Jarno Trulli might have hinted that John Howett is the sole team member at Toyota
who wishes to get rid of him at the end of the season, but the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's motorsport president has suggested that the veteran Italian 'may well' still be at the Cologne-based outfit in F1 2010 – as he described Brazilian Grand Prix debutant Kamui Kobayashi
as having been 'a bit slow' on his top flight bow at the weekend.
Trulli gave vent to his frustrations at the deadlock in his contract negotiations with Toyota
by revealing that 'maybe one' member of the team did not want him to stay on-board for a sixth consecutive campaign at the highest level [see separate story – click here
] – what has been interpreted as an oblique reference to Howett, who has repeatedly told the media that 'there is a very strong probability' of the Pescara native's financial requirements not being met.
The Englishman has moreover made little secret of his desire to secure the services of Ferrari
refugee and former F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, but he also told Reuters
at Interlagos that 'a degree of discussion' is ongoing with present incumbents Trulli and Timo Glock, both of whom have come in for criticism from the management in 2009, with the perception from within the team being that better results might have been achieved with a car in the mercurial TF109 that is in fact more competitive than it has been made to appear.
“We have put an offer on the table with Jarno,” Howett revealed. “I think that he himself is not dissatisfied with the financial offer; the bottom line to some extent is certain issues on the contract, and I don't think they are negotiable from our side. He may well be in the car next year, but it's not at all clear.”
Trulli is also reputed to be at the top of the shopping list of 2010 newcomers Lotus F1, having developed a strong working relationship with the Norfolk-based operation's chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne during their time spent together at Jordan, Renault
– and should either or both he and Glock leave Toyota, Kobayashi would presumably be in contention for a race seat next year, or at least you would have thought so based upon his performance in São Paulo.
The reigning GP2
Asia Series Champion stepped in for the injured Glock in the Brazilian Grand Prix, making an eye-catching debut around a demanding circuit at which he had never previously competed. After qualifying strongly in eleventh, he proceeded to race inside the top six, repeatedly frustrating the ambitions of world champion-elect Jenson Button
behind him during the early laps with an iron will if at times questionable defensive tactics. The Brawn GP
star later labelled Kobayashi 'absolutely crazy' for weaving in the braking zones, and Williams' chief engineer Rod Nelson similarly accused him of aggressively 'moving across' on Kazuki Nakajima
and consequently ending his compatriot's race
It is widely understood that the Toyota
top brass in Japan are applying pressure for the 23-year-old to be promoted to the race line-up in 2010; indeed, when Glock was ruled out of Japanese Grand Prix practice at Suzuka earlier this month with a bad cold, some cynics mused that it might in fact have been 'Kobayashi fever'. With the company's Tokyo board meeting on 15 November due to decide the team's continuation or otherwise in the sport, the announcement that arguably the country's most promising young star in years is going to be on the driving strength full-time might go a long way.
“You have to say we have to give him serious consideration,” Howett reflected, “but still pace-wise he was a bit slow, so we have to see.”