Jarno Trulli has had to acclimatise to life at the back with Lotus this season after years of chasing podiums with Toyota. But he stands by his team choice, and is confident that Lotus is in another league compared to its fellow newcomers.
AUTOSPORT heard from the Italian in Malaysia.
Q. Does this feel like a little bit of a home race for you?
Jarno Trulli: It is actually! It is a home race - as we will have two races, this one and the British GP. Obviously there is a lot of expectation and I won't say pressure, but there is a lot of expectation from the whole country and the supporters, the prime minister. We have been working really hard in the last few days because we have had a lot of events, so it is a special weekend.
Q. Lotus made no secret of the fact that it would treat the first four races as just hunting for reliability, before the performance came later. Are you on course do you think?
JT: I think we are spot on where we should be, and I think we have somehow exceeded our expectations because we basically finished both races. Heikki [Kovalainen] finished them nicely while on my side, I must admit it was a bit frustrating - but that is part of the game at the moment. We knew especially at the beginning that it was going to be really hard, and we just have to cope with it.
Q. How has it been for you, going from a situation of fighting at the front to being at the back?
JT: It is hard. But on the other hand, I take this season as a transition in preparation for next year. The team came out on the grid very late, and didn't really have the chance to design a car properly. They started to put things together in order to start the season in the best possible way without having too many major problems. They have also done very well.
On the performance side, obviously, they have completely forgotten about all the details as they did not have the time to think about that. We know we are lacking in many areas, but we know where we have to put our hands and where we have to improve. Even though at the moment we are not reacting in these races, soon we will have some quite big updates. I am confident that through the season we will show some good progress.
Q. Does it feel like a proper team from the inside?
JT: Oh yeah. The good thing is that when I made the choice, I thought I didn't want to get on board any other new team apart from this one. This team is the one that looked more professional, with more professional people, so I was saying - okay, if I really have to start from the bottom then at least I start there with a professional team from a professional point of view.
Honestly, at the moment the only thing we could change is obviously the results, where we can hardly work on the car because we are short in pieces, and we cannot really set up the car. We have so many problems that we just need to drive it and keep it on the track - and you cannot really show our performance.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the progress from winter testing until now?
JT: Well, things have changed slightly. We have made major steps because we are waiting for a lot of steps to come in Barcelona. We didn't have time to react apart from reliability. We focused on reliability because we wanted to put mileage on the car - we wanted to finish the races and we wanted to give experience to the whole team.
Six months ago the team was not there. A lot of people are new, or young - and some others are very experienced. We are mixing them up and trying to gel the team in order to have a very professional operating team on the track. This is the most important thing - and eventually the performance will come step by step.
Q. Do you feel less pressure than last year?
JT: At the moment there is no pressure. All you can hope is to finish the races, and try to be in front of the other new teams. I honestly believe it will be pretty easy for us - as our team is in another league compared to the other new teams in terms of structure, in terms of experienced people. We are very strong compared to them - so we should not really care any more about the people behind. We should start caring about where we want to go in front.
Q. Are you enjoying driving for them?
JT: I always enjoy driving. I always enjoy the challenge. At the moment, I just have to be patient and build up something that will give me the chance to fight again as I was doing last season and in the previous seasons - to start fighting for points and positions. At the moment, we are not in the position to do that, but we knew that.
Q. Does it feel like a family spirit here?
JT: I tell you, it is a very different atmosphere and way of thinking compared to what I was used it. I think this is really down to Tony [Fernandes]. He is a very charismatic person but as well he is someone who really keeps his feet on the ground. He speaks with people, he keeps things simple and open to everyone - which I think is the right spirit at the moment for our team.
We know that we are here to race, but not to race for the win at the moment. Somehow we have to make an impact to the people around, and everyone is welcoming us at the moment. First of all, there were a lot of questions raised about this team, but after two races we are treated a bit more seriously. On the other hand, we are showing that we don't have to hide, we don't want to cover.
If you come and ask, we talk - and life is easier for you journalists and it is good for us drivers and team members. Tony is bringing this fresh air inside F1, which I think eventually should catch everyone to give some more open space and fresh air to people in the paddock and back at home. The atmosphere is very different compared to what I was previously used to - not only my previous team but from whenever I was in F1. It is very different.