Whilst acknowledging that his new 'long-term' project with Lotus F1 'might' also be his last in the top flight at the age of 35, Jarno Trulli is adamant that far from being ready to be pensioned off once his three-year contract is up, he will continue racing 'for as long as I am quick and for as long as I have the passion to do so'.
With 216 grand prix starts under his belt from 13 previous seasons at the highest level, Trulli will be the third-most experienced driver on the grid in F1 2010 – behind only 'record man' Rubens Barrichello and the returning Michael Schumacher. He is, moreover, sixth on the all-time list, and should he indeed see out his full agreement with Lotus, he will leapfrog countrymen Giancarlo Fisichella and Riccardo Patrese and former sparring partner David Coulthard to sit third.
That being the case, some might say that to join a start-up operation in what is effectively the autumn of his long and successful F1 career is a backwards step or at the very least a risk. Trulli, however, argues that nothing could be further from the truth, and makes it clear that together with esteemed and no-nonsense chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne – with whom he established a strong working relationship at firstly Jordan Grand Prix and subsequently Renault and Toyota – he will be giving it everything to drive Lotus up the pecking order.
“To be honest it was several factors, not only one,” the Pescara native told Crash.net Radio
, when asked what his motivation was in electing to throw in his lot with the Anglo/Malaysian newcomer. “First of all, Mike is on-board; he's such an experienced engineer who I've worked with before, and I've always been successful with him. I would say Mike was one of the key reasons for me joining.
“I've always looked for a good, stable technical situation, and I couldn't find anything better or anyone better. Mike contacted me early on, as soon as Lotus got their entry. I waited a little bit because I wanted first to finish completely with Toyota, and then eventually I made my decision – and Mike was very important in that. He has done an incredible job to set everything up the way it is now in such a short space of time – nobody else could have done that, I tell you.
“Secondly, there's a good budget in-place, and third, whilst I didn't know Tony [Fernandes – team principal] before, when I met him he came across as a very charismatic, strong person with a very good business head. Lotus only got its entry in September, but everything is progressing. I'm really amazed by the job that they've done so far.”
Having been accused at the outset of previous seasons of being a pessimist in his forecasts, Trulli counters that he is simply a realist – in stark contrast to the all-too frequent hyperbole and ludicrous over-optimism that is emitted from the mouths of many of his rivals. Results will not come quickly for Lotus, this he well knows, but looking to the future, he is confident that all the foundations are in-place to genuinely achieve long-term glory – and that is a future in which the erstwhile Monaco Grand Prix-winner fully intends to play a leading part.
“We have to be realistic,” he stressed. “It's going to be a tough season, and to begin with what we need to do is be reasonably competitive. Eventually, the target will probably be to show some good performances by the end of the year. As I say, it's a long-term project, and the first season is all about building up the team. Obviously, what Lotus is looking for is to be an established, strong Formula 1 team for the future.
“I am with Lotus for the next three years, because I want to build up something strong as I was doing at Toyota. If you look back at Toyota, we were very close to a win – and this is what I want to reproduce and eventually try to achieve [at Lotus]. If you look at Michael [Schumacher], everyone would have said Ferrari was his last project, so it's hard to say at the moment [what the future holds]. I think I will keep driving as long as I am quick, and for as long as I want to race and have the passion to do so.”
On the subject of the record-breaking seven-time F1 World Champion, finally – the man who is making what is being billed as one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history with Mercedes Grand Prix this year – Trulli opined that there is no reason to suggest the German legend will not be capable of fighting for an incredible eighth drivers' crown.
“Why not?” the Abruzzese mused. “Being 41 is not a problem; age is just a number. He's still in very good shape, and physically and mentally I don't think he's going to have any problems. I think the only trouble he will find is returning to racing after three years – it's not that easy to get back into the same rhythm in Formula 1. I think it will take him some races before he can really begin to attack again – but that is the only issue I can see him facing.”
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