Jarno Trulli - new man or past master? 06 Sep 2011
This weekend will see Jarno Trulli start his home race for the 15th time in his Formula One career. Trulli insists it wont be his last, but with Lotus yet to make an announcement on their 2012 driver line-up that hasnt stopped the media bombarding him with questions about his future.
Trulli has had a tough season. It started promisingly enough with a 13th place in Australia - still Lotuss best position this year - and on paper his race results have been superior to Kovalainens. Unfortunately that is far from the whole story.
Despite the clear step forward made by Lotus since their 2010 debut campaign, Kovalainen has been the man extracting the new-found speed from the T128. Only once, in Canada, has Trulli out-qualified the Finn. His main gripe has been with the cars power steering, which failed to provide the level of feel he desired.
That system was heavily revised for Julys Hungarian round, much to Trullis delight, but its come too late to give Trulli much chance of stamping his authority on the team this year. There are just seven Grands Prix left - possibly only six for Trulli if team principal Tony Fernandes decides to give tester Karun Chandhok another outing for his home race in India next month.
But anyone keen to predict the end of Trullis time in Formula One should note that his F1 career has been written off too many times before to make any wild assumptions.
After promising spells with Minardi, Prost and Jordan, his big break came with a move to Renault in 2002. Unfortunately, however, Trullis team mates during his three-year stint there were both future world champions - first Jenson Button and then Fernando Alonso. Trulli failed to get the better of either in the drivers standings and - rightly or wrongly - acquired a reputation as a superb qualifier but a less convincing racer.
Even in 2004, the year that brought Trulli his first, and so far only Grand Prix win, inconsistency proved his undoing and he departed Renault with three rounds of the season remaining, his race performances having faded away in the second half of the year. Failing to stack up against a driver of Alonsos calibre was forgivable, but that didnt stop pundits predicting Trulli would never grace an F1 podium again.
And his switch to the fledgling Toyota team suggested he may indeed have to be patient for future success. But Trulli was a man rejuvenated by his new challenge. Not only did his superb qualifying performances continue in 2005 - one pole plus 13 top-five grid slots - he also scored Toyota's best-ever race results with second places in Malaysia and Bahrain. Only the familiar late-season dip in form dropped him below team mate Ralf Schumacher in the standings.
Two disappointing seasons then followed as Toyota failed to deliver on their early promise. Schumacher departed at the end of 2007, but Trulli and the team retained their faith in each other - a move that paid off as, with a young Timo Glock as his new partner, Trulli led them back to the podium with third place in the 2008 French Grand Prix.
Having beaten his team mate in the driver standings for the second year in succession - something which hadnt happened since the very start of his F1 career - Trulli was on a roll. Despite the inconsistent performance of Toyotas 2009 car, he was on the podium in Australia and again in Bahrain, where he also started from pole.
Then, having finally convinced the cynics that he was the complete F1 package, able to lead and develop a team and compete over complete races and complete seasons, rather than just flying qualifying laps, the rug was pulled from under his feet. Toyota withdrew from Formula One at the end of 2009, despite Trulli having again come desperately close to giving them their first win with second place on their home soil in Japan.
It again had the press predicting the end of Trullis F1 dream, but again he proved them wrong, landing a seat at arguably the most promising looking of 2010s new teams, Lotus. Just as when he joined Toyota, he was up against a proven race winner in his new team mate Heikki Kovalainen. And, just as with Schumacher in 2005, he came off second best.
Such a simplistic comparison would be harsh, though. Both Trulli and Kovalainen were chosen by Lotus boss Fernandes for specific reasons and for a specific job. He felt the best way to take a brand new team and lift it off the back of the grid as quickly as possible was to recruit drivers who were old enough to have the requisite development experience, but still young enough to have the speed and hunger for success.
By all accounts, their partnership has delivered. Going into the second half of the second season of their partnership, Trulli and Kovalainen have helped lift Lotus above their fellow newcomers Virgin and HRT. Yes, Kovalainen has generally been the quicker driver, but Trulli is four places higher in the championship table, despite a car that has often not been to his liking. Would Fernandes abandon Trulli - or vice versa - now, just when things seem to coming together? Unlikely.
Sceptics will give you plenty of reasons as to why it would be easy for Trulli to walk away. Aged 37, with almost 250 races and a Monaco Grand Prix win to his name, retirement would appear an enticing prospect, especially for a man with plenty of interests outside of the sport, a thriving wine business and his beloved Miami home among them.
But Trulli still has a point to prove - and the passion to do it. He clearly believes that once he and Lotus have honed the car into one that matches his driving style, he can be the man consistently taking them into Q2 and taking the challenge to the midfield. And given his past record for bouncing back from adversity, who are we to argue?
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