The coming weekend would be seeing Jarno Trulli driving his home race for a Formula 1 career spanning 15 long years. Trulli still insists it’s not his last race, but his current team, Lotus, are yet to announce their drivers for the 2012 season, so that’s keeping the media busy shooting questions to Trulli regarding his career.
So far, Trulli’s season with the Lotus has been tough this year. The start was promising when he finished 13th best in Australian GP, which is Lotus’s best result so far this season, and by going over career maps, Trulli’s proved superior than Kovalainen, but sadly enough that isn’t how the story ends.
Lotus had clearly made a bold step forward since their debut 2010 campaign, but Kovalainen has really been the driver finding the newly found speed from its T128. Kovalainen has been out-qualified just once by Trulli in Canada. Trulli’s only problem has been handling the power steering of the car, which so far hasn’t provided the feel he desires.
The power steering was revised heavily during July’s GP round in Hungary, which favoured Trulli a lot, but looks like a late gift to Trulli to really show his driving skills and make an impression on Lotus this year. With only 7 GPs remaining this season and most probably for Trulli only 6 if Tony Fernandes, Lotus’ Team Principal, did decide to put Karun Chandhok for the Indian GP in October. Karun has been testing Lotus this season.
It’s really hard to completely rule out Trulli’s F1 career as pundits earlier had done this on many occasions, so it’s better to sit down and keep guessing how long the Italian would be racing before making any assumptions.
Trulli had a great career with Prost, Minardi and Jordon with his big moment coming in 2002, when he joined Renault. Trulli’s bad luck was that the drivers he raced along in Renault were both future Champions, Jenson Button first and next Fernando Alonso. True to what these 2 drivers achieved in F1, it was hard for Trulli to achieve beyond them as teammates, but in the meantime, he did make a name as a very good qualifier, but not a good racer when it came to Race Day.
In 2004, Trulli claimed his first ever GP win with Renault, but was inconsistent throughout the season, which saw his departure from Renault with still 3 rounds left for the season. Trulli didn’t do well in the second half of the season in 2004 that necessitated him leaving Renault sooner than expected. People could have forgiven Trulli to not have matched the calibre of Alonso, but pundits never stopped talking about him, now predicting Trulli’s podium dream to be over, which so far is true.
Trulli switched to Toyota after his infamous departure from Renault where he needed to be patient for success. Trulli was a new man and was up for challenges now. He again qualified superbly in all races in 2005, but also 1 pole and 13 top-5 grid positions. He also helped Toyota with its best result with 2nd places in Bahrain and Malaysia. His form again dipped later in the season where he went below Ralph Schumacher, Toyota teammate, in the overall standings. So far, things looked similar to what had happened to him before.
Toyota’s disappointment continued for 2 seasons where they failed to keep their early promises. Ralph Schumacher, Michael’s younger brother, quit Toyota in 2007, but Toyota retained Trulli for the following season, a good move by Toyota, in a season where he paired with Timo Glock (German driver). Trulli came 3rd and was back in the podium at the French GP in 2008.
Trulli was on a high when he beat his teammate Glock for two successive seasons in the overall driver standings. This hadn’t happened to Trulli since his inception to F1 racing. Toyota suffered inconsistency in its 2009 car, but Trulli was able to drive it to podium finishes in Australia and started from pole in Bahrain where he earned a podium too.
Trulli then had the doubts cast away from pundits where his new image made him a complete racer making him develop and lead a team and compete full races competitively than his ‘master of qualifying’ image he previously had. In 2009, FI racing saw Toyota pullout from the races where Trulli had come close to giving Toyota their first ever win when he came 2nd in Japan, Toyota’s home.
The media ticked again this time predicting an end to Trulli’s career, but as he’d done before, he proved the pundits wrong when he joined the new team Lotus, which looked promising of all the 2010’s teams. This time, Heikki Kovalainen was his teammate. Heikki was a proven winner when he did race earlier with both Renault and McLaren and was pretty successful. So, they say history repeats, so this time, he was 2nd best in 2010 in the overall standings with Heikki faring considerably better than him.
It’s bad to compare drivers this way when both Trulli and Kovalainen were absorbed to Renault by Fernandes (Lotus Boss) for a specific job and specific reasons. Fernandes felt by taking Trulli and Heikki to Renault he was doing the right thing. He felt the new team needed the push from experienced drivers who knew racing to lift Lotus from the lower grid positions to higher grid slots. Fernandes also believed the drivers needed to be young when it comes to speed and were hungry for more success.
So far, the partnership between the drivers and Lotus has gone well. They are in the 2nd half of 2011 F1 season now, and Lotus are doing extremely well compared to fellow new cars HRT and Virgin. Kovalainen is the quicker driver of the two, but Trulli’s up 4 places in the overall championship table. Trulli is still not happy with the car’s performance and wants the team to improve the car to his liking. Considering all these, Fernandes would be in a catch22 situation to not keep Trulli for the next season, but given Heikki proved to be the faster driver, things may change from his perspective. It is still to be seen what happens next at Lotus.
Critics always have plenty of reasons for Trulli to retire next season, as at age 37, Trulli has 250 races to his credit with a win in the French GP at Monaco, but say because of his interests elsewhere outside of F1 like a flourishing wine business and his classy home in Miami, retirement would be too easy for Trulli.
But Trulli has to answer his critics and certainly has the passion to drive. Trulli believes if Lotus gives him a car matching his style of driving, he could consistently take them to Q2 hence challenging the cars in the midfield. Each time there’s an adversity, Trulli has bounced back well, so predicting his F1 life at the moment is not feasible.