Sébastien Buemi admitted he was pleased that for the second race in succession at the beginning of F1 2011, Scuderia Toro Rosso has qualified in the same ballpark as Mercedes Grand Prix at Sepang – despite an early setback when his sidepod worryingly decided to detach itself from the car.
Evenly-matched as ever as they bid to defeat one another in order to save their cockpit from being handed to highly-rated Toro Rosso reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo, Buemi and team-mate Jaime Alguersuari will begin Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix from twelfth and 13th positions respectively, separated by just under two tenths of a second – and right behind multiple F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher in the second of the two Mercedes'.
Despite his early sidepod issue, Buemi acknowledged that for the Red Bull 'junior' operation, it had been a wholeheartedly positive day.
“I am very happy with how qualifying went today, as it is the second time in two races that I have produced a good performance, improving lap-after-lap,” reported the young Swiss ace. “Unfortunately, I had a problem in Q1, when the left sidepod came off, but the mechanics worked well to fit a new one very quickly.
“I am satisfied, because in twelfth, we are not far off the Mercedes and quite close to Q3. We must continue to work hard to improve, but at least it seems we are on the right road. We changed the car a lot between FP3 and qualifying and it was the right thing to do, especially as these settings should also work well in the race. I think it will almost certainly rain at some point tomorrow, so finishing the race will be the first challenge.”
“Finishing P12 and P13 is a good result for the team, and I feel we have the potential to have a good race tomorrow,” echoed his Spanish team-mate. “We got pretty much the maximum out of the set-up. Sébastien was again faster than me by a small amount, doing a good job. I feel we have a good set-up, whether it rains or not, and I don't personally mind if it is wet or dry in the race. The key will be to keep the rear tyres alive and make them last as long as possible, and I hope we can bring home some more points for the team.”
Indeed, STR already has four points on the board in 2011 following Buemi's eighth-placed finish a fortnight ago Down Under, but in five previous appearances in Malaysia, the Faenza-based concern has scored just once, with Alguersuari last year. Technical director Giorgio Ascanelli is hopeful of making it two-from-six this time around.
“I am happy to be ahead of Force India, and I feel Sébastien did a good job this afternoon and is where he should be, which means he can have a strong race tomorrow,” reflected the Italian. “Up until this afternoon, I feel we did not get the best out of the car's set-up, but we turned the car around for the afternoon. As for Jaime, he too drove well. To sum it up, we did not do the best job in free practice, but we did in qualifying.
“As for the sidepod flying off Sébastien's car in Q1, at the moment, I have no idea if the part was not properly fixed or [if] an insert cracked. However, there was no question about the integrity of the components, which is why we re-fitted another sidepod and sent him out again.”