Having started from pole position only to ultimately fall away in the race as the result of a misguided strategy, Jarno Trulli admitted to being disappointed at the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix – but he also asserted that Toyota is now more than capable of fighting for victory in Formula 1.
Prior to its desert trip, the big-budget Japanese manufacturer had begun no fewer than 125 races in the top flight since its low-key debut back in 2002, without ever winning one of them. It must have fancied its chances of breaking that duck on Sunday when Trulli and team-mate Timo Glock lined up alongside each other on the front row of the grid in Sakhir – the team's first-ever lock-out – but a decision to run the long middle stint on the Bridgestone's lesser-favoured medium-compound 'prime' tyres proved to be the squad's undoing.
Indeed, whilst no longer suffering from the braking woes that had threatened to derail his qualifying charge 24 hours earlier, Trulli could probably tell it was not going to be his day right from the very moment the lights went out...
“It was an interesting and tough race for me because I always found myself in a difficult situation,” the Italian explained. “I was very unlucky at the start because I had an oil spillage. It was a good start in a way, but unfortunately the engine stopped when I was accelerating away and this cost me first position. I lost a lot of ground and I was lucky enough to get out of the first corner second.
“Actually, I had to fight back against Lewis [Hamilton], firstly because he had KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) on the straight and secondly because the engine wasn't pulling at that time, so it was really hard. Going into turn four wheel-to-wheel was a nice battle, and I didn't give up because I knew it was important for me to stay ahead.
“Then I was basically following my team-mate. I knew I was going longer, but obviously being behind is not always easy. The car wasn't too bad, but the rear end was starting to go away, so I was struggling a little bit and just trying to push as hard as possible.”
The Pescara native stayed firmly in touch with Glock right up to the first round of pit-stops and succeeded in jumping the German by staying out a lap longer than the sister TF109. If pitting so early cost Toyota a little, though, switching onto the 'prime' rubber for the second stint whilst all of their major rivals remained on the 'option' compound cost them a lot, and was in strategic terms nigh-on a disaster.
With poor pace, Trulli crucially lost out to world championship leader Jenson Button once the opening round of pit visits had all shaken out, and had Shanghai winner Sebastian Vettel and reigning F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton right in his mirrors for the entirety of his 25-lap middle stint of the grand prix. To his immense credit, the 34-year-old did not put a foot wrong and held his pursuers at bay all the way to his second stop on lap 37 of 57, but with Vettel running three laps longer, the Red Bull Racing ace was able to pinch the runner-up spot away from him – leaving the Abruzzese, now on the better rubber of the two at last, to unsuccessfully attempt to regain the place over the race's closing stages.
“We ran a very long second stint on the hard tyres,” he recounted. “We were not sure about the soft tyres and how many laps they could remain competitive. To be honest it is difficult for me now to judge – I need to go through it with the engineers – but obviously the team had a better idea than me with all the data collected during the winter and this season. That was one of the reasons behind the choice.