Felipe Massa told reporters last week that before and after every Grand Prix he talks on the phone to Michael Schumacher. I would love to listen in to one of those conversations and I’m sure many F1 fans around the world feel the same way. It would be fascinating to find out what sort of a mentor Schumacher is to Massa, and what sort of advice he could offer from thousands of miles away.

It strikes me as a little odd. If Schumacher was at the circuit with full access to the telemetry his opinion would be very highly regarded. Yet, I really don’t know what he can tell Massa from his living room in Switzerland that the Brazilian doesn’t already know himself.

The best advice he could offer Felipe is to keep a clean nose and drive as quickly as possible.

If that’s what he did natter down the phone before Bahrain, Massa followed his advice to the letter. Felipe’s solid performance was very timely after all the disparagement he copped in Sepang. There is no better way to respond to your critics than by winning.

It was a good drive, but it still didn’t exhibit any of Massa’s championship potential. It was his third win and all three have come from pole position with an obvious car advantage. That isn’t to belittle his achievement as most Grands Prix are won in the fastest car. Taking victory in Formula One is not an easy thing and Massa should be applauded for doing so. However, it is a lot easier to win if you start from pole in one of the best cars out there.

Felipe Massa does not have a reputation as a great racer, and the best way for him to change that perception is to win from somewhere other than pole.

Perhaps he should take a leaf out of Jarno Trulli’s book.

Jarno has long been judged an awful racer. It is not uncommon to watch Trulli drift back into the pack after an excellent qualifying performance.

The criticism of Trulli’s racing ability is perhaps a little unfair. He is so extraordinary in qualifying that he can put his car high up on the grid where it never should be. Over a race distance his machinery simply can’t maintain that one-lap pace. When Trulli slips backwards during a race, it is not because he is driving poorly but because his qualifying performance exceeded that of his car.

This became particularly evident in 2005 when he joined Toyota. Jarno could qualify well but would hold up the faster drivers behind him during the race. The ‘Trulli Train’ was common at most Grands Prix and by the end of the year rival teams had worked it into their strategies.

Although sometimes Jarno can’t help but fall back he is frequently lacking in racecraft. It seems that Trulli can be overtaken rather easily, and he often struggles to pass slower cars in front of him. It is highly unusual since you would expect someone with his karting pedigree to be very adept at positioning a car in a racing situation. Jarno Trulli won 13 karting titles, including four World Championships, and with that sort of experience you would assume he excels at wheel-to-wheel combat.

There have been occasions when Trulli’s racing has been fantastic. His first podium came in 1999 after an epic battle with Rubens Barrichello at the Nurburgring. At Monza in 2002 he drove through the field from last to fourth and he repeated the performance in the USA last year.

Then on other instances he can be woeful. There were only four races in 2006 where Jarno finished ahead of all the cars that started behind him. Two of those were a result of qualifying problems. The ‘Trulli Train’ didn’t emerge last year since most drivers were able to find a way past his Toyota instead.

Jarno Trulli lost his place at Renault in 2004 when his poor racecraft become too much for the team to handle. Jarno was on track for a podium finish at that year’s French Grand Prix, which would have been excellent PR for the Renault team on home soil. However, on the last corner of the last lap, he lost concentration and allowed Rubens Barrichello to drive straight past him into third. Renault were furious and Trulli’s relationship with the team never recovered. He was dropped shortly thereafter.

When defending his position Trulli rarely opts for the inside line. Jarno usually decides to brake as late as possible on the gripper part of the track and, if need be, stick it around the outside of anyone trying to pass him. It is an interesting tactic and whilst it worked on Alexander Wurz in Bahrain it usually allows drivers to pass him quite easily.

When it comes to overtaking, Jarno just doesn’t seem aggressive enough. Trulli has never been an ultra-late braker and his smooth style is detrimental when he needs to drill his car past someone else’s.

When he is aggressive though, he is brilliant, and that is the Jarno we are seeing in 2007.

Trulli was slower than his team-mate at the Australian Grand Prix but his racecraft against the other drivers was impressive. He lost a few positions at the start but put a very confident move on Takuma Sato during the first lap. He was given another opportunity to race later on when he tried to pass Fisichella around the outside of turn one. Giancarlo came out of the pits and gave Jarno nowhere to go, but instead of lifting off Trulli stuck with it and dropped two wheels on the grass. The move on his countryman didn’t work but it was a real aggressive effort.

When Jarno tried passing Giancarlo four weeks later at Sakhir the result was much better. Trulli managed to squeeze by the Renault at turn 10 and although his overtaking manoeuvre wasn’t the most spectacular during the race it was one of the most skilful. The run into turn 10 is very short and narrow, making it incredibly difficult to pull alongside another car.

Not only was Trulli’s move impressive, but he did it twice! He had overtaken Kovalinen in exactly the same place during the Grand Prix’s early stages.

Jarno was racing brilliantly.

Alexander Wurz also felt Trulli’s presence in Bahrain. The two of them raced hard together at Albert Park where Jarno had forced Wurz onto the grass, and he didn’t make life any easier for the Austrian in the Middle East. The Williams driver tried valiantly to pass the Italian but there was no way Trulli was giving up without a fight.

At one point it looked like Wurz would slide by at turn one, but Jarno kept his car on the outside of the corner and squeezed the Williams onto a tighter line. It was gripping stuff, and rather surprising to see it coming from Trulli.

Rosberg suffered a similar fate trying to get ahead of the Toyota and ended up running off the road in his efforts.

Jarno Trulli’s performance in Bahrain was one of the best over the weekend. He utterly thrashed his teammate and scored valuable points for the struggling Toyota outfit. The closest fight in Formula One this year is the battle behind the big three teams, and so far Trulli is the man to beat.

It is quite fitting that Trulli scored two points on the day his son turned two years old.

Jarno has been one of the quiet achievers so far in 2007. He wasn’t very fast in Australia but he raced with confidence, the one thing his driving needs the most. In Malaysia he mixed that confidence with speed and romped home into the points, almost a minute ahead of the sister Toyota.

If he keeps up the level of speed and aggression that we saw in Bahrain he will end up having a very good season. It’s a shame he will be having it in a Toyota, because if he always raced like this in the past he would be World Champion by now.

Maybe when Massa and Schumacher next talk on the phone, Michael will advise his protégée to start driving like Jarno.

Post a comment