SEPTEMBER 16, 2004
Well, stone the crows, Trulli joins Toyota
Jarno Trulli was telling other teams from the middle of August that he had signed a contract with Panasonic Toyota Racing for 2005. Maybe this was not true but as there was interest from BAR Honda at the time when it became clear that Jenson Button wanted to move to Williams, it would have been logical for Trulli to have gone down that route if he had been at liberty to do so, given that BAR is second in the World Championship and challenging for race wins, while Toyota is not. Obviously, things may change in the future but it is nonetheless odd that Trulli did not even consider the alternative career path. However, Toyota says that Trulli signed the contract on September 14, which explains why the team consistently denied a deal, even when the whole of the paddock was screaming that a deal had been done and that Trulli was off the market.
Trulli has been released from his Renault contract and so will test for Toyota later today in England and while there do not appear to be any plans to put Jarno into a car this year, the options is not out of the question.
The Toyota press statement was deliberately ambiguous on this point, stating that "Toyota currently plans for Ricardo Zonta to drive the third car in Friday free practice sessions, as well as undertaking extensive test duties alongside Olivier Panis in 2005".
If testing goes well, however, it might be deemed logical for Trulli to step in early in order to get to know the team better in racing conditions. Zonta will continue next year as test driver and that means that Ryan Briscoe no longer has a job because Olivier Panis is going to be the team's other test driver.
Ryan Briscoe is still contracted to Toyota in 2005 and will receive support from the team as he looks to find a race seat for next year.
"It is no secret that we have been speaking with Jarno Trulli for some time about the possibility for him to join Panasonic Toyota Racing, but contrary to recent reports, we have only finalised contractual details this week," said Tsutomu Tomita. "Jarno has really shown his maturity and all-round talent this season, both in qualifying and in races, and we believe that he will be the perfect team-mate to Ralf at Toyota from next season. On that note, I would like to set the record straight early and stress that there are no driver orders at Toyota; Ralf and Jarno will have equal number one status with us. We are also looking forward to Ricardo staying with the team in 2005 as our Friday driver at races. Along with Olivier, Ricardo has demonstrated a strong commitment and motivation to the team over the last two years."
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