One week after Sebastien Buemi
returned Scuderia Toro Rosso
to the top ten in F1 qualifying, its second driver made a similar breakthrough to record his best-ever starting position in the top flight.
Although the team admitted that there had been an element of luck about its qualifying result, after a red flag in phase two effectively protected it from potentially faster rivals, Jaime Alguersuari
produced the seventh-best lap of the final session to improve his personal marker by four spots.
The Spaniard, now in his second full season of F1, had previously failed to break into the pole position shoot-out but, after briefly holding top spot in Q2 - toppling McLaren's Jenson Button
with a lap of 1min 36.156secs - he all but matched that in the final ten-minute showdown, clocking 1min 36.158secs to line up directly behind the two Ferraris on Sunday's grid at Shanghai International Circuit.
Ironically, the performance - plus that of team-mate Buemi, who qualified ninth - came on a weekend where, prior to qualifying, STR appeared to be a little off its game, but technical director Giorgio Ascanelli was quick to point out that, in a closely-packed midfield, there would be a time when his outfit would get the breaks. When Vitaly Petrov ground to a halt with two minutes of the second session remaining, it scuppered the chances of some quicker runners, who were left to scrap for track position as they attempted to set a quick enough lap to dislodge those already in the top ten.
“Racing is a funny sport given that, on a weekend when our performance in free practice had not matched that in the first two races, we have ended up with both cars in Q3 in seventh and ninth places," the Italian remarked, "The gaps in the midfield are very small and, in general, we have not been that competitive, with Force India
being on a par with us or even faster and Williams
also closing in - in Q1, I think there were eleven cars within the same two tenths, which tells you how close it is. However, our cars have run reliably and, although what happened to Vitaly was unfortunate, I can't say I feel sorry for him because it has given us a chance to be ahead."
Alguersuari, who had previously topped out with eleventh on the grid at Spa and Singapore, was naturally delighted to have made it through all three phases of qualifying for the first time, but accepted that the stoppage had played into STR's hands.
“Looking at the speed of some of our rivals, the red flag in Q2 definitely helped us," he conceded, "I need to congratulate the team for doing a good job and choosing the right strategy to tackle this session - getting Sebastien and myself into Q3 is definitely a success for the whole team as it was no easy task. We did not really expect to be there, to be honest."
The Spaniard has yet to score points this season, but is optimistic that his starting position will give him a shot at finishing inside the top ten, despite some faster runners, such as Petrov, Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld
and Mark Webber, starting behind him.
"Tomorrow, I think there is a possibility to pick up a good amount of points and I am optimistic because, today, we chose a car set-up better suited to the race than to do a quick lap in qualifying," he revealed, "It's true that we are not used to starting from this position, and I might have to run a defensive race and see how our tyres perform. This will again be a key factor.”