Sébastien Buemi conceded that he was 'very happy' after returning Scuderia Toro Rosso to the top ten on the starting grid for the first time since 2009 during qualifying for this weekend's F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – and he is confident the team can maintain that kind of form come race day Down Under.
Both Buemi and team-mate Jaime Alguersuari are under some pressure to perform this year, with Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko repeatedly asserting that poor showings will not be tolerated and highly-rated test and reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo waiting patiently and expectantly in the wings should either of the pair fail to live up to the team's expectations.
Winter testing had seemed to suggest that the new, Ferrari-powered STR6 is a considerable step forward over its uncompetitive predecessor – and perhaps stirred by Ricciardo's presence in the pit garage, both Buemi and Alguersuari exploited its potential well around the streets of Albert Park today to line up respectively tenth and twelfth on the grid, separated by just under two tenths of a second at the end of Q2.
“I am very happy to be back in Q3, as we had not been there since 2009,” acknowledged Buemi, who staved off the onslaught of no less a driver than the great Michael Schumacher to preserve his position. “In the end, I had no more new tyres, but all the same, I have to say thanks to the team for doing such a good job and it shows we are on the right road.
“Let's hope we can continue to do well in the race tomorrow, and from what we have seen of our pace in free practice, I think that should be possible. I could not have hoped for a better start to the season, being among the ten fastest cars on the grid. My quick lap was good, and I don't think I could have done any better.”
“I am quite happy, although I have to congratulate my team-mate on doing a better job than me,” added Alguersuari. “This is a good result for the team and promising for tomorrow, when my main target will be to score points. The team did a great job during the winter to produce a fast car and this is the first result of that, which I hope we can continue to improve on in the next few races.”
Toro Rosso technical director Giorgio Ascanelli, meanwhile, urged a hint of caution as he pointed out that two of the Faenza-based outfit's closest rivals – Williams and Force India F1 – encountered difficulties during the session, perhaps flattering Buemi and Alguersuari's pace, but he did underline that the team's 'bold choices' over the 'off' season appear to have paid dividends.
“Before the session, I expected to get this result,” the Italian pronounced. “We are just a sniff ahead of Force India, with whom I expect we will be fighting all year. However, I am not going to cry about Adrian Sutil's misfortunes. When analysing the result, we have to consider that Williams had a difficult session, while Sauber is solidly ahead of us.
“Seb and the team did a very good job, managing the tyres, going out at the right time and generally running the session very well. People have been singing the praises of our car, and this is a result of some bold choices we made on the design front. However, we are currently the eighth team and we will have to continue to work hard to try and stay ahead of the others.
“Jaime did a reasonable job; he has complained of understeer all day, which was not the case yesterday. Twelfth and so close to his team-mate is not a disappointment – we simply did not get the best out of his car today.”