Jarno Trulli's five-year association with Toyota looks to be drawing to a close if the admission of John Howett is anything to go by, as the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's motorsport president suggested 'there is a very strong probability' of the experienced Italian's contract with the team not being renewed for 2010.
Trulli has notched up 22.5 of Toyota's 38.5 points in F1 this season, registered two of the Cologne-based outfit's three rostrum finishes and out-qualified team-mate Timo Glock eight times to three, leading the German to the squad's first-ever front row lock-out in Bahrain back in April and missing out on the top ten shoot-out on only four occasions.
However, in recent races the Abruzzese's form has been increasingly patchy, with Glock comfortably outpacing him in Germany and Hungary, and even Trulli's fabled one-lap qualifying speed deserting him in Valencia this weekend as he will begin the European Grand Prix from a lowly 18th place, five spots behind the sister TF109. He admitted that his position within the team is far from assured.
“We are talking,” the 35-year-old is quoted as having said by international news agency Reuters
, “but nothing is really sure or clear so I think we need to wait a little bit more. I am waiting to talk with some teams. With others we are in talks, but the priority is understanding first of all what Toyota is doing and wants to do.
“Money has never been an issue, absolutely not. At the moment there is a lot of cost-cutting, and I do believe the driver also has to play his role in this and I am more than happy to [do so].”
Howett corroborated those sentiments, revealing that with the transfer market in a state of flux with so many competitors out-of-contract at the end of the campaign – made even more unpredictable by BMW's announcement of withdrawal late last month, leaving both Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld seeking available berths – discussions are ongoing with a number of drivers. The Englishman did hint, however, that Glock would likely be staying put.
“We are in negotiation [with Trulli],” he acknowledged. “We haven't reached an agreement, and there is a possibility that we won't close the gap. At the moment the gap is reasonably large. We have to say there is a very strong probability not [to renew his contract].
“With Timo we have the contract to our advantage. I think there is a high probability we will renew, but we have asked him to try and look at qualifying. In races he is phenomenal; I think he was second-quickest from our analysis in Hungary, so the race pace is there – the car certainly can work extremely competitively.
“I think looking at the way the drivers' market is moving...we have all got to hold our breath a bit and see what happens. There are a lot of drivers who are talking to everybody at the moment. It seems that the Ferrari position with Kimi [Raikkonen] could then create other opportunities or close them for others...it's one of those situations where as soon as one moves it becomes fairly clear.”