Saturday, 14 December 2013


These two drivers have been largely overlooked during their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota due to the cars being far off-pace. Their generally low placings have downgraded perceptions of these fine drivers. In my opinion both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli were really fast, competitive and vastly under-rated. Was it just the car that was slow? Just how good were Ralf and Jarno?

Driver CVs before Toyota
Ralf Schumacher
Some idea of Ralf’s and Jarno’s abilities and speed can be gauged from their pre-Toyota years. Each faced some very fast team-mates. Jarno had come from two seasons with the experienced and fast Frentzen at Jordan in 2000-2001, one year with Button at Renault in 2002 and then two seasons with Alonso at Renault in 2003-2004. As a rookie Ralf Schumacher had been paired with Fisichella at Jordan in 1997, then with Damon Hill at Jordan in 1998, with Button at Williams-BMW in 2001 and then spent another four years in that team with the combative Montoya. All these team-mates were formidable drivers, particularly Alonso and Montoya.

Clearly the fact that Ralf slugged it out for four seasons at Williams-BMW with one of the toughest and talented drivers, Colombian Juan-Pablo Montoya, is a good measure of his abilities. These two Williams-BMW drivers gave the dominant Michael-Schumacher-led Ferrari ‘steamroller’ its toughest opposition from 2002-2004. Ralf and Montoya were very close-matched throughout their four seasons as team-mates. Ralf’s 2004 was cut short by a puncture-induced crash in the US GP at Indianapolis; his resultant concussion causing him to miss the next six events. Returning for the last three races of 2004, Ralf was immediately fast, beating Montoya in qualifying in China and then starting from the front row alongside Michael’s 13-win Ferrari in Japan to score a great second place. The crash apparently had not affected Ralf’s driving at all.

Jarno had two seasons paired with Fernando Alonso at Renault. Overshadowed in 2003, Jarno bounced back for 2004 and virtually equalled Alonso in results and speed. He scored a first and a third place to Alonso’s one second place and three thirds. Jarno’s season was cut short when Renault Team manager Briatore fired him at race 16 of 18. This proved a huge loss to Renault, but Jarno was promptly snapped up by Toyota for the last two events of 2004.

Ralf vs Jarno Compared 2005-2007
Comparing their statistics averaged over their three Toyota seasons together shows that Jarno and Ralf were very close-matched. Each scored three podiums, Ralf ten top-six placings, Jarno eight. Comparing their average grid positions, which I scored only when neither had significant problems and using their best pre-race times instead of some of the official grid positions due to penalties or other issues: Jarno was best at an average grid place of 7.84 vs Ralf’s 9.15. Ralf was better in average race finishing position at 8.6 vs Jarno’s 9.4. When each finished the races, Jarno was ahead 16 times and Ralf 14. As another measure my Rating System scored Jarno slightly faster in 2005, Ralf in 2006 and Jarno faster in 2007. On average over the three seasons they were virtually equal in speed. 

The Toyota Cars 2005-2007

Jarno Trulli
Why was the Toyota’s early 2005 promise not realised? In the first five races of 2005 Trulli scored two second places and a third behind the dominating McLaren-Mercedes and Renault packages. Thereafter Ralf and Jarno rarely scored better than fifth place, mostly lower, apart from Ralf’s two third places and Jarno’s one fourth. Considering that the Toyota TF105 car-rated at 100.7 and ranked fifth by my system’s season average, Ralf and Jarno had little chance of winning races. That car-rating is 0.7% from the top-rated McLaren-Mercedes, or 0.7 seconds slower per lap which translates to a hypothetical 42-seconds behind in a 60-lap, 100-minute race as at Abu Dhabi. The car was inconsistent, at times very fast, scoring two second and two third places and setting two poles, Jarno at Indianapolis and Ralf at Suzuka. But in most races they dropped to several 6th to 9ths places and even some 12th to 15ths! No drivers are that erratic, and certainly not two who had virtually equalled Montoya and Alonso the year before.

In 2006 the Toyota was even further from the front-running, fastest cars of Ferrari and Renault top-rated equal at 100.0, the Toyota car-rating on my system at 100.8 and ranked sixth. Consequently it was mazing that Ralf managed a third place in Australia; Jarno’s best were two sixths. Average race-finishes of 8.2 and 10.2 says it all for the Toyota team.

The 2007 season was even worse, each driver’s best finish being a sixth place. The car, by my season-average car-rating, had dropped to 101.6 and ranked seventh. That is over 1.5 seconds per lap and over 90-seconds behind after a 60 lapper! The notoriously slow 2007 Honda car-rated equal to the Toyota by my calculations. Honda drivers Button and Barrichello scoring best finishes of fifth and ninth respectively, partly confirms the accuracy of the Toyota TF107’s low car-rating, with Ralf and Jarno best-scoring a sixth place each. This Toyota’s slowness is reflected in the average race-finishing places of 11.1 for Ralf and 10.8 for Jarno. Considering how the 2013 McLaren-Mercedes has struggled with Button driving, and that my car-rating scored it at 100.5, highlights just how far off-pace the 2005-2007 Toyotas were, car-rated at 100.6,100.7 and 101.6. Not even Michael Schumacher, Senna or Fangio could have won more than perhaps one or two races for Toyota; the gap was just too big. My findings based on over 1200 grand prix-calibre races from 1894-2013, show that few cars that are slower than 0.5% from the fastest are capable of much success. This clears Ralf and Jarno.

The Toyota Team

2005 Jarno Trulli-Toyota TF105
Such poor and declining results 2005-2007 point to a major problem for such a big, powerful and huge-budget manufacturer: Toyota had debuted in 2002, 2007 was their sixth season and they had the best wind-tunnel of all, still used by Ferrari and other teams in 2012 and 2013! The Toyota situation was aptly stated by Planet F1 Forum poster, username 'Fiki': “”Toyota weren’t a racing team with a manufacturer behind them; they were a manufacturer with a far-away racing division somewhere.” Basically the remote, corporate-style management was unsuited to Formula One racing. Between 2002 and their exit in 2009 Toyota spent on a huge scale, which made their decline and winlessness hard to understand.

The Toyota cars showed occasional promise, especially in Trulli’s acknowledged speedy qualifying hands. However, similar to the 2010-2013 Mercedes cars, in the races the Toyota’s seemed to over-use their rear tyres, and often dropped back soon after the start. The derogatory ‘Trulli train’ term aptly described how the Toyotas’ sometimes high grid positions turned into a train of cars struggling to get past in the races.

The drivers?

Another factor that could have influenced Toyota performance was the drivers. Jarno, like Button and Raikkonen is recognised as having a narrow tyre or car-balance window in which to display his speed. If the tyres or car are not right, Jarno struggles and cannot drive around the problem as Michael Schumacher and Alonso could. This was borne out by Jarno’s fast single-lap qualifying performances, and his often fading in the races. This issue of Jarno’s with Topyota seemed to be similar to Button’s problems with his McLaren-Mercedes in mid-2012: a lack of aero-tyre warming balance which reduced the driver’s confidence.

Some commentators reckoned Ralf’s concussion from his 2004 Indy crash could have affected his performance. The on-track speed and results show otherwise: he was on-pace straight away on return. However for 2007 Ralf’s performance did slow, as he dropped pace by a huge 0.4% relative to Jarno, by my calculations. That was almost half-a-second per lap or over 20- seconds in a 60 lap race. Ralf’s average grid position for 2007 was 10.5 vs Jarno’s 9.2. Was Ralf losing interest, de-motivated by the slow car? Planet F1 Forum poster username 'Senna88' states it clearly: “Ralf in particular began to suffer from de-motivation I remember many times when Brundle would interview him on the grid from 2006 onwards and he always seemed a bit down on how well the race would go... Ralf suffered more derision from the media than Trulli during these under performing years at Toyota (considering the budget they had) due to his massive pay check.”

The drivers directly compared

Considering their Toyota cars over the three seasons with Ralf’s and Jarno’s average grid positions of around 8.5 and an average race-finishing position of 9.0, Ralf and Jarno must have been really good to score six podiums, two poles and in Trulli’s case, to once come close to a win, in their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota.

 I directly compared the drivers season by season:
Ahead when both finished the race:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf: 8:5
2006: Ralf vs Jarno :4:3
2007: Ralf and Jarno 5:5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf :16:14

Average race-finishing position:
2005: Ralf vs Jarno: 6.5:7.3
2006: Ralf vs jarno: 8.2:101.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf: 10.8:11.1
Three-season average: Ralf vs Jarno 8.6:9.4

Average grid position/ time-based start position:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf 5.4 :8.1
2006: ,Ralf vs Jarno 8.1: 9.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf : 9.2:10.5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf 7.9:9.2.

My system’s driver-ratings score them:
2005: Jarno 100.2, Ralf 100.3
2006: Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.6
2007: Jarno 100.4, Ralf 100.7.
Three-season average Jarno 100.40, Ralf 100.43

If we discount Ralf’s demotivated 2007 season and compare only 2005-6:
Ahead when both finished race: Jarno 11, Ralf 9
Average POB driver-rating Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.4
Average grid/time position: Jarno 7.19 Ralf 8.48
Average race finish position: Ralf 7.36, Jarno 8.77

As with all statistics on Formula One racing, each only tells part of the story, but togther they form a more complete, definitive assessment.
“I think Ralf tends to get massively underrated. In 2005 and 2006 he beat Trulli but was still getting slated.”. This observation by Planet F1 poster username 'mikeyg123'.
was so true. Many in the media and among fans were biased against Ralf, and irrationally downgraded perceptions of his actual and considerable capabilities.

Overall the two drivers were close-matched in 2005-6, Ralf being the better racer, Jarno the better qualifier. Planet F1 poster, username 'Aria_or_Nothing' reckons: “Of all the drivers Toyota employed, I’d say Ralf was the very best ... When Ralf had a good car he won and often challenged for the top spots with regularity. When Trulli was in a similar situation he still didn’t podium much or challenge for the top spots.”

“I don’t think Toyota ever had a vehicle capable of having a go at the title. Ralf and Trulli were’t THAT bad! Toyota had a quality pairing in those two.” This summary by Plantet F1 poster username 'mcdo' seems spot-on. What they achieved in slow, inconsistent cars showed what a strong pair they were..

As drivers I rate or rank Ralf at least up with Coulthard, Barrichello and Button at their best (DC 1997-2000, RB 2002-2004 and JB 2010-2011). Jarno I’d rate slightly lower, perhaps on a par with Mark Webber.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page may be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.


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