Tommi Makinen (right) with Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

Tokyo - Retired four times world champion Tommi Makinen will be Toyota's team principal when the Japanese manufacturer returns to the world rally championship in 2017, Toyota announced on Tuesday.

The 51-year-old Finn won his four successive titles with Mitsubishi between 1996 and 1999.

Toyota also said that its president Akio Toyoda, a keen amateur racer who has had instruction from Makinen in the past, will be chairman of the team when it returns after an 18 year absence.

Mr Toyoda said: “Tommi has abundant experience and fresh ideas for vehicle development, both of which will be valuable assets to us. With Tommi behind us, Toyota will forge ahead with our return to the WRC and also our efforts to make ever better cars.”

Toyota, which won four drivers' and three manufacturers' world titles in the 1990s before leaving the series as champions in 1999, is returning with a Yaris WRC car prepared in Germany.