After placing both cars on the fourth row of the grid for the team's home grand prix at Fuji Speedway a week ago, Jarno Trulli has acknowledged that seventh and twelfth positions in Shanghai this weekend fell some way below expectations.
The experienced Italian lapped an encouraging fifth-quickest in Saturday morning practice, barely three tenths of a second shy of the leading pace, and though he comfortably made it through both Q1 and Q2, seventh on the grid in the final reckoning – ninth before Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld's penalties – was perhaps less representative of Toyota's struggles than was the 1.6 seconds that ultimately separated Trulli from pole.
“Today was a hard qualifying session,” the 34-year-old confessed. “We expected a bit more after our good performance from yesterday and today in practice, but this afternoon something must have changed with the track. The tyres were sliding more and the grip seemed to be missing, so that was a bit strange.
“For tomorrow we will see. Our race pace has looked strong during practice here, but the weather forecast is uncertain. As usual we will be hoping for warm conditions because of the way we handle the tyres. Needless to say, we will push for as many points as we can.”
Trulli has out-scored team-mate Timo Glock by 30 points to 20 thus far in 2008, and he looks well-placed to extend that advantage on Sunday with the young German beginning five spots behind him – though as Glock has demonstrated on a number of occasions already this year, he is invariably a stronger racer than he is a qualifier.
“This has been a difficult weekend for me,” admitted the 26-year-old, who missed out on making the top ten shoot-out by just over two tenths of a second, “and this afternoon was a hard qualifying session. The whole weekend we have struggled to find the right balance in the car.
“The first two runs in qualifying felt okay so we made a step compared to yesterday, but I struggled to get anything out of the softer tyres and I couldn't get it right. The traffic was fine, but the car felt different on every lap and it was difficult to get a good feeling. It's been hard to get the set-up right all weekend, but we will try to regain ground during the race tomorrow.”
Shanghai effectively marks the Cologne-based outfit's final opportunity to stake its claim to the coveted and lucrative fourth position in the constructors title chase currently held by Renault, but with the Régie
lining up fourth in the shape of former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and tenth with rookie Nelsinho Piquet, and needing just two points more than Toyota to put the position out of reach, the situation does not appear encouraging.
“That was obviously a very disappointing session compared to our expectations,” reflected senior general chassis manager Pascal Vasselon. “The practice sessions went well, especially for Jarno. Timo had been struggling a bit more, but he seemed to have recovered in Q1 – and then things went wrong in Q2 and Q3.
“Putting all the sectors together it was possible for Timo to qualify in the top ten, but it did not come together at the right moment. For Jarno we only marginally made it into Q3. It's hard to say a lot more; we have to look into what happened.
“At certain points we had some very bad sectors which are difficult to understand at the moment, so we have work to do tonight. At least the tyre situation is relatively clear now. For qualifying the best tyre was obvious, and for the race the choice is also clear.”