Sébastien Bourdais declared himself happy with his first day's work after returning Scuderia Toro Rosso to the top ten for the first time since the end of last season in free practice for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
The Red Bull 'junior' outfit has endured a rough ride early on in 2009, with both drivers falling at the first qualifying hurdle in the curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne and Bourdais only narrowly squeezing through to Q2 in Sepang a week later – the legacy of a chronic lack of testing time of its new Ferrari-powered challenger.
With the Frenchman featuring up in tenth position in both sessions on day one in Shanghai, however, he is hopeful that the light may be beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel.
“Our weekend seems to have started off quite well,” reported the former multiple Champ Car king. “We have made progress in terms of understanding the car and using it to its best. There is still some work to do, specifically in terms of making better use of the option tyre.
“Actually I was quite surprised to see how well they are holding up, and they definitely have more than one lap in them. I'm not saying we'll run them for 30 laps, but it's much better than expected. We can definitely see that the small updates we have on the car since Malaysia are working well.”
Rookie team-mate and namesake Sébastien Buemi, by contrast, is a Shanghai virgin and as such discovering the track for the first time. The Swiss GP2 Series graduate lapped respectively 13th and 15th-quickest in the two sessions, losing time early on to technical issues.
“It's my first time here,” the 20-year-old confessed, “and beforehand I spent a lot of time on the Red Bull Technology Simulator; it was definitely a big help, and I plan to use it more in the future. It is difficult to quantify, but for sure it helps.
“I had a technical problem in the morning which cost me some time, but everything was back to normal this afternoon and we were able to make a step forward. We look more competitive than in Malaysia, and we are definitely improving. I didn't get a perfect lap today, so I think I can do a lot better tomorrow. I like the track; it's very big, very new, very everything!”
In respect for the victims of the L'Aquila earthquake tragedy last week, meanwhile, STR is carrying 'VICINI ALL'ABRUZZO' decals on both of its cars this weekend, with the epicentre of the disaster not far from the team's Faenza base, where tremors were similarly felt. The squad is also supporting Jarno Trulli's charity initiative Abruzzo nel Cuore.