The news that Vitaly Petrov will race for Caterham in 2012 was not exactly a surprise, but it was a little disappointing all the same.
Nothing against Petrov; it's just a shame that it should end like that for Jarno Trulli, the man he replaces.
Trulli arrived in Formula 1 with quite a reputation; a karting superstar who won the world championship and whose skills converted easily to cars, as his 1996 German F3 title attested.
When Ayrton Senna was killed, it was Trulli who won the World Cup Memorial karting event back-to-back in 1994-95. And when he arrived in F1 in 1997 with Minardi, there were many tipping him as the new Senna. It was even said that there was a resemblance across the eyes, noticeable in those through-the-visor shots.
Trulli's replacement means that the Australian Grand Prix in March will be the first world championship race for which no Italian has been entered since the 1973 German GP. Not that he is your archetypal Latin. His Christian name, in fact, is Finnish, Trulli's father Enzo naming his son after motorcycle ace Jarno Saarinen, the only Finn to win a circuit racing world championship.
That was in 1972, when Saarinen won the 250cc title and gave Italian hero Giacomo Agostini a tough time in the 350cc category. Yamaha then made a new four-cylinder 500cc machine for Saarinen to take on Agostini and MV Agusta in the main category in '73.
Saarinen won two of the first three races before tragedy struck at Monza in May when Renzo Pasolini, the man Saarinen had beaten to his title by a single point, fell on the opening lap of the 250cc race. It triggered a multiple accident in which both Pasolini and Saarinen died. Jarno Trulli was born the following year.
Trulli was masterful in F3 in 1996... © LAT
Before starting in German F3 in 1995, Trulli had contested just a handful of car races in Italy. As a consequence, when he arrived in F1 he wasn't that well known to his countrymen, who tend only to have eyes for Ferrari. But his karting reputation went before him and there was always respect.
The plan for 1997 had been F3000, but a call from Minardi put Trulli in alongside Ukyo Katayama.
I remember talking to Brian Hart, then supplying the team with engines, about the frisson of excitement that news of the kart ace's arrival brought. They expected he'd be the sort to just get in and give it one, even if he was a bit wild.
The notion could not have been further from Trulli. In fact, when he first tested at Mugello there was consternation at how far he was from Katayama. Trulli told them not to worry - he was simply learning the car and would put a lap together in good time. He was true to his word. As Hart said, they soon learned that Jarno was not about to kill himself trying to finish 17th in a car with the potential to be 18th.
Katayama may not have been the greatest driver ever to sit in an F1 car, but he was experienced and committed. He outqualified Trulli at the Melbourne season opener by three tenths of a second, but it never happened again and it was Trulli who was quicker by that sort of margin until the season got to Montreal, where Prost driver Olivier Panis broke his legs.
Team boss Alain Prost, left only with Shinji Nakano on the driving strength, was soon on the phone to Trulli, who was in the Prost in time for the next race in France. Trulli qualified sixth, beaten only by the two Ferraris, two Williams and Ralf Schumacher's Jordan.
...and his F1 debut came with Minardi in Australia in 1997 © LAT
There wasn't too much wrong with the Prost (nee Ligier) chassis on Bridgestone rubber that year, Panis finishing second with the JS45 in Spain and looking like a winner in Argentina. But everyone sat up when Trulli qualified third to Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen in Austria, beat the Williams driver away and led across the line when Hakkinen pulled his McLaren off with an engine problem.
While Rubens Barrichello's Stewart held Villeneuve at bay, Trulli cleared off and comfortably led the first 37 laps until his pitstop, showing metronomic consistency in what was his 14th GP. He would likely have finished second to Villeneuve's Williams that day, but for an engine failure.
At that stage, Trulli had a big future. Back then, it was almost inconceivable that he would finish his F1 career with just a lone grand prix win, which now looks all but inevitable. Had he happened across the right cars, you'd have been looking at 20 or 30, no problem at all.
But the cards didn't fall for him. Prost went backwards and after two and a half seasons he joined Jordan, for which Heinz-Harald Frentzen had won two races in 1999.
Trulli has always been a stylist, an artist even, and nowhere were his talents better suited than the tight confines of Monte Carlo. In 2000 he put a Jordan on the front row in a season during which he struck up a great working relationship with technical chief Mike Gascoyne.
But it was the wrong time to be at Jordan too. Gascoyne left for Benetton, about to become a Renault works effort again in 2001, and Trulli followed him there for '02, replacing Giancarlo Fisichella.
Prost switch was good to begin with, but tailed off... © LAT
Trulli was nip and tuck with Jenson Button and was a better qualifier - his one-lap pace is something he was always renowned for. Which, actually, always annoyed him. He claimed that he was perfectly capable of driving 60 laps that way if the car he'd put further up the grid than it deserved to be would let him.
In the right frame of mind that's probably true, but even Trulli's staunchest admirers would say there was a tendency to let a car affliction that costs a tenth or two to knock him half a second off his stride. The difference from Senna is that the Brazilian, having qualified an inferior car somewhere it shouldn't be, would do similarly unfeasible things with it in the race by sheer force of will - to the extent that top teams felt they simply had to get the guy into their car. Trulli didn't quite have that.
In 2003 at Renault he faced an emerging Fernando Alonso, who took his first GP win in Hungary that year and outscored Trulli 55 points to 33. Even so, the Italian started '04 strongly enough to rattle Alonso at times, especially at Monaco, where even the Spaniard's ability could not prevent the Italian qualifying four tenths quicker and taking his first pole and win.
Despite that, Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore would not confirm Trulli's position with the team beyond the end of the year and, when Jarno lost third place at the penultimate corner of the mid-season French Grand Prix by letting Barrichello mug him, Briatore went spare.
If I had to guess, there was probably much more to this than met the eye. Ever since the Benetton Junior team (Briatore's project) got involved with Trulli in the mid-1990s, it's fair to assume that a healthy slice of Jarno was heading in Flavio's direction each year.
...and Jordan didn't do much for him either © LAT
Trulli may not have been thrilled about a perceived conflict of interests with Alonso - another Briatore man - and it's not uncommon for these arrangements to run for 10 years. To the end of 2004, in other words.
Gascoyne, by this stage, had his feet well under the table at Toyota, which he'd joined on a very healthy stipend at the end of 2003, and no doubt they'd had conversations. It's not too hard to envisage a situation where Trulli decided to rid himself of Briatore and go to Toyota, doubtless on very good money.
But not as good as Ralf Schumacher's. The way I heard it, Toyota had a very strict set of requirements about what was needed for a lead driver to replace Panis and Ricardo Zonta. He had to be a multiple race winner and available which, with no real competition, Willi Weber converted into a multi-squillion-dollar deal for Ralf.
Trulli did not re-sign with Briatore, his Toyota deal no doubt inked in the background. And, when the Renault/Trulli relationship grew more fractious and broke apart after September's Italian GP, Trulli actually got his backside into a Toyota before Schumacher (then in his last year with Williams) by replacing Zonta in Japan and Panis in Brazil.
Trulli, generally, was as quick if not quicker than Schumacher. The way I heard it, he was told that rumours of a stratospheric Schumacher retainer were just that, and that he was being remunerated similarly.
His win at Monaco in '04 was his zenith © LAT
In France, drivers must pay local tax at a small percentage on the proportion of their retainer effectively earned by taking part in the French GP. Trulli's management team is said to have checked their contribution against Schumacher's, and discovered that it differed considerably.
It is said that the Japanese, with egg on their faces, were thus forced to pay squillions times two for the remaining two and a half years of both drivers' contracts...
Briefly, it looked as though Toyota was going to be the break Trulli had been waiting for when he started 2005 with second places in Malaysia and Bahrain, working again with Gascoyne. But it didn't turn out like that. Things went downhill, Toyota dispensed with Gascoyne in early '06 and the project never delivered results that the budget promised. For Trulli it was wrong place, wrong time. Again. His bank manager, however, would probably disagree.
It was during this era that F1 testing reached levels hitherto unknown, with entirely separate test teams running full programmes relentlessly between GPs. Up until Michelin's withdrawal at the end of 2006, much of it was tyre testing.
Trulli has always been uncomplicated, honest and not one to hide his feelings well. Testing, you felt, was sometimes a chore, although he was always professional. If Toyota wanted to know how quick the car would ultimately go, it wanted to see how quickly it would go with him in it.
Paul Ricard and its multiple layouts was always used for a May test where there were two objectives: slow-speed Monaco simulation on one day; Canada kerb-riding/damping preparation the next. Trulli didn't believe the slow layout offered much in the way of Monte Carlo translation. And as for relentlessly clattering the thing over kerbs all day long, his face said it all. No doubt it offended an artist's sensibilities.
When Toyota pulled out at the end of 2009, Trulli and many of the old Toyota personnel joined up once again with Gascoyne at Lotus. You did wonder how driving at the front to middle of the grid for a lot would square with driving at the back for not very much.
Toyota could have been the break Trulli had been waiting for © LAT
When Heikki Kovalainen outqualified the one-lap expert at all bar a couple of races in 2011, it was perhaps inevitable that everyone would presume Trulli's motivation had gone. But Gascoyne was not one of them.
"People say that Jarno was tonked by Heikki in qualifying and he was," Gascoyne says, "until we changed the power-steering. Then he wasn't.
"I've always said that Jarno's strength is also his biggest weakness. He's the most sensitive driver I've ever worked with. That's what ultimately gives him that extra couple of tenths that he's always had over his team-mates.
"He has fantastic feel for the car, but take that away and he can't drive it. With someone like Fernando, the car can change and he just meatheads it.
"With last year's power-steering the drivers were asking for more assistance, and so we produced a system that had more. But inherently the more friction they have, the bigger dead band, the less responsive they are.
"As soon as Jarno drove the new power-steering he said 'Yes, it's lighter, but I can't feel the car.' Heikki would not feel any difference. It's not a simple redesign because it's all the piston sizes and basically a new system. We tried some things that didn't work and had to redo it, which is immediately a three-month process.
"We redesigned one that is actually a lot heavier but with less friction, and that's why we couldn't use it everywhere. Come through somewhere like 130R at Suzuka for example, and it can't give enough assistance. Or Eau Rouge at Spa. That made two races where we couldn't use it.
Power-steering issues blighted his 2011 season with Lotus © LAT
"Heikki and Karun Chandhok could feel it but it made no difference. Jarno said it totally transformed the car and immediately started telling us what he needed at the front and back. Go back to the old one and he couldn't tell you what the car was doing. It was absolutely black and white: no bullshit.
"Jarno put the new one on in Hungary. He'd been half a second off Heikki all year and he outqualified him. We changed back for Spa and he couldn't drive it. For 2012 we've taken what we had and tweaked it so that we've got a bit more assistance. We were led down a path by the drivers and just got it wrong."
Gascoyne was convinced that with a redesigned system, Trulli would be much stronger this time around. Some believed that, some didn't, and it seems as if team owner Tony Fernandes may have been in the latter camp as he certainly betrayed signs of losing patience.
As Gascoyne relinquishes the day-to-day technical direction of the F1 team to Mark Smith, Trulli is no longer on the scene. Perhaps that's just coincidence. But it did seem odd for the team to put Trulli in the car on the last day of the Jerez test if it had no intention of racing him.
All you can assume is that, by that stage, a suitcase full of roubles was yet to arrive. I'm sure Fernandes has done his maths and it makes sense from the commercial side but, as far as Trulli is concerned, it leaves questions frustratingly unanswered. Just as the man has done throughout his career, in fact.