Having proven to be evenly-matched for most of the weekend so far, it was perhaps little surprise to see Sebastian Vettel and Sébastien Bourdais qualify alongside each other for the Japanese Grand Prix – and to Scuderia Toro Rosso's delight, both will be inside the top ten to boot.
Whilst not having displayed the impressive pace it has in some recent outings – most notably Monza, where Vettel registered a popular and entirely unexpected maiden grand prix victory – the small Faenza-based outfit's STR3 nevertheless proved quick enough to get both drivers through to Q3 at Fuji.
With Vettel lining up ninth and Bourdais right next to him in tenth – the Frenchman's fourth top ten qualifying performance from the last five races – both STRs also once again out-pointed both cars from 'parent' concern Red Bull Racing, with David Coulthard and Mark Webber respectively managing no better than eleventh and 13th [see separate story – click here
], to make it the third race in succession that the 'junior' squad has held the upper hand in qualifying.
“At the start of qualifying the track was still quite green because of the rain,” explained Vettel, tipped by veteran team owner Sir Frank Williams to be F1 World Champion within the next two years [see separate story – click here
], “but we made it to Q3 again which is good.
“In the final part I was struggling a bit with the heavier car, as it did not feel as good as before and I made a couple of small mistakes, but the gap to the next-fastest was a bit too big. It will be a tough race on the cars and especially the tyres, so I think the key to success will be to keep the tyres in good shape. I hope our strategy turns out to be a good one.”
“It was a good qualifying,” added Bourdais, under pressure to hold onto his seat at Toro Rosso in 2009, “and I'm happy to be close to Sebastian on a track with a lot of corner entries on the brakes.
“That is where I usually struggle with the rear end of the car, so I had to hold back a bit. I think the car has improved a bit after the team found a couple of things on the aero side which has helped. I think we are in good shape for the race.”
Those sentiments were echoed by chief engineer Laurent Mekies, who is now clearly eyeing STR's fifth straight points-scoring finish in 2008, as the squabble with RBR and Williams over sixth spot in the constructors' title chase hots up with just three grands prix to go.
“Having both cars in Q3 indicates that we put together a strong qualifying performance,” the Frenchman underlined. “Both drivers have done a very good job, closely-matched throughout the weekend. Tomorrow we will find out what our competitors have done in terms of fuel loads, but certainly we are happy with our race trim and are looking to have a strong race.”