x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Trulli comes in from the cold

Jarno Trulli is relishing having the sun on his back for virtually the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Drivers Jarno Trulli of Italy and Heikki Kovalainen of Finland pose with the Lotus T127 during the launch in London last month.
Drivers Jarno Trulli of Italy and Heikki Kovalainen of Finland pose with the Lotus T127 during the launch in London last month.

Jarno Trulli is relishing having the sun on his back for virtually the first time since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Trulli heads to Bahrain for the season-opening grand prix having spent a winter contending with heavy snow at his home in the foothills of the Swiss Alps and at his new place of work at Lotus headquarters in Norfolk, England. When the snow falls in the small village of Pontresina, where Trulli, his wife Barbara and two sons are among just 2,000 inhabitants, the 36-year-old straps on his cross-country skis and heads out into the countryside. At Lotus' Hingham base, the skis never made an appearance although the former Toyota driver admits to some hair-rising drives from the airport en route to a series of factory visits. "I think I've had enough snow now. It's been crazily cold in England in particular and I feel it's time for some sunshine. I'm looking forward to the heat, until I get into the car [where temperatures at last year's race reached 50 degrees]," he says. Trulli will have to toil in the heat at the Bahrain International Circuit having switched the heavily financed Toyota team for relative minnows Lotus. As one of four new teams on the grid, Lotus are expected to fight it out among the backmarkers and their new driver readily admits that will be the case but is relishing the challenge. "The first half of the season will be tough, very, very tough," he says. "It's important we get things right in the first half so we can be competitive in the second." Trulli's pre-season prediction for Lotus is not much of a call to arms, but he has ambitious plans for them in the three years of his contract to the extent that he believes he can win again. Despite more than 200 grand prix starts, he boasts a solitary race win at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix for Renault in 2004. He has come close since, including second place at last year's Japanese Grand Prix, and believes the opportunity to at least double his tally will come with Lotus. "I still want race wins and believe I am good enough for race wins," he says. "I missed out a couple of times last year but I wouldn't continue in F1 if I did not believe I could win. You need some luck for it and I didn't really get that luck last season. "For us to win this year, well, we'd need a lot of luck but you can dream in F1. Ok, it's unlikely to happen this season unless something massively crazy happens but you never know." Trulli's hopes of targeting another race victory appeared to be over when, at 35, he was told that Toyota - the team he had joined towards the end of the 2004 season - were pulling the plug on its F1 operation. After hearing the news, the Italian admitted he toyed with the idea of retirement despite offers from different teams up and down the grid. But the prospect of being reunited with Mike Gascoyne, his technical director at Jordan, Renault and Toyota, persuaded him to stay in the sport and sign on the dotted line with Lotus. "Mike approached me early on but I wanted to wait until Toyota officially pulled out," he says. "Once Toyota left, I had several different options but the prospect of working with Mike again was a big aspect in my decision. "It gave me the chance to have the very best technical back-up which is the main thing for me. Mike's extremely strong in that department and I've enjoyed great success with him in the past so I was happy to work with him again." Renewing acquaintances has been a major part of Trulli's early days with Lotus and admitted that a visit to the factory for his seat-fitting in January was like a walk down memory lane. "I'd say that 50 per cent of the people I saw in the factory that day, I've worked with before, it's sort of like coming home," he says. Being in his mid-thirties, Trulli has no memory of Lotus' heyday in the sport although recalls watching with his motorsport-loving father the John Player Special Lotus of Elio de Angelis win races and battle for the world championship in the mid-1980s. And Trulli, who will be in his 14th season in F1, believes the name alone will prove a massive draw. "Lotus attracts drivers, fans and sponsors. It's a name like Ferrari - it's powerful in Formula One," he says. "I didn't watch a lot of Lotus when I was young but I've read a lot about Colin Chapman [who set up Lotus] and the cars he created. "There's big pressure to live up to the name and it's a big project but I love something like that. I did it with Toyota and I think building something from nothing with pressure and expectation is what I'm good at." Debate reigns over whether Trulli was truly successful at the Japanese manufacturer, which bowed out of the sport having never achieved its major goal for a race victory. He concedes there were failures by him and the team but looks back fondly at the experience, to the extent that one suspects he would have stayed put had the Toyota hierarchy not scrapped their F1 team. "This move has given me a fresh buzz and excitement but it is a shame that Toyota left and it's a shame that I couldn't have given them a first win," he says. Arguably Trulli's best chance to break that duck came at last year's Bahrain Grand Prix. Having qualified on pole position ahead of team-mate Timo Glock, the team appeared to have superior race pace but a poor race strategy cost them the race. Trulli, who had to make do with second place, looks back on the race fondly and admits he is relishing a return to the Middle East. "I like the circuit and I've gone well there before," he says. "I'm not sure I'll go that well this time but nothing is impossible." The major goal for Lotus is to be the quickest of the new teams and the general perception is that they are the best equipped with Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen as their driver line-up. "I'm confident we will do that but for other ambitions people need to be patient," he says. "It's going to take time and we need to prove ourselves and prove we can do well despite being on a small budget." A relatively small budget failed to prove a hindrance to the Brawns of world champion Jenson Button last year and then team-mate Rubens Barrichello. Lotus do not have any pretence about matching those feats in 2010 although with an increased budget, Mercedes, rebranded from Brawn, can dream of a title repeat. Their best bet in that quest is likely to be Michael Schumacher, who has been tipped for race wins and possibly an eighth world title in some quarters, although Trulli is unconvinced. "I don't think he'll win straight away. I think he will struggle. It's difficult as he's not been racing, well, in F1 anyway, and F1 racing is very different is very different to any other racing," he says. "I think he will struggle to do well initially and will have a hard first half to the season like us. After that, who knows what might happen. If he has the car, he might win races." Having ruled his former track rival out of the running for the title, Trulli has "no idea who will win". "Fernando Alonso will be strong at Ferrari, the Red Bulls finished last season well and I expect McLaren and Button and Hamilton to do well but you never know," he adds. sports@thenational.ae