After two years in the racing wilderness following his sudden exit from the Caterham Formula 1 team, Jarno Trulli – the fifth longest serving driver in F1 history, with 256 Grands Prix to his name – has returned to open-wheel racing and the biggest challenge of his career.
A brand new team, where he’s the owner and a driver in the all-new FIA Formula E Championship.
While Trulli has certainly earned plenty of plaudits for his business and entrepreneurial skills in wineries and real estate, he’s fully aware that just being a racing driver doesn’t automatically give him the skills to run a successful racing team.
He’s had a steep learning curve. With barely three months until the cars were set to turn a wheel in anger in September’s season-opener in Beijing, the Drayson Racing team opted to not to proceed with entering under its own steam, and so Jarno came in – having previously had a test drive in one of the series’ Dallara-designed Spark-Renault SRT 01E and decided to take over the entry.
Other teams had been operating for some eight months and had plenty more pre-season test mileage under their belts, leaving Jarno and his teammate, Michela Cerruti, with an even steeper mountain to climb if they wanted to get up to speed and be competitive in the all-new championship series.
Despite a bumpy start at the Beijing season-opener, Trulli and Cerruti knuckled down to the task and have shown consistent improvement in form over the following races. That peaked with a near-podium result for Trulli last time our on the streets of Putrajaya in Uruguay.
We spoke to Jarno in the lead up to this weekend’s fourth round of the championship, which takes place in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires to discuss the season-to-date and also get his thoughts on the current goings-on in his former home of Formula 1.
You didn’t enjoy the best of luck in the first two rounds of the championship, but you earned the team’s first points’ finish at Punta del Este. How important was the result for you personally, and your team?
To score points and show good performance was very good for the team after such a hard time setting up everything so quickly before the beginning of the season. For me personally, it’s a shame that we missed the podium in but that’s racing.
Can some of the challenges your team has experienced be attributed to Trulli Formula E being the final outfit to have its participation in the Formula E Championship confirmed?
Possibly, starting almost eight months after everyone else have left us working at 200% trying to catch up. Time is of essence here, and we’re still playing the catch up game a little, but feel that we’re closing in little by little each race, which we showed in Punta Del Este.
“I don’t believe that the greener technology that Formula 1 has adopted is a good way to promote the sport.”
Racing-wise, it had been very quiet for you after leaving Formula 1 and until you started with the Trulli Formula E effort. What were your emotions (and activities) following your stint with the Caterham F1 Team, and what motivated your return to racing to start out as a driver and team owner?
I’m mainly back as a team owner. I haven’t driven anything over the last two years but the reason I’m driving now driving is purely to help the team on setting up everything. It’s good to be back behind the wheel but it’s hard after two years of inactivity, nevertheless I’m not slower than some of the drivers who are driving professionally every week in other series, so I’m happy about that.
Does being a driver and team owner present new challenges for you in this new career chapter? What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned since forming your own team?
There is a lot going on and it’s definitely hard to be both driver and team owner. I have double responsibilities and there are lots of things to manage in my position. Of course, I wish that we could have started earlier like the other teams, in order to set up my team in a more professional and relaxed way in this brand new series, but is the way it is and we’re working hard to keep up.
There are many lessons still to be learnt, even with my experience, so the most important lesson has been to ‘never stop learning from your mistakes’.
You have appointed Michela as your teammate. She’s enjoyed success in AutoGP and in the Superstars championships; what are your expectations for her first season in Formula E and how would you rate her performances so far in this all-new championship?
Michela is a rising talent with very little experience in car-racing, nevertheless she proved to be quick in AutoGP by winning a race and racing consistently for the podium. I expect a constant improvement from her side and she could already have scored points in Punta Del Este, if it wasn’t not for the penalty. In terms of speed and adaptation, she’s constantly learning and improving, the biggest struggle she’s had has been the carbon brakes as they are completely new to her.
The championship is unique as well in the sense that it races only on temporary street circuits. You’ve enjoyed a reputation as a bit of a street circuit specialist in your F1 days – does that give you some advantage over some of your competitors?
I don’t believe that I have a clear advantage but rather plenty of experience when it comes to temporary street circuits. However, I drive two days per month, and my competitors are driving professionally in other series every week, so we shall see how it pans out.
Your old home of Formula 1 has itself evolved into a ‘greener’ technology era, although it was very much headlined by Mercedes’ domination under the new regulations and increasing cost pressures that saw troubles for two teams: Marussia and Caterham. What are your thoughts of the current state of Formula 1?
I don’t believe that the greener technology that F1 has adopted is a good way to promote the sport as it has only raised costs and reduced car performance. Personally, I don’t think it’s sustainable, specially cost wise.
The 2015 Formula 1 season will mark the fourth year in a row with no Italian driver on the grid. What are the challenges currently being faced in bringing the next Italian driver into F1? Is it economics or a lack of depth in the feeder series’, or something else?
Italian drivers are definitely struggling in brining new racing drivers from younger categories, and the economic situation doesn’t help either, it’s not easy.
Images via FIA Formula E Championship