Rumours that veteran grand prix winner Jarno Trulli is to be replaced at Toyota before the start of the 2009 Formula 1 campaign by a Japanese driver have been quashed as 'totally groundless' by both his manager and the team.

The Italian enjoyed a superb season in 2008 - one of the finest of his twelve-year stint in the top flight - notching up 31 points, starting 13 times inside the top eight, securing Toyota's first rostrum finish in some 40 races at Magny-Cours, out-qualifying promising young team-mate Timo Glock 14 times to four and lining up on the front two rows of the grid on no fewer than four occasions.

Nonetheless, speculation has surfaced of late that the 34-year-old, former Monaco Grand Prix winner - a man with nigh-on 200 appearances under his belt at the highest level - could be forced aside between now and Melbourne by either test driver, GP2 Series race-winner and Toyota Young Driver Programme member Kamui Kobayashi or Williams-contracted Kazuki Nakajima.

Toyota, the world's largest car manufacturer, recently announced that it had gone into the red for the first time in more than 70 years in the wake of the current credit crunch sweeping the globe, registering losses of over $1 billion this year. Whilst the Cologne-based concern has re-iterated its commitment to F1, it is understood that having a Japanese race driver in the team would increase sponsorship opportunities in the company's homeland - and therefore also revenue.

However, Toyota Motorsport President John Howett told UK newspaper The Times that 'we have a contract with Jarno in place', and the Pescara-born star's manager Lucio Cavuto rubbished the claims as merely 'totally groundless rumours, as usually are the ones which start from the internet'.

"Somebody envies Jarno's career in Formula 1," he contended in an interview with 422race.com, "but in life it's better to be envied than commiserated."

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