As he reflects on his five years spent with the Japanese manufacturer, Jarno Trulli has revealed that he had known for some time that Toyota would be pulling out of F1 at the end of 2009 – and whilst the bombshell delivered yet another hammer blow to the sport when it was announced, the Italian admits that 'it would have been a surprise' only if the team had stayed.
Toyota officially pulled the plug on its involvement in the top flight in early November, following months if not years of speculation about how long the most over-spending, under-achieving outfit on the grid would continue to be funded to compete by its parent company.
The bare statistics – not so much as a single grand prix victory and just three pole positions, three fastest laps and 13 podium finishes from 140 starts since entering the fray back in 2002 – do not paint a very flattering picture, and the advent of the global credit crunch effectively provided Toyota with a get-out-of-jail free card, thereby being able to attribute its withdrawal to outside factors rather than a lack of on-track results.
The timing of the departure – three months after legally pledging its future to F1 under the terms of the new commercial rights-governing Concorde Agreement – might have come somewhat out-of-the-blue, but it was always going to happen, Trulli explains.
“It was not a surprise at all,” the 35-year-old told Crash.net Radio
. “It would have been a surprise if Toyota had stayed! I had talked with the Japanese bosses, and thanks to the fact that I had a fantastic relationship with them they told me what was going to happen. I knew I had to change teams, but I didn't take any decision until November, because I was still under contract to Toyota; then in December I signed with Lotus.
“I stand by their decision [to leave], because I understand their situation and I understand that Toyota is not only a Formula 1 team, but a worldwide manufacturer faced with a troubled global economic climate. It was a shame because we were very, very close [to winning], and I was very sad to leave the Toyota project without a win. I would have been much happier if Toyota had left Formula 1 with a win from me – that would have been a dream.”
That, of course, never ultimately materialised, despite a number of occasions on which it might outwardly have looked to be achievable. Bahrain last year was arguably Toyota's greatest opportunity to break its grand prix duck after Trulli and team-mate Timo Glock skilfully locked out the front row in qualifying – but a poor strategy choice on race day left the pair respectively third and seventh at the chequered flag.
Glock has subsequently issued a veiled criticism of his former employers in suggesting that sometimes, simply throwing money at a problem does not fix the root cause [see separate story – click here
] – but Trulli is unwilling to speak ill of the colleagues with whom he insists he remained on excellent terms right the way to the end.
“To be honest, I don't want to comment on the way Toyota works,” the Pescara native stressed. “I have had a very good relationship with them and I respect all the decisions Toyota made. Toyota was very different from most of the other teams I have worked with; it's just a question of working in a different way and in a different environment. They had a concept and their own way of thinking, and I respect that.”
TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE