Toyota was left licking its wounds after a race it could – and perhaps should – have won in Sakhir today, with a crucial strategic error seeing the big-budget Japanese manufacturer once again come up short of registering its breakthrough Formula 1 victory.
With Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock locking out the front row of the grid for the world's largest car maker in the Bahrain Grand Prix, hopes were high, and when the lights went out the one-two was maintained, albeit with Glock getting the jump on Trulli to lead into the first corner, and the Italian having to stave off a challenge from the McLaren-Mercedes of reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton over the course of the opening lap to preserve second place.
There was little to choose between the two team-mates over the opening stint, as together they maintained a steady gap over the pursuing Brawn GP of world championship leader Jenson Button, but when they peeled in for their first pit visits on respectively laps eleven (Glock) and twelve (Trulli), Toyota's race began to unravel. Not only were the stops earlier than many had anticipated, but the team's strategists then misguidedly switched both cars over to Bridgestone's unloved medium-compound 'prime' tyres for the long middle stint.
It was a disastrous decision, and one that saw Trulli slip behind Jenson Button and Glock fall right back to the outer edge of the points-scoring positions. The former went on to enjoy energetic scraps with both former team-mate Fernando Alonso in the Renault and the second Brawn of Rubens Barrichello, and battled gamely to keep the patently faster Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton's McLaren at bay for the 25 laps in-between his pit-stops, but with Vettel running longer there was never any doubt about who would end up in second place.
Though he would try to wrest the runner-up laurels back away from his German rival over the closing stages of the grand prix, the Shanghai winner was ultimately not to be denied, leaving Trulli third at the flag. Fastest lap for his efforts was small consolation.
“I'm a little disappointed to be honest,” reflected the Abruzzo native. “I thought we had a chance to take Toyota's first win this weekend, but it was a hard race. I was slightly slower into the first corner than Timo, so I spent the first stint following him. I knew I was going longer than him, but it was still difficult.
“Then we went for a very long second stint on the hard tyres. It was really hard fighting with the other cars, and eventually Sebastian took the position after my last stop. After that he was on the hard tyres and I was on the soft. I was pushing him because I was quicker, but there was no way to overtake. Still, I have to thank the engineers and mechanics because they did a very good job and it's good to be on the podium again.”
If Trulli fought hard to at least take away a rostrum finish, Glock found the going on the primes rather more difficult still, with the early leader slipping well away from the pace as he grappled desperately around for grip, before settling into his own entertaining scrap with Kimi Raikkonen for sixth place as the laps counted down. Though he pushed hard and at one stage almost ran into the back of the Ferrari, the young German was ultimately unable to find a way by and had to settle for seventh place in the final outcome.
“That was a difficult race,” the 26-year-old acknowledged of a sweltering day under the desert sun. “I made a promising start and I was surprised to get ahead of Jarno from the dirty side. Then we were the first car to pit, which was already critical.