Since last year with the worsening economic climate, we have been struggling with the question of whether to continue in F1. We are pulling out of Formula 1 completely.
Mr Toyoda added that he was extremely disappointed by the company?s lack of success throughout its time in F1, having failed to score a single GP win.
?I offer my deepest apologies to Toyota's many fans for not being able to achieve the results we had targeted,? he said.
Toyota?s decision comes as a surprise after the team signed the Concorde Agreement committing it to the sport until 2012, while F1 boss John Howett had previously reiterated that the carmaker would have a presence next season.
The Japanese manufacturer entered F1 in 2002, scoring points on debut at Albert Park as Mika Salo came sixth following a costly development campaign, providing a glimpse of a potentially promising future.
However, Toyota?s stellar beginning proved to be a false dawn as the team failed to secure a victory in eight years - despite boasting one of the sport?s largest budgets - claiming only three pole positions and 13 podiums in 139 GP appearances
The team?s exit leaves Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Renault as the only manufacturers remaining in Formula 1, although that group could be reduced further with reports the latter is considering the option of following Toyota out the door.
Renault held an emergency meeting overnight to discuss its F1 future, and is reportedly considering the possibility of simply remaining as an engine supplier should the board decide to dismantle the team.
News over the outcome of the board meeting is not expected to be released until later in the week, although following the multi-million dollar signing of Robert Kubica earlier this month, Renault is expected to remain in the sport.
The Motor Report will keep you updated on the news as it arises.