Jean-Eric Vergne has decided to swap 18th on the grid for a pit-lane start at the Chinese Grand Prix in a bid to give himself a better chance of chasing points in round three of the world championship.
For the second race in succession, the Frenchman found himself the 'odd man out' when it came to joining the expected victims of first qualifying at the Shanghai International Circuit and, although he transformed that position into points in a tumultuous Malaysian Grand Prix, the prospect of an entirely drier race has prompted the Toro Rosso team to break parc ferme
rules and make changes to the car in a bid to improve his raceday performance.
“I am not feeling good after that," Vergne said of his original qualifying position, "I'm not really sure what happened this afternoon, but we lacked speed. My lap was not exceptional, but nor was it bad, so we have to try and understand why it was so slow. All we can do is try and have a good afternoon tomorrow and then improve the car for the coming races, because what happened this afternoon was simply bizarre.
"It's true that I got a good result starting low down the grid in Malaysia, but it would be nice to at least start higher up the order quite soon. I will feel better tomorrow morning and will look forward to seeing what the race might bring.”
With team-mate Daniel Ricciardo making it through to the second phase of qualifying, but then coming bottom of the group to line up just one place ahead of Vergne, the Toro Rosso engineers were left scratching their heads.
“Obviously, this was a disappointing qualifying for us and we clearly lacked the pace we needed to be in the fight," chief engineer Laurent Mekies admitted, "We now have to look at where we lost this performance.
"We made quite a few changes to the cars from yesterday and during this morning's free practice and we must assess where we did not go in the right direction. So far this weekend, we explored a quite different direction in terms of set-up and maybe it cost something in terms of ultimate pace in qualifying. However, it was a job that needed to be done and we must work out how to improve it for tomorrow. However, I believe the situation for the race is still very much open for us to get a reasonable result, as the gaps are, in fact, relatively small.”
Ricciardo admitted that he had expected to be closer to the leading group in qualifying, and was equally perplexed as to why developments on the STR7 had not produced the expected gains.
“P17 is not going to put a smile on my face, as I had expected to do better today," the Australian confirmed, "I drove as hard as I could, but that did not produce a good enough lap time. With the package we had, I don't think I could have got much more out of it. Hopefully, tomorrow will be better and then we must look at trying to improve our qualifying performance for the next race.
"We are not where we want to be, especially as before the weekend, we had expected to be closer to the top ten. At the moment, we don't have the answers to what happened. This weekend, we had a few small updates, but we also tried a few drastic measures in a way that required me to drive differently, so either we can make it work in Bahrain or we could go back to something we understand a bit better.”