Jarno Trulli did another solid job in qualifying this weekend, fourth on the grid, one of a handful of drivers to judge the changeable conditions perfectly. In the race he was a furious early retirement after a collision with Adrian Sutil. And things are not going smoothly behind the scenes either in his negotiations with Toyota for a new contract.
Trulli appears to be referring to Howett. The Italian took the team out for dinner this week in Sao Paolo to celebrate his second place in Suzuka, one of his best drives in his long F1 career. Afterwards he said, “There were 80 or so people there and you would struggle to find one who did not want me at the team next year. Well maybe one..”
Howett alluded to the fact that team and driver were potentially too far apart on price. Trulli has other options, like the new Lotus team whose technical director is Mike Gascoyne and a big Trulli fan from their time together. But Trulli wants to stay with Toyota. If needs be I imagine he will take whatever is on offer at the end of the day from the team, should he be given the chance, unless a better offer comes his way in the fulness of time.
In many ways he sums up a phenomenon which we are seeing for the first time in 2009, and which is a direct result of the credit crunch and the squeeze on teams’ budgets. This has affected most drivers in some way this year. As part of the resource restriction agreement most teams will be cutting back to 300 or so staff soon and may go even lower and they are determined to get control of the drivers’ salaries.
Jenson Button is also experiencing this at the moment as his contract talks drag on with Brawn not willing to go to the levels Jenson and his management want.
The drivers know that they are being squeezed and as a result some of them have been talking to each other behind the scenes, keeping each other abreast of the situation, when they are signing something, what the teams are saying, so that they can keep their price high.
Of the 26 potential cars on the grid, plus Sauber which doesn’t have an entry at the moment, only 11 drivers have confirmed seats. The market is wide open and we are likely to see a very different grid next year for many reasons.