Toyota has made clear its intention to conclude what it contends to have been a largely 'positive' season in F1 on a high in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend – even though the team will end the campaign with a different driver line-up to that with which it began.
Whilst Jarno Trulli will still be in the cockpit of one of the two TF109s – though seemingly for the last time, if paddock whispers are to be believed – the other will be occupied by former reserve driver Kamui Kobayashi, who made the headlines on his Brazilian Grand Prix debut at Interlagos just under a fortnight ago both for good reasons and bad as the reigning GP2 Asia Series Champion endeavours to stake his claim to a full-time race seat in 2010.
Timo Glock would ordinarily have driven alongside Trulli, but the German is still suffering from the after-effects of the cracked vertebra he sustained in his Japanese Grand Prix qualifying accident at Suzuka just under a month ago. That means Kobayashi has a second opportunity to demonstrate his mettle at the highest level – and having impressed by qualifying eleventh and for a long time running sixth ahead of newly-crowned F1 World Champion Jenson Button in São Paulo, the 23-year-old now needs to tone down slightly the aggressive racecraft that brought him to the attention of rival drivers and teams in a somewhat less positive fashion.
“I am really looking forward to my second grand prix,” he enthused, “and I want to make the most of this unexpected chance. I didn't know the track in Brazil, and that was a little bit of a disadvantage because almost all the other drivers had some experience of it. That's not the case in Abu Dhabi, though; this is a new track for everyone, so that should help me.
“I am also more familiar with the car now, as well as other procedures during a race weekend like pit-stops and the two tyre compounds, so I expect to be more competitive in Abu Dhabi. I am sure the car will be strong, and I will do everything I can to try to score my first points in F1. Of course it will be extremely difficult because the field is very strong and this is just my second grand prix, but I will give my all.”
“We are very much looking forward to the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which marks the end of an eventful and positive season for us,” concurred Toyota Motorsport President John Howett, who has evinced the possibility of a Kobayashi/Kimi Raikkonen driver pairing at the Cologne-based outfit in 2010. “Even if we haven't yet achieved all of our targets, we produced a very competitive car and when we made the most of its potential we were able to fight systematically for the podium.
“Having discussed the medical advice with Timo and his management, the team has decided to take no risk and to put Kamui in the car. He proved in very difficult circumstances in Brazil that he can compete in F1, and we are looking forward to another gutsy performance. This track is again new to him but that is true for everyone, which should work in Kamui's favour, so we are expecting a strong display from both drivers.”
Trulli, for his part, may well be bidding sayonara
to his Japanese employers after the chequered flag falls when dusk descends upon the Hermann Tilke-designed, anti-clockwise Yas Marina street circuit in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The experienced Italian has been linked with a switch to F1 2010 newcomer Lotus following five seasons at Toyota – and if it is to be his final appearance for the team, the Pescara native would clearly like to leave in style.
“It's been an up-and-down season for us,” the 35-year-old reflected, “with such a strong start followed by some disappointing races in Europe and then a really competitive end to the year. As Abu Dhabi is a new track it's impossible to predict how we will perform, but after the speed we showed in the last three races I am confident of finishing the year on a high.
“I was extremely frustrated to be eliminated by an accident in Brazil, because we had looked very quick all weekend and I genuinely believe we had a fantastic chance of finishing on the podium. I am confident for this weekend, and I am really motivated to get another great result before the season ends. Abu Dhabi looks like another fantastic new venue and I am really interested to see what the track is like to drive, so I can't wait for practice to begin on Friday!”