Following its abject performance in Monaco last time out, Toyota had vowed to bounce back with a vengeance in this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, and after qualifying a competitive fifth around the undulating, anti-clockwise Istanbul Park Circuit, Jarno Trulli insists that he is ready to turn the team from zeros into heroes again.
Ahead of the qualifying session, the experienced Italian had bemoaned the big-budget Japanese manufacturer's striking inconsistency – with a front row lock-out in Bahrain, followed barely four weeks later in the glamorous Principality by a back row lock-out, as the mercurial TF109 languished embarrassingly off the pace around Monte Carlo's narrow, tortuous streets.
Unpredictability, indeed, has been something of a hallmark – desirable or not – of Toyota's eight-year Formula 1 history, and so it was little surprise to see the red and white cars back amongst the quickest once more in Istanbul...if somewhat frustrating for its two drivers, who rarely know if they are going to be battling for pole position or merely to escape the rear of the grid.
Rapid throughout practice, Trulli set the second-fastest time in FP3, before comfortably making it through Q1 in seventh and only very narrowly missing out on grabbing the top spot in Q2 to a late effort from Sebastian Vettel. In the circumstances, a third row grid slot could almost be viewed as something of a disappointment, but the Pescara native – who has not now scored since his podium finish in Sakhir more than a month ago – revealed that he was pleased with progress, and is eyeing a return to the rostrum on race day.
“I am happy with this good result,” enthused the 34-year-old of his fourth top six grid position of the 2009 campaign to-date, “especially after the difficult time we had during the last race weekend. We have made big improvements, and it is nice to be back at the front where we belong. The tyre situation was a little tricky today, because while I was very quick on the hard tyre, I didn't feel I got the most out of the soft option. We need to analyse that to give us the best possible chance tomorrow.
“I'm fired-up and looking forward to the race. We were not far off pole position, which is very encouraging and gives us high expectations. Obviously it is a long race and it's difficult to predict what will happen, but I will be fighting to finish on the podium.”
The podium may prove a rather taller order, however, for Timo Glock in the sister car. Despite shadowing Trulli closely with the third-best time in Saturday morning free practice, the young German only just made it through Q1 and found himself ejected from Q2 when he could scarcely get within six tenths of a second of his team-mate's time, leaving him to begin the grand prix from down in 13th position and ruing a costly error in the final sector of his fastest lap.
“That was not an easy session for me and it is disappointing to be out of the top ten,” reflected the man from Lindenfels of his fourth start of 2009 in the 'wrong' half of the grid. “This morning we were quick and the set-up felt really good, so I was happy with the car going into qualifying – but when we put the 'option' tyres on with a light fuel load, the car had some oversteer and it didn't feel exactly like it had in the morning.
“We were still competitive and expecting to get into the top ten, but on my final lap of Q2 I made a mistake in the last sector and that was it; I lost time and didn't qualify where I expected to. It's easier to overtake here than in Monaco, though, so I won't give up in the race.”
“We are clearly having a better weekend than we did in Monaco,” summarised the Cologne-based outfit's senior general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon, “which is a credit to the huge team effort to understand our issues from that weekend and bring new parts here. Nevertheless, we cannot be completely satisfied with this qualifying result. We missed out on getting both cars in the top ten which is a pity, especially as we had very high hopes for that before qualifying. Unfortunately, Timo made a mistake in the last sector when he was on for a competitive lap time, which explains his grid position.
“Jarno performed very well throughout and it is pleasing to be back at the right end of the grid. Naturally we want to fight for the podium here so we aimed a little higher than fifth, but it didn't happen so now we are looking to maximise our chances in the race. The tyre situation here is extremely interesting and quite unusual, with the hard and soft tyres offering very similar grip characteristics. This makes tyre choice more of a challenge, and we are likely to see some different strategies in the race.”