Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock put their pre-season testing in Sakhir to good use in qualifying for this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, by storming to Toyota's first-ever front row lock-out in Formula 1 – as the team now eyes its breakthrough victory in the top flight on race day.
The Cologne-based outfit has been quick all weekend in the desert kingdom, and Trulli timed his crucial Q3 effort to absolute perfection as he left it latest of all the front-runners to put in his lap time – and when he did so it was a quite stunning effort, almost three tenths of a second quicker than team-mate Glock as the likeable Italian fairly obliterated the opposition for the fourth pole position of his grand prix career.
Behind the Toyota pairing, Sebastian Vettel didn't quite live up to his scintillating Q2 form – when he was quickest of all despite being the only driver to venture out for just one run – with world championship leader Jenson Button a low-key fourth for Brawn GP and bemoaning a lack of pace from the early 2009 F1 pace-setters.
Behind him there was a surprise with fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton next up in fifth – confirming McLaren-Mercedes' consistent recent improvement – ahead of the second Brawn machine of Rubens Barrichello, with the remainder of the top ten constituted by former double world champion Fernando Alonso, the leading Ferrari of Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and the second scarlet machine of Kimi Raikkonen. Split-level diffuser-equipped Williams' early-season bubble, certainly, seems to be on the verge of bursting, with Rosberg only just making it into Q3 and the Grove-based outfit's rivals playing catch-up – and fast.
The principal victims of Q2 were the two BMW-Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, who slipped quietly away from the fray in 13th and 14th positions respectively, with the former having suffered a minor pit-stop fire in Q1 to-boot. The other drivers to miss the cut were Heikki Kovalainen, Kazuki Nakajima and under-fire Renault ace Nelsinho Piquet, who made it beyond Q1 for the first time in 2009 – only to throw away his final Q2 effort in running wide and off the track in the last corner, as the pressure on the young Brazilian mounts.
With the Ferraris and McLarens – or that of Hamilton at least – finally beginning to show some pace, the top ten contenders looked a little different to that of the first three races this season, but for the fastest of them all in Q2, Red Bull man of the moment Vettel, it simply looked effortless.
With barely 1.5 seconds having blanketed all 20 competitors in FP2 and little to choose between many drivers, Q1 was always going to be a frantic and close-fought affair, with no big names immune from the drop – and so it would prove.
As the times tumbled throughout the 20-minute stint, there was little option but to bolt on Bridgestone's super-soft rubber, and Shanghai star Vettel, Button, Barrichello, Alonso, Mark Webber, Kovalainen and Glock were amongst those with reputations at stake in the closing stages.
Though the majority of them hauled themselves to safety at the last gasp – with Alonso in particular leaving it late, and complaining of being baulked by both Kubica and Adrian Sutil – there was disaster for a furious Webber, who found the Force India of the latter right in his path on his final run and missed the cut. The Chinese Grand Prix runner-up was joined in the Q1 rejects pile by his nemesis Sutil and the German's experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, as well as Scuderia Toro Rosso pairing Sébastien Buemi and Sébastien Bourdais, the Frenchman having surprisingly set the pace early on but ultimately winding up last of all as his miserable weekend – and indeed season – continues apace.
Of the other runners, FP2 pace-setter Rosberg surprisingly only just scraped through, whilst up at the sharp end of proceedings it was the traditional Red Bull-Toyota-Brawn GP show, with the McLarens and Ferraris hinting that maybe, just maybe, they could finally get in on the act. Q3 would almost prove them right.
To see the qualifying times in full, click here