It speaks volumes for the quantum leap forward Toyota has taken in Formula 1 in 2009 that the team was 'disappointed' with the bottom step of the rostrum in last weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, contends Jarno Trulli - who claims the squad's form this year is the product of hard work and experience finally paying off.

Trulli qualified on pole position in the desert kingdom - his and Toyota's first since the shambolic 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis - but would ultimately take the chequered flag just third after the Cologne-based outfit misguidedly elected to fit Bridgestone's lesser-favoured medium compound tyres to both cars during the long middle stint.

That saw Trulli and team-mate Timo Glock struggle to keep pace, but whilst the latter slipped down to seventh place at the close after ceding a substantial amount of time on the 'prime' rubber, the Italian battled gamely on, staving off the challenges of both Red Bull Racing star Sebastian Vettel and defending F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Mercedes for 25 laps, but ultimately having no answer to his German rival following the second round of pit visits and finding himself forced to settle for P3 at the flag.

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"To be honest, I was disappointed because qualifying went so well and expectations were high that we could challenge for Toyota's first victory," the Pescara native confessed. "Saturday was a great feeling. It was not an easy qualifying session for me because we had a little issue with the brakes, but I knew I had a car that was quick enough to challenge for pole position so I never gave up. It was great for the team, and personally it was a good feeling to be back on pole position.

"I expected more than third place [in the race] but it wasn't to be unfortunately, although I did set the fastest lap which shows the potential of the car. I lost a position to Timo at the start because of a small oil spillage which meant the engine didn't pull away as well as it should have. Obviously it would have been better to be leading, but I had quite a dramatic battle with Lewis; we were wheel-to-wheel so it was exciting, and I kept second place.

"The car was feeling pretty good and I set the fastest lap of the race on lap ten, but at my first stop we went with the medium tyres and on those I was just defending against cars lighter than me on the super-soft tyres. The other guys at the front waited until the final stint to use the medium tyres, and in hindsight that was probably the right decision. I had Sebastian right behind me and at the final stop he got past. We went onto the super-soft tyres and I was faster than him; I pushed as hard as I could but just couldn't overtake.

"It didn't work out for us, but we still had a good race and finished on the podium. To be disappointed with third place makes such a difference compared to the previous few seasons. Last year my third place at Magny-Cours was a really special moment, and the season before it was pretty much impossible to get near the podium so you can see that we have made a really big step this year. We have three podiums already from four races, and that is the same number we had from the previous three seasons combined."

Indeed, Toyota looks an altogether slicker and quicker operation than it has at practically any stage during its eight-year history in the top flight, and - had full points been awarded for the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang early last month - would by now have the greatest points total it has ever boasted four races into a campaign. That, Trulli argues, is just reward for the steadfast effort put in by all concerned.

"Everyone in the team has worked so hard on this car," the 34-year-old underlined, "and now we are seeing the rewards. In Formula 1 you have to push as hard as you can at all times and we have never given up fighting, so our improvement is really down to hard work from everyone. You need experience as well, though, and after seven seasons in Formula 1, Toyota is much more experienced so we understand more how to make the car quick and get the best out of it.

"I believe we have a good chance to be competitive all season, but of course we have to keep on working hard - time will tell. The car is really competitive right now and we are focussed on what we are doing, so I'm sure we can continue to fight at the front. Naturally, those teams who have historically been successful, but have struggled so far this season, are always capable of improving so we have to continue our development and never give up pushing. I have faith in my team."

Trulli has also recently set up a new charity, entitled Abruzzo nel Cuore, in a bid to raise much-needed funds for the victims of the L'Aquila earthquake tragedy in his home region last month. It is a cause that is clearly very close to his heart.

"It is going very well," he revealed. "As I'm sure many people know, I have set up a website, www.abruzzonelcuore.org, to raise money for the people who have suffered in this dramatic event and already we have raised more than EUR17,000 so I am really pleased. We have had a lot of support from other drivers who have offered items to auction, and I will keep pushing through the season to do what I can to help. The GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers' Association)are officially supporting the project, and we've had a lot of support from throughout Formula 1."