October 2, 2009 / 3:09 AM / 10 years ago

INTERVIEW-Motor racing-Toyota looking to sign a top driver

SUZUKA, Japan, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Toyota could have a completely new drivers line-up next year with Kimi Raikkonen just one of the top names being targeted, the Formula One team’s motorsport president John Howett said on Friday.

Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season and is widely expected to return to his former team McLaren.

However, the Finn said on Thursday he had not yet decided what to do and could even walk away from the sport altogether. He added that he would only consider driving for a competitive team.

“We have always expressed interest in Kimi,” Howett told Reuters at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Toyota, who made their debut in 2002 and have never won a race, have Italian Jarno Trulli and Germany’s Timo Glock driving for them but are now hoping to lure more high-profile names.

BMW-Sauber’s Polish driver Robert Kubica, expected to take Fernando Alonso’s place at Renault when the double world champion replaces Raikkonen at Ferrari, could be another target.

Howett said Trulli was very unlikely to stay and the team have allowed an option on Glock, who finished second in Singapore last weekend, to lapse.

“I think he did a fantastic job in Singapore and we are talking to him, but honestly speaking we feel that could have been the result in other races if we could qualify in that position,” said Howett.

“I am sorry, it is very a tough life, and our job is to deliver results.

“He (Glock) 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.”

ATTRACTIVE OPTION

Howett said his team was an attractive option to the top drivers.

“We know who we would like in the car and we are working hard on it,” he said.

“We need to keep all our options open, and to be able to catch somebody if the opportunity comes, we need two seats available.

“We like Timo very much, he did a great job, but still 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 played down fears that Toyota could pull out of Formula One at the end of the season, saying team principal Tadashi Yamashina had been misquoted by one Japanese newspaper this week.

In the light of that, he said top drivers would be “stupid” not to consider Toyota as an option.

“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,” he added.

“But to be blunt, there are a lot of teams that on the inside we hear rumours of that are more severe than our condition.

“I think there should be at least one or two (top drivers) seriously interested to come.” (Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

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