Rumours emerged on the internet before Christmas that suggested Jarno Trulli’s 2009 seat at Toyota was under threat. The Grand Prix veteran was supposedly to be dismissed in favour of the team’s test driver, Kamui Kobayashi.
It has since turned out those rumours were false. It seems highly unlikely that Toyota will usurp their longest lasting and most successful driver just days before the launch of their new car, and Trulli’s management have said the reports were “without foundation” and that “somebody envies Jarno, but in life it is better to be envied than pitied.”
However, you can see why Kobayahsi’s appointment would have made sense for the Japanese manufacturer.
Jarno Trulli’s contract currently costs Toyota somewhere in the region of ten million US dollars per year making him one of the highest paid drivers in Formula One. Toyota was happy to spend big when they first entered the sport six years ago but the global financial crisis has hit all of the car makers hard over the last twelve months. In a significant turn of events, the Toyota Motor Company is forecasting a loss this financial year for the first time in its entire history. Although it has colossal reserves of cash to absorb the credit crunch, the company will still be looking to cut costs at every opportunity, and Kobayashi would have been considerable saving for the business that could be instantly measured.
Kamui’s nationality is also important because a local star behind the wheel of a Toyota would mean a lot to the patriotic Japanese. With Honda and Super Aguri now absent, Toyota has a golden opportunity to become the nation’s main focus in Formula One, and placing Kobayashi at the wheel would have cemented that status.
Team management might also have considered Jarno Trulli’s age. The Italian is getting towards the end of his career so if he does continue in 2009 it will likely be his final season. Although he brings a lot to the team Trulli is not their long term bet.
Timo Glock’s strong performances towards the end of 2008 should also be taken into account because it means it would not have been such a risk for Toyota to place a rookie alongside him. Glock started the year almost half a second per lap behind Trulli on race pace, but the two drivers finished the season on roughly equal terms. The former GP2 champ was still unable to match his teammate in qualifying but he was never going to do that anyway. Timo isn’t a team leader in the same vein as Trulli, but he is no longer a newbie learning the ropes.
Placing Kobayashi alongside Timo Glock was not an unrealistic proposition.
Despite that, Jarno Trulli is still Toyota’s best option, which is why the team will stick with him.
He is a brilliantly quick driver and is one of the fastest in Formula One. Don’t for a second doubt Trulli’s raw talent and ability because it’s only a lack of consistency that has prevented him from being highly successful.
Jarno Trulli cops a lot of flak for being a great qualifier but an awful racer, and the criticism is fairly directed because he rarely finishes ahead of his starting position. However, this isn’t due to his poor racing but is down to his superhuman efforts in qualifying. Trulli is one of the greatest single lap experts the sport has ever seen. He can push himself and his machinery to the very limit and can extract the maximum out of a car, which is something only the true greats can manage over a full race distance. He isn’t racing badly, but just qualifying extremely well.
When he does get it together during a race Trulli is unbeatable, evidence of which we saw at Monaco in 2004. That might have been the only Grand Prix that Jarno totally owned but he has been a little unlucky not to have claimed a few other victories over the years as well.
He almost won the 1997 Austrian Grand Prix for Prost during his debut F1 season. He led the first 37 laps of the race and pulled miles ahead of the field, but an engine failure brought his light fuelled charge to an end. Another potential win slipped through his fingers at Monaco in 2000 when a gearbox failure robbed him of second place, which would have become first place when the leading Ferrari retired.
Trulli was fast enough to win the final two races of the 2003 season also, but crashed on Saturday at Indianapolis and had to qualify in the rain at Suzuka. He was awesome on both weekends and totally carved up the field in Japan where he streaked from dead last to fifth.
In addition to that, he probably would have won the Canadian Grand Prix in 2004 if his drivetrain hadn’t ripped itself apart before the first corner, and could have taken Toyota’s first win at the Nurburgring in 2005 if his mechanics hadn’t earned a penalty for being too slow off the grid.
You could not say that Jarno Trulli has been a particularly unlucky driver, but if the gods of fortune were a little kinder to him he would have taken a handful of Grand Prix victories in cars that weren’t entirely worthy of the winners circle.
Not too shabby at all.
Falling out with Flavio Briatore at the peak of his career was the worst thing that ever happened to Jarno because it prevented him from staying with Renault and claiming a world title. It’s a very long stretch to imagine Trulli as champion, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. He gave Fernando Alonso just as much grief as Lewis Hamilton did and had more points than Fernando when Renault unceremoniously dropped him towards the end of 2004.
Who knows what might have been?
Along with his sheer pace, Toyota’s F1 management have other reasons to keep Trulli on their books.
Jarno is a real team player and is highly motivated for the upcoming season. He is currently brimming with a healthy confidence having said “I can feel it. 2009 will be the year of my first victory with Toyota.”
His experience will also be handy for the Japanese engineers because the cars will be radically different in 2009. The development race is going to be intense as everyone adapts to the new regulations and a driver with 199 Grands Prix experience will be a huge advantage in that situation, especially when the return of slick tyres will suit his driving style.
Trulli will certainly fair much better than Kobayashi would have.
The 22 year old Japanese driver has not had a great time in the junior categories. He hasn’t had a bad time either but he has not shown anything that clearly justifies a drive in Formula One.
He had a few podiums in the Formula Three Euroseries and was the best rookie in 2006, but he finished the season behind Japanese rivals Kohei Hirate and Kazuki Nakajima, and was dominated by his three teammates that shared ten victories between them.
He raced in GP2 last year and although he took a stunning win in just his second race, he finished in the points on only two other occasions and languished down the championship ladder.
Another year of GP2 racing and F1 testing is probably what Kobayashi needs because the final big leap into Formula One is simply too big for him to make in 2009.
Toyota know that, and will confirm as much when they launch their new car on Thursday.
Jarno Trulli should be safe for another year at least.
It would have been a shame if he missed the 2009 season because Formula One would have been a little less interesting without him.