Jarno Trulli lifts the lid on his relationships with Flavio Briatore and Eddie Jordan, frustrations at Toyota and many other untold stories in a chat with AUTOSPORT's sister publication F1 Racing
| ||By Maurice Hamilton|
| ||F1 Racing contributor|
Jarno Trulli arrives for this interview looking fitter than ever. He's holidaying for a few weeks by the sea with his parents in Pescara, the town where he was born 39 years ago. Jarno's wife and two sons have also made the trip from their home in Lugano, just over the border in Switzerland. This is quality family time, yet work is never far away.
Trulli has cycled over to his vineyard, Podere Castorani, which sits in the foothills of the Abruzzo region, 25 miles west of Pescara. He bought it in 2001, and has since invested more than ￡10 million in it. The 32-hectare estate may officially be closed for the holiday but, in hard-working family fashion, Trulli's father turns up to unload a delivery that's just arrived.
For Jarno, though, the day is about motorsport. Several members of the Jarno Trulli Fan Club have travelled from Japan to spend four days here with their hero. Trulli entertains them throughout, even though he last raced nearly two years ago and has no intention of returning.
I join them for a glass of Prosecco in the vineyard's boardroom before heading into a nearby hamlet for lunch at a pizzeria. The informality of the day speaks volumes about a sportsman unaffected by more than 250 grands prix and 14 seasons in the Formula 1 limelight.
Jarno Trulli: You've come at the right time because the vineyard is on holiday and my friends from Japan are here. We can spend as long as we want over lunch.
Maurice Hamilton: I'm impressed by your vineyard. We'll talk about that later, but I'm also fascinated by your fans, who are so loyal. They've been with you for a few days?
JT: Yes, I've known them for a long time. Really nice people. We've been round the old Pescara circuit [the 16-mile road course used to host the Pescara GP, won by Stirling Moss in 1957] and we've been to the square in Pescara where I started karting, aged eight. Some friends from karting were there, which was a nice surprise.
Trulli finished ninth for Minardi on his F1 debut in Australia in 1997 © LAT
MH: I believe your father encouraged you to try karting. You liked it immediately?
JT: Straight away I had the speed. When karting arrived in Europe, it became my father's hobby. He and his friends set up a team to have fun on a Sunday, so I got the chance to practice a few days a week on this new track in Pescara.
MH: You say you were only eight. Did you love karting straight away?
JT: Difficult to say. I found myself comfortable in the kart immediately. I enjoyed the driving, finding the racing line, the set-up, having rivals...
MH: You followed an unusual course in a way because you suddenly arrived in the junior formulas - F3 and so on - and you progressed very quickly. How did that happen?
JT: I spent 12 years in karting, but I learned more than I would in other series. Maybe not about gearboxes, clutches and things, but from the pure racing point of view, I was mature.
MH: Does that explain why, in your first F1 season in 1997, when you actually led a race in Austria for many laps, you looked so calm?
JT: I felt, 'Wow! I'm leading. OK, let's carry on like this.' I wasn't overwhelmed because I was used to leading races. Then the engine went.
Trulli learned a lot at Prost. This 1998 Canadian GP shunt was a low point © LAT
MH: Were Minardi and Prost good places to start off in Formula 1?
JT: They were. I made my debut with Minardi but moved to Prost to replace Olivier Panis for six races after his bad accident. I did enough to earn my place. I was quick and showed I had skill with car set-up, so Alain gave me a chance.
MH: Then you went from a Frenchman to an Irishman. Why did you choose Jordan next?
JT: Jordan was very competitive and I was fully convinced that we could do well. Eddie is a great character. I never had a problem with anyone in F1, but I got on particularly well with Eddie. He's crazy, but I had great respect for him and he had great respect for me.
Unfortunately, the 2000 car was extremely unreliable. I had all sorts of trouble and it was hard to finish the races. The other problem, which we never understood, was that the car was eating the tyres after three or four laps. The drop-off was unbelievable.
That's when everyone labelled me 'The Trulli Train'! In qualifying, the car was incredibly quick on one lap but, no matter what we tried with the set-up, we could not solve that problem with the tyres in the race.
MH: Well, to prove your point, you managed to get onto the front row at Monaco.
Trulli's Jordan stint involved a lot of non-finishes © LAT
JT: And at Spa. But we were never able to get on top of it. It was a hard decision to leave at the end of 2001, but I couldn't spend another year with more failures and problems we didn't know how to solve.
I remember Eddie tried several times – including flying in his private jet to Pescara – to convince me to stay. I had to say to him, 'I like you very much, but I really need to turn my career around now. I've got the skill and I need to prove it with more than quick laps; I need to finish races and get on the podium.'
MH: Renault weren't necessarily the answer because they had a few problems at first, right?
JT: Yes, Renault was hard in the beginning because they were convinced their boxer engine was the way to go. Unfortunately, this engine was very unreliable. The first year was a disaster; it was so hard to finish races. I remember the engine blowing up in the garage before we went out on track.
Professionally, it was a good move. I got on well with the French part of the team, although it was a bit different with the English part in Enstone.
MH: But you were living in England in a village somewhere, and that worked out OK, didn't it?
JT: It was a little place called Binfield, to the south-east of Reading. I got on very well with the family next door and the people around me; I enjoyed life and made a lot of friends. That included some Italian people I met there – we are still in touch two or three times a year.
The only bad thing was the weather; that was a big shock for me. The winter especially, which is long and not very nice. England is such a beautiful country; amazing. But the problem is, you can't enjoy that because of the weather.
MH: How did you train when living there? Did you go running on the roads of Berkshire?
JT: There was a forest with a mountain-bike course in a beautiful area, five or six miles from where I lived. I will never forget how one day I really wanted to go out running. As I was walking out, there was a shower of rain. OK, that's it for the day; I'll go to the gym. After 10 minutes, the rain has finished and the sun is shining. I think, 'OK, maybe I can go out.' I prefer to do that than go to the gym. After half an hour of sunshine, I go out. One mile later, more rain. I decide it's better to go to the gym...
Trulli and Alonso got on well © XPB
MH: I read a quote in which you said you learned a lot at this time; how to grow up and cope with the sacrifices you had to make.
JT: That's true. I learned the professional way of being an F1 driver. There's more to it than just being a driver. You learn respect, sticking to the rules, meeting schedules, the approach to the race and to testing. That time at Renault was a very important part of my career.
At Prost, I didn't learn much technically. Jordan was still a small team; a family team which was run very well but, technically, not yet at the same level as Renault. Renault had the structure and the experience of winning. I could see the difference.
I learned a lot and enjoyed racing with Jenson and then later with Alonso. The level of my team-mates was high, which let me prove I was quick. We couldn't get the results until 2004 when the car was more competitive. But then we were up against an unbeatable Ferrari.
MH: Fernando was the test driver at first. You got along with him OK?
JT: Always. I never had a problem with him. Or with any of my team-mates. My philosophy is that we're there to race and to win. If we are smart enough, we have to understand that we're both quick. The only thing we have to do is work hard and try to get in front of each other.
You can be a good driver but, if you have a good team-mate, you can't be ahead all the time. You have to deal with that; it's a constant challenge. You can learn from that and grow up and be stronger.
MH: You were confident when you won Monaco in 2004. I did an interview with you on the Friday and you had been climbing the mountains above the Principality. You were quietly assertive that weekend. Was that because you knew the car was going well?
JT: I felt the car was good and going in the direction I wanted. So I felt comfortable in the car. Once I feel comfortable, then things will happen. In that race, I knew I had to keep calm and not make any mistakes. Do that and the result will come.
MH: Tell me about the problems with tyres graining. You never really liked that, did you?
Trulli was never happy with grooved F1 tyres © LAT
JT: Grooved tyres were a disaster for me. Tyre suppliers, especially Michelin, were trying to get the tyre closer to being a slick. The philosophy was: the more you kill the tyres the better they become and the more performance you will have.
I would have one good lap, then because my driving style is very smooth it was a disadvantage because I could not kill the tyres. The tyres had a life of around 12 laps. You would lose one lap for qualifying and depending on your style about four or five laps going through the graining and cleaning the tyres, then it wouldn't come back until lap 12.
MH: It must have been frustrating going into a race knowing that was going to happen.
JT: It was the same for everyone, but it hurt me more. When we went to circuits that were hard on the tyres in a hot race, like Malaysia or Hungary, I was good at making tyres last longer. But when it came to generating temperature, or cleaning the graining, that was not good for me. That's not an excuse; just a fact.
MH: Talking of a smooth style, you are often compared with Alain Prost. Do you think he would have had the same problem?
JT: I do. Just the same. Grooved tyres had nothing to do with F1. And they looked stupid.
MH: In '04 you had your best position [sixth] in the championship. But you also had a big shunt going through Bridge at Silverstone. Was that one of the worst in your career?
JT: Not really. I think it maybe looked worse than it was. I had no idea what had happened. I remember losing the suspension; I thought it was the left, but it was the right. I was surprised how quickly it happened. Bang! Finish. The car's not moving. That's it, let's get out.
It was bad and unexpected but this is unfortunately part of the business. It was a big hit and the next day I had a headache – but I was lucky.
MH: So, what happened in the end when you left Renault before the season had finished? Was it anything to do with Flavio Briatore?
The Trulli/Briatore relationship soured © LAT
JT: The relationship with Briatore and eventually with the team didn't work very well. Flavio was interested in me more as a money machine rather than as a driver.
MH: Did he give you a hard time? Being your manager, people might think he'd favour you...
JT: He gave me a hard time for reasons I don't want to discuss. It was not my place any more; they had their driver, Alonso; I was not important.
MH: You enjoy being happy, but do you think you should have been more aggressive?
JT: I think so. I was a good driver on track but not so good politically.
MH: Politics must have played a part at Toyota...
JT: That's true, but I was happy about having the chance to go there because Toyota had huge potential and was very well financed. I was convinced we could make it when I saw the facilities and resources. But the management turned out to be... slightly different.
Trulli's Toyota career began well © LAT
MH: Is it fair to say that your results with Toyota were better than expected in the first year and less than expected in the second?
JT: Definitely. When I joined, everything was there, but the car was not good. I thought from what I could see with the potential and resources we were going to kill everyone; blow them away. But because of technical mistakes and choices, it didn't happen. I was disappointed.
I was suggesting to go in one direction but they were concentrating on Ralf Schumacher. I was convinced my direction would give the right result – and I was proving it. But for whatever reason, they were concentrating on saving Ralf's season and his career.
We had a new car for 2006, which we used for a couple of races at the end of the previous season. I kept saying, 'This car is no good; this car has a problem.' We weren't ready to race it. I said we should test and test again to make sure it was the right direction. I had a problem straight away with the power steering and the last two races of 2005 for me were really bad.
Ralf was dealing well with that car, but he was not quick. Then he was lucky in the last two races, getting on the front row with low fuel in Japan and finishing third in the race in China because Coulthard held most of the field behind him. So everyone was convinced the car was quick. We get to 2006 – and the car is a disaster.
MH: Yes, I was checking before coming here – you had no points in the first eight races. That must have been very hard to deal with.
JT: Despite me telling them there was something we needed to investigate more with this car, they went in their chosen direction. And then they fired Mike Gascoyne. That was another mistake. I said, 'OK, you're not happy with Mike; fine. That is your decision. But before you fire Mike, you need to replace him otherwise you lose this season and the next.' They didn't listen.
MH: Is this because Toyota was, at heart, a corporate machine rather than racers?
Trulli worked with Gascoyne at four different teams © LAT
JT: That was the problem. Toyota followed their philosophy – whether it was right or wrong. They proved – and understood – their way did not work but they followed that direction. So, 2006 was blown; 2007 was no good and it took time to rebuild the technical side. In 2008-09 we started to come back – then they pulled out.
MH: You mentioned Mike Gascoyne. He popped up a lot in your career. How did you rate him?
JT: If you understood how to manage Mike, you'd get the best out of him and he'd do a great job. But the mistake is to give him too much to do. You need to give him the job he is capable of doing – like organising an F1 team and making things happen. Give him the responsibility for all departments, and it is too much for him.
MH: Are you saying that Mike, being the bullish guy he is, couldn't be seen to say no when he should just have focused on what he was good at?
JT: Exactly. Mike will always tell you he can do it. You need to recognise what he is capable of doing because he has an extremely good character and great skill. He is a fantastic organiser. But not much more than that.
MH: You've been quoted as saying Bahrain '07 was one of your best races. Why was that? You started ninth and finished seventh...
JT: It was one of the best races I have ever done in terms of skill. I finished seventh, yes; but my team-mate was 12th and a lap behind. I got the best out of my situation and the best out of a car that was not competitive.
Quicker cars around me had tyre troubles. They dropped behind, so I spent 60 laps holding them back. I had a huge fight with Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg. I overtook the two Renaults [Kovalainen and Fisichella] down the inside to Turn 10.
Trulli rates his battling Bahrain 2007 performance as one of his greatest drives © XPB
When I got out, the mechanics were pleased because they knew how slow the car was. I'd had cars on either side, attacking me, and I was getting out of the corner in front of them. I was desperate to get a point. I never gave up.
MH: Do you feel sad you never won for Toyota?
JT: I do. I was proud to take this team to the first podium, the first pole. Even now, I still consider myself a Toyota driver. It's sad for me to say I didn't finish my job because I didn't win a race.
I wanted to win, not only from my point of view, but for the guys working with me. They were kind to me and I would like to have done it for them. I tried everything, and in a way I sacrificed my career. If I could have won one race with Toyota, I would be happy now.
Unfortunately, it couldn't happen for many reasons. The people around me were good even though I did not always have the same view as the management. Unfortunately, the driver cannot be team manager. I was suggesting what was right and what was wrong because I had the experience to say that. But, at the end of the day, I was not the one to make the big decisions.
MH: I seem to remember there was one race where you went ballistic when you got out of the car, even though you finished quite well. I think you thought you could have won.
JT: Ha! That would be Malaysia in 2009. I definitely should have won that. No question! We had Toyota's best-ever grid positions, with me second and Timo Glock third. I was second when it started to rain. I said I was coming in and wanted intermediates. But when I came into the pits, they put me on full wets. I just couldn't believe it.
Glock made a bad start and dropped to somewhere in the midfield – but they gave him intermediates. What happened? He passed everyone and came back through the field. Then it really rained and the race was stopped. I was fourth and Glock was third.
I was shouting and screaming when I got out. They said they'd gambled with intermediates for Glock and wanted to cover everything with wets for me. They were happy because Glock had got a podium. I said, 'But you threw away a win! In second, with intermediates, I could have won. Easily! Instead, you play safe.' They didn't understand. I think that says everything about Toyota's mentality. They were not racers.
MH: Is it true the engines could be inconsistent?
Two years with what's now called Caterham proved a disappointment © XPB
JT: That was a problem. We went from two cars on the front row in Bahrain to the back of the grid in Monaco. Later, when Pirelli had a Toyota test car, Nick Heidfeld did a few laps, came straight in and said there was a problem with the engine. There wasn't. That's how it always was. I noticed straight away, for instance, how good the Cosworth was compared to the Toyota.
MH: That was with Lotus [now Caterham]. Your last two seasons were with them. Was it a disappointing end to your career?
JT: It's difficult to talk about Lotus because it was a big mistake. Nothing that was proposed before we entered the season happened. When it is a mission impossible for everyone – even an experienced driver cannot help in this situation. When you don't have the resources to turn things around, you will never get on top. I was not sad to stop. I'd had enough.
MH: Did you think about doing something else? DTM or sportscars perhaps?
JT: I've had plenty of offers but I always drove at the top, whether it was karts, F3 or F1. I realised every other series would be a huge step back. To enjoy it, I need to have the chance to fight, to win. I will do it with passion any time, but it has to be professional.
GT didn't interest me because I don't see it as a professional way of driving. I have always been with 20 professional drivers – apart from the last four years when a lot of young kids, pay drivers, came in. I lived through the best F1 era ever with all the manufacturers; everyone wanting to win; very professional teams, and the best drivers in the world.
But at Le Mans, a few teams are able to be professional and fight for a win, but there are plenty of hobby drivers. After 15 years in F1 and racing before that at the top level, I can't see myself driving next to a hobby driver. I respect these people, but I don't want to do that.
Thanks to Lucio [Cavuto, Jarno's manager] and my dad, we developed this wine business, so when I stepped out of F1, I had plenty of things to do. I can tell you, I was not bored. We travel a lot – as much as we travelled in F1.
Trulli now thrives as a winemaker
In a short time, we have become a winemaker popular and respected round the world. And this is not because of my name. OK, when it comes to opening a new market, presenting wine or doing wine tastings, my name helps. But if you don't have a good product, if you are not serious, you will not be respected. I'm proud of what we have done because we created it from nothing.
MH: Tell me about this red we're drinking. I'm not an expert, but this is absolutely superb.
JT: This is a Podere Castorani. Castorani was the owner of the original property here. Podere means 'chateau'. We will refurbish the old villa in the next few years. This wine is the first we produced in our name; the vintage is 2008 and it's oak-aged – a long process. It's a typical red Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It was awarded a Tre Bicchieri Gambero Rosso, the highest award of excellence. It means the standard is high and we do well. It's a huge satisfaction.
MH: Do you still follow the grands prix? Are the boys interested in motor racing?
JT: Apparently not! One is into football and basketball. The other likes drawing and creating things. I showed them an F1 race on TV and they weren't very interested.
MH: How do you feel about that?
JT: Very happy – no need to deal with Flavio Briatore! F1 is a business and it is hard. I've seen from the experience of other drivers that being a son of an F1 driver is not easy. There are always comparisons. I'd never persuade them to race.
MH: So, apart from not winning for Toyota, do you feel you achieved everything when racing?
JT: Yes. I can say none of my team-mates did better than me in the same car. What is done is done and it has been a fantastic experience.
MH: I'll drink to that. Thanks for a lovely day.