As one of only three Formula 1 teams to have tested at Sakhir in the run-up to the 2009 world championship campaign, Toyota is hoping this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix will provide it with just the tonic to put a disappointing outing in Shanghai behind it and return to the rostrum once more.
Toyota has a reasonably strong record in the desert kingdom, with Jarno Trulli having registered the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's second-ever podium in the top flight in the race's second edition in 2005, when the Italian took the chequered flag as runner-up to Renault's Fernando Alonso.
The Pescara native has two further points-scoring finishes to his name from five starts in Bahrain – with sixth place last year and seventh in 2007 – and he is eager to banish the memory of a torrid Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, in which he slipped down the order in the torrential conditions before being rear-ended by the BMW-Sauber of Robert Kubica 18 laps in.
“I am looking forward to racing in Bahrain after the tests we had there over the winter,” enthused the 34-year-old. “Bahrain was the first chance I had to really test the TF109 in dry conditions, and I knew immediately we had a competitive package, which has proved to be the case now the season has started. In testing the car was strong in Bahrain, so I have a good feeling for this weekend and I think we can be competitive.
“Weather and track conditions change from winter testing to the race weekend, but it should still help us a bit to have set-up information from the new car at this track, and we have quite a bit of experience now with these two compounds of tyre. I will push as hard as I can, as always, and I know everyone in the team is really motivated so I hope for a smooth and successful weekend.”
Like Trulli, Timo Glock has similarly tasted podium champagne already this season, having followed up his team-mate's third place in the curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne with an identical result in the rains of China. Though the young German was out of luck in Bahrain on his maiden appearance there last year – crossing the line just ninth following gearbox problems – he is clearly keen to maintain his 100 per cent points-scoring record in 2009 this weekend.
“The Bahrain Grand Prix is good fun and the track is unique,” contended the 26-year-old from Lindenfels. “For car set-up you have to compromise between straight-line speed and grip in the slower corners, which is quite a tricky balance to achieve. One issue we face particularly in Bahrain is the wind, which comes in across the desert and can change direction from lap to lap. This can make the car a bit unstable if it blows in the wrong direction, but we know what to expect so we can be prepared.
“Last year I was pretty unlucky in Bahrain because I had to back off with a small technical issue when I was sure I would score my first points for the team, but this season has started in a much better way compared to 2008 and I am confident I can continue to show that good performance.”
Indeed, with 18.5 points on the scoreboard from the opening three grands prix of the campaign, Toyota currently sits third in the constructors' title chase, more than ten points clear of its nearest rival. The Cologne-based outfit covered almost 4,000 kilometres in Sakhir in pre-season testing – with only Ferrari and BMW-Sauber for company – and senior general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon hopes that will supply the impetus to enable the team to continue its unbroken points-scoring run.
“We achieved a huge amount of laps in Bahrain during testing,” the Frenchman underlined, “and this was very useful in terms of developing the TF109. It should also be useful for this weekend because we have some experience of set-up and slick tyres at this track with the new cars, so we should hit the ground running on Friday.
“We tested both tyre compounds when we were in Bahrain in February and they performed well in representative temperature conditions, so we're not expecting any major problems in that area. Otherwise, Bahrain is quite tough on the brakes; we expect it to be harder on them than any other race this season.”