Throughout his F1 career which ran from 1997 to 2011, Jarno Trulli was one of the most intriguing - and popular - drivers on the grid.
Now 46, Trulli’s time in F1 was marked by a God-given technical ability to get the best out of a midfield car in qualifying, and put it much higher up the grid than it deserved to be.
Despite his qualifying heroics, the limitations of his machinery and in some cases such as the 2009 Bahrain Grand Prix - poor strategy calls - meant that the Italian would often tumble down the field in races through no fault of his own.
On paper, the highpoint of Trulli’s F1 career came at the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, where - whilst driving for Renault and having a certain Fernando Alonso as his teammate - he scored his one and only F1 victory after dominating the weekend from pole position.
After the race, the fact that Trulli received a standing ovation by every journalist in the post-race press conference was a testament to both the popularity of the man himself and his win after a tricky race around the streets of the principality.
Yet by the end of 2004, Trulli had fallen out spectacularly with then-Renault team boss Flavio Briatore over management contract issues. Despite scoring the team’s sole victory of the season, Trulli switched to Toyota before the end of the year where he would stay until the Japanese outfit withdrew from the sport at the end of 2009 as a result of the global financial crisis.
The Toyota years were marked by two pole positions and some stunning drives, yet that first win for the Japanese giant eluded Trulli throughout his five and a bit seasons with the team.
That said, standout performances including a second place finish at the 2009 Japanese Grand Prix where he outraced a relatively young Lewis Hamilton.
In Trulli’s own words, this was one of the best drives of his career, despite his Toyota TF109 being significantly down on power in comparison to the McLaren Mercedes driven by the now seven-time F1 world champion.
On the back of Toyota’s F1 withdrawal, Trulli moved to the newly-founded Lotus-turned-Caterham team for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Despite public pre-season promises from team management, a lack of performance - most notably the absence of a power steering system and poor aerodynamics - the absence of a development programme, and most shockingly, wages which Trulli has still not received, the Italian handed in his notice on the eve of the 2012 season and headed into retirement.
Given the fast-paced nature of the F1 world, you’d expect Trulli to spend his days making YouTube videos, and trying to remain relevant in a sport which he left behind almost a decade ago by issuing a few outlandish statements about current drivers and the state of F1 in the 2020s.
Yet like we said, Trulli was one of the most intriguing drivers of his era, which is why when Dyler.com got the opportunity to speak to him to find out how he has been spending the last 10 years or so, we jumped at the chance.
We also found out why classic cars from the 1960s onwards are of absolutely no interest to him, and why there is more than one similarity between wine making - another of Trulli’s passions - and classic car restoration.
Interestingly, he also revealed why he was initially reluctant to see his son Enzo - now the 2021 F4 UAE champion - join the family business of motorsport…
It was an absolute pleasure to meet one of the nicest, most interesting characters in motorsport, and get an insight into an untraditional life after F1.
Over to you, Jarno…
Jarno Trulli on classic cars…
Dyler.com: Jarno, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your love for classic cars and about F1. When did you first get the bug for classic cars?
Jarno Trulli: It all started in 1997 in my first season in Formula 1. When I got my first payment, one of the first things I did was buy a Volvoclassic Italian car, a FIAT Cinquecento and it's really been since then that I started to really get into classics. It was only when I stopped racing in Formula 1 at the start of 2012, that I really got into restoring them, because I had a bit more time on my side.
I've always liked small, air-cooled cars, so when I retired, I also bought a 1951 Volkswagen Beetle, which has a split double screen on the back. Not long after, I bought a 1957 Volkswagen T1 Microbus "Samba" which is a 21-window model, and is one of the last of these to be built in Germany.
As is often the case, when you start with air-cooled VWs, you eventually move to air-cooled Porsches, because early cars from both makers are quite similar in design and on the technical side of things. Since
I got into restorations, I've become a bit of an expert in Porsches with the help of some friends who've been in this longer than I have. I own a few old air-cooled models, actually.
Dyler.com: Are these classic Porsches 911s, or something more esoteric that people wouldn’t really expect from an ex-F1 driver?
Jarno Trulli: No, they’re the Porsche 356 actually! To be honest, I love classic cars from the 1950s and don’t really care too much for anything that came after.
I realised that the thing I like about cars from this time, is that their design is very simple and very linear. I feel that from the 1960s onwards, cars started getting bigger and there was almost a drop in quality, because manufacturers started cost-cutting by using plastic inside and out.
I think that the 1960s were the time when cars started getting really complex and too technical. Whilst Porsches from the 1970s and 1980s were awesome technologically, they’re really not my kind of classic car, to be honest.
Dyler.com: What is it about the Porsche 356 that you love, then?
Jarno Trulli: It’s a really interesting car, at the end of the day. When the Porsche 356 came out in 1948, it was really advanced for its time. It was rear-engined, and rear-wheel drive which was nothing unusual for that era.
However, it had a very light torsion bar, which made it great to drive. What’s more, all models weighed from just 771 kilograms to 1,140kg, so it was always very light which also made it good fun and popular with racing drivers. If you look at it, it’s also very aerodynamic and sleek compared to a lot of other cars from the period.
The other thing I like about the 356, is that it was hand-built so no two cars are the same. Talking generally, one thing that makes classic cars from the 1950s special is that they are nothing like cars today, which are mass-produced by robots in a cookie cutter fashion.
One of the things I really enjoy about classic car restoration is looking through the records of the cars I’m working on. You’ll often see that a lot of companies at the time had to improvise with what they had.
Don’t forget that the cars we are talking about now were made not that long after World War II, so perhaps the manufacturers didn’t have enough parts or manpower or whatever, so they put the cars together using different materials and the parts that were at hand in the factory.
Anyway, in the case of the 356, sometimes some cars were supposed to be born in one way and came out from the factory in another. When you look at the car’s records, you see how it was supposed to be and that’s how I start the restoration. In Formula 1, I always worked in a methodical, logical way, and bringing a classic car back to life is absolutely no different.
Dyler.com: For over 20 years now, you’ve been developing your vineyard, Podere Castorani, which now produces over a million bottles of wine per-year. Are there any similarities between winemaking and classic car restoration?
Jarno Trulli: Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day though, I think you need to be a bit of a perfectionist in something if you want to do it well. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rebuilding and restoring a car, making wine, driving an F1 car, or anything else in life you are passionate about.
When it comes to classic car restoration, the first thing to know is that whilst it might look easy, it isn’t because it takes a long, long time. You need to find the right people to do the right job, and if you’re new to this world, then that alone can be quite difficult because you don’t always know where to start.
For example, you may know a guy who is an expert at making a 356 factory-fresh in terms of metalwork, but perhaps that same person isn’t the best at painting bodies or rebuilding engines, so you have to find the right person who can do those jobs as best as possible. Then there are lots of difficulties that come with choosing the right materials for the interior, or the cables for the electronics and mechanicals, and so on.
That said, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in discovering the right people, finding the right parts, and making a lot of research into the history of the specific car you are working on to bring back to its absolutely best.
Dyler.com: Before we move onto talking about modern day F1, what would your final piece of advice be to someone who is new to car restoration?
Jarno Trulli: As far as I am concerned, if you want to restore a classic car properly - and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Porsche or a FIAT or whatever it is you enjoy - is that it’s very, very, very expensive [laughs]! Like I said, it will also take you a very long time to make it perfect - for example, the coachwork alone on one of my 356s took about 800 or 900 hours to get right.
If you can, I would say to always try and get the best car you can based on your budget, because that will make your life easier in the long run. The same goes for hiring restoration experts too. If you go for the best, your life will be simpler!
Jarno Trulli on his time in Formula 1 and F1 2021
Dyler.com: It’s been almost 10 years since you left Formula 1 - is there anything you miss about it?
Jarno Trulli: No, not at all. I think in whatever you’re doing in life, you need to know when your time has passed and at the end of 2011, my time had well and truly passed. I had other business interests like the winery in my hometown of Pescara and my hotel in Switzerland. I was getting more pleasure out of them than I was driving. I think it’s super important to enjoy your work, because we spend most of our lives doing it! That’s one of the reasons I stopped when I did.
When I left Formula 1, I was driving for Lotus or Caterham or whatever you want to call it, and when I joined them after Toyota withdrew from F1 at the end of 2009, I was promised a lot of things by the team-owner, Tony Fernandez.
Anyway, that didn’t happen, so the car was really poor and I was just wasting my time by driving around at the back of the field. I knew I was getting older, and I wouldn’t have another chance to fight at the sharper end of the grid, so that’s why at the start of 2012, I told the team that I saw no point in carrying on with them and bam - that was my F1 career over.
As for the sport now? The cars are really fast, but it’s not my type of F1. The cars are really big, and just too technical so yes, I still love racing, but no, I don’t miss Formula 1 at all. I’m very happy without it!
Dyler.com: It seems you regret moving to Lotus for 2010 on the back of Toyota leaving the sport. Is that fair to say?
Jarno Trulli: Yeah, I regret it 100%. When I got the news from Toyota, I should have stopped there and then because I was 35 at the time and not getting any younger.
It’s a shame that Toyota didn’t compete in 2010, because the 2009 car was very good. In fact, it was one of the best F1 cars along with the 2004 Renault that I ever drove, so I think the 2010 Toyota would have been even better. What makes it sadder, was that I had an agreement with Toyota for 2010, and the 2010 car was ready to race when they pulled the plug…
As for Lotus though, I don’t think Fernandez knew how to run an F1 team properly and he just massively underestimated the task. For me, that was a shame, because there were some really good people there and their talents and skills were just wasted.
By the time I left Formula 1, I saw the way things were going with that team so I said “hey, please pay me off for the year” because there was no point in continuing - he agreed to that, but I still haven’t been paid and that was almost 10 years ago! That said, he didn’t really like paying anybody, so I’m not massively surprised [laughs]!
Dyler.com: For our final question, we’d like to ask you about your son Enzo who has just won the F4 UAE championship - how did you feel when he said he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and be a racing driver, and is he enjoying driving for your old teammate, Fernando Alonso?
Jarno Trulli: I mean, it wasn’t what I had in mind for him to be honest and it’s no secret that I’ve preferred for Enzo to do something else [laughs]!
Now, it might look like I hate the sport or something, but that’s absolutely not true - it’s just I know how difficult it is to get and remain there, and it’s always difficult for the son of a racing driver to come out of their dad’s shadow.
I’m really proud of what Enzo is doing though, and I’m happy that he’s driving for Fernando’s team in Spanish F4 this year. Fernando is one of the best drivers in the history of Formula 1, so he can learn a lot.
I have to say though, that Enzo is much better than I ever was as a driver and I’m enjoying supporting him with my knowledge and experience from karting, Formula 1 and so on. It’ll be exciting to see what the future brings…
Dyler.com would like to thank Jarno for this fascinating conversation, and also wishes Enzo the best of luck in Spanish F4 this season.
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