Jarno Trulli's ousting from the Caterham F1 line-up has left the F1 grid devoid of Italian drivers for the first time in almost 40 years, and the former Monaco Grand Prix winner is not alone in expressing his concern about the lack of talent coming through the ranks.
After many months of speculation, stretching back to his omission from the German Grand Prix line-up last July, Trulli was finally dropped by Caterham in favour of Russia's Vitaly Petrov ahead of this week's Barcelona group test. His exit, after 253 starts in the top flight, follows that of countryman Tonio Liuzzi - who was overlooked by HRT despite having an ongoing contract - and removes Italy from the list of countries represented on this year's grid.
Despite several drivers having reached the heights of the GP2 feeder series - including 2008 champion Giorgio Pantano - Italy has failed to progress any into the top flight since the category began in 2005, with the country's only other F1 representatives in that time being veterans Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer. Aside from Pantano, Italy's leading lights in GP2 include Davide Valsecchi, who had been included on Team Lotus' development squad and in its Team AirAsia line-up, and Luca Filippi, who was once connected to Honda, but now appears to be looking to the United States in order to prolong a career that saw him become the most experienced GP2 driver ever as he waited for an F1 opportunity.
Beyond that trio, two Italian talents have already headed in other directions - Andrea Caldarelli to Toyota's LMP programme via Japanese singe-seaters and Edoardo Mortara to the DTM - rather than bide their time in F1's backwaters, while the list of GP2 and GP3 'hopefuls' also includes the unheralded Giacomo Ricci - who admittedly at least won races - Edoardo Piscopo, Fabrizio Crestani and Federico Leo.
The dearth of successors has thus led Trulli to criticise the lack of support for those on the ladder, with Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali and some of those overlooked to add their own views.
"F1 without Italian drivers is a shame," Trulli told the national ANSA
news agency, "I'm sorry, but the problem is not mine. Others must take responsibility for this impoverishment, for a situation that did not start yesterday and that people have not woken up to. In Italy, there's no system to help drivers reach a high level, so it's normal that we reach a situation like this. There are talents but, if nobody supports them, there's no hope."
Although Fisichella and Badoer have both represented Ferrari in recent years, the Scuderia has a long history of not
employing its countrymen after Enzo Ferrari developed a fear of seeing them die in his machines during F1's darker days. Despite that, current team principal Domenicali has added to the sense of frustration at seeing the last of his compatriots leave the grid.
"I am very sad that, after so many years, there will not be an Italian driver in the F1 world championship field," he wrote on the Scuderia's official website, "I say this on the sporting front, and on a personal level when it comes to Jarno, who only on a few occasions has had a car capable of showing off his talents. It's a difficult moment for our sport, partly for external reasons."
Filippi, too, has felt the need to express his criticism of the situation, echoing Trulli's suggestion that Italy had not taken the right precautions to ensure a continuation of drivers that stretches back to the 1973 season.