Jarno Trulli has hailed Toyota's progress and form after coming within less than a tenth of a second of stealing pole position from under the nose of Jenson Button in Sepang – even if he admitted that he had not expected to be quite so far up the grid after a difficult practice day.
Neither Trulli nor Timo Glock had been entirely happy with their TF109s in practice, but after each featuring inside the top five in FP3 on Saturday morning – when drivers' and teams' true pace finally becomes somewhat more apparent – things began to look up. And that is a situation that would endure right the way through qualifying.
Though most expected the Brawn GPs and Ferraris to make the running in the heat and humidity of Malaysia, the Toyotas immediately marked themselves out as the key interlopers – in Trulli's hands in particular. Indeed, around the circuit where he had registered the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's maiden rostrum position in the top flight with second place to Fernando Alonso back in 2005, the experienced Italian was the only man to really take the fight to Button. He did so in some style.
Second-quickest in all three parts of qualifying, the veteran of some 200 grand prix starts was never far from his British rival's pace, and indeed unsettled the Australian Grand Prix winner with a series of searing laps that at one stage threatened to steal Brawn GP's thunder. He may have ultimately fallen just short, but there was absolutely no shame in that as a magnificent effort sealed a front row starting slot – and a great opportunity to finally break Toyota's F1 duck.
“The team has done a fantastic job,” enthused the 34-year-old, frequently one of the sport's most underrated drivers. “We stayed away from traffic and the car was feeling good, so it has been a very successful day for us. The car feels strong now, but I have to admit I wasn't sure I would be in this position after practice yesterday because it was quite difficult.
“I worked hard with my engineers to analyse the data and make some improvements to the set-up, and we got it spot-on in qualifying. In a way it's a little disappointing to miss pole position by just a few hundredths, but that's how close Formula 1 is at the moment. Compared to last year we are much more competitive this season, and instead of fighting for the top six we are now here fighting in the top three. I hope for a strong race tomorrow and I will fight as hard as I can.”
Trulli was backed up strongly in third position – fifth before the penalties for Sebastian Vettel and Rubens Barrichello had been taken into account – by Glock, who never quite evinced his team-mate's outright pace throughout the qualifying hour, but nonetheless performed a solid job that secured the Cologne-based outfit its best-ever combined showing in 125 appearances.
“Overall qualifying went quite well,” the young German reported. “I'm happy to be starting third, but I'm a bit frustrated with my final lap in Q3 because I was struggling a little bit to get used to how the car felt with a heavier fuel load. That meant I didn't get 100 per cent out of the car.
“In Q2, on a light fuel load, I made a few mistakes on my first run but then I got it absolutely right on the second and I was really pleased with my lap. In the end it's a good result for the whole team to have two cars in the top three. It will be a tricky race and Jarno and I will push each other very hard, but we also have to think about the weather because that could be a factor.”
“We are very pleased with this result,” added Toyota senior general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon, “even if the ultimate target is to be on pole position. Yesterday's sessions went so-so I would say; we were not completely happy with the car balance and the grip, but obviously we have reacted well overnight and finally it has been a very good team result.
“Thanks to Bridgestone, the tyre situation here is quite easy to handle for qualifying and the race so we don't expect anything unusual in that sense, which is the opposite of Melbourne when the final laps were dictated by the tyres. All-in-all it has been a good weekend so far, and we are very optimistic for the race tomorrow.”