So is 2008 going to be the year when Toyota finally gets to justify the hundreds of millions it’s invested in Formula One?

Jarno Trulli’s strong run to fourth place in Malaysia certainly suggests the team is on course for a better season than last year. It even offset the F1 outfit’s disappointing start to the season in Melburne, where Trulli retired and new boy Nico Glock suffered a spectacular end-over-end shunt.

But in Japan – and within Toyota – there seems to be an increasingly prevalent belief that 2008 really is the make-or-break season. Because despite having one of the biggest budgets in the paddock, Toyota’s eight years in Formula One have so far produced the dizzying total of two pole positions, no wins and just 159 points from 106 races.

I recently attended the company’s motorsports conference in Tokyo, where the top brass again expressed confidence for the year ahead. “I strongly hope that that one of our drivers will stand on the top step of the podium this year,” said boss Katsuaki Watanabe. Although his rueful admission that “you probably remember me saying the same thing last year” got a laugh from the audience.

The big question remains that of whether Toyota would really walk away from Formula One if the results don’t arrive. Some people clearly reckon that a clean break is the best approach for the brand, but there’s another long-standing rumour that Toyota just wants one win in F1 before it feels it can walk away, honour intact.