Suspicions that the announcement of Jarno Trulli's re-signing with Team Lotus did not include definite confirmation that the Italian will race next season are being borne out in the Yas Marina paddock, amid rumours that the Italian will be usurped by any number of rivals in 2012.
The Monza communiqué revealing that the veteran would remain a part of the Team Lotus set-up contained phrases that made no mention of a race seat for next season - 'I am very pleased that we have been able to confirm today that my contract with Team Lotus has been extended into 2012' from Trulli and 'We are all delighted that we have been able to reach an agreement to keep Jarno on board for at least one more year with our team' from team principal Tony Fernandes - and the Italian's position is now thought to be coming under threat from better-financed, and younger, drivers.
Although the F1 driver market is on hold while Williams, chasing Kimi Raikkonen, and Renault, pending Robert Kubica's fitness, decide which route they will take for 2012, 422race.com
reports that several names have been linked to Trulli's seat over the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
weekend, ranging from Marussia Virgin's Jerome d'Ambrosio via current Team Lotus reserve Davide Valsecchi to Red Bull
protégés Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
While Valsecchi could be seen to be a logical, if somewhat unexpected, choice to replace his fellow countryman, he has often struggled to come up with the funds needed to secure an F1 ride, and is more likely angling after a full-time reserve role that would allow him to run on Friday mornings at every grand prix. The Italian's current partners on the Team Lotus reserve roster, Karun Chandhok - whose relationship with the team appears irrevocably damaged by the withdrawal of an opportunity to race in India - and Luiz Razia, have not been mentioned in connection with the seat, but the improvement at Toro Rosso
in recent months could mean Red Bull
looking to place one or both of its current hotshots with another team for 2012, in much the same way as Ricciardo was parachuted into HRT this season. d'Ambrosio, meanwhile, appears to be coming under pressure to keep his Virgin seat safe from GP2 racewinner Charles Pic
who, prior to being confirmed as one of the team's roster for next week's 'Young Driver' test, was reported as having signed for 2012 by l'Equipe
Naturally, Trulli's management has sought to quell the speculation, insisting that there is no threat to the Italian's role - whatever that may be - for 2012.
“Jarno's position for 2012 isn't in discussion, since he has a signed deal,” manager Lucio Cavuto claimed, somewhat unconvincingly.
Should there be no race seat for Trulli next season, it is hard to believe that he would remain a part of the set-up at Hingham simply to apply his experience to the development of next year's car. The vineyard owner may have claimed that 'the challenge I first accepted when I joined the team is becoming more exciting every day, and I am very proud that I can keep helping the team take steps forward for at least another year', but he has struggled to cope with the team's power steering set-up in 2011 and has only rarely out-paced team-mate Heikki Kovalainen. As a result, instead of 'giving us the benefit of his experience and knowledge into 2012', as Fernandes suggested on the Monza release, he is more likely to opt for the quiet life, potentially joining fellow veteran Rubens Barrichello
in being eased into an unwanted retirement.