Jarno Trulli says he was surprised to line up on the front row of the grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix, but is adamant Toyota can have a strong race on Sunday.
The Italian veteran, renowned for his searing one lap pace, was quick through all three qualifying sessions in Sepang and a late charge in Q3 saw him come to within a couple of tenths of Jenson Button’s pole position time.
Although Trulli has gained a reputation for fading on race day, the Italian is confident he can translate the team’s underlying pace into a strong result on Sunday. And with Timo Glock lining up alongside him in P3 as a result of the grid penalties imposed on Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel, Toyota are looking in good shape for a podium.
“The team has done a fantastic job, we stayed away from traffic and the car was feeling good, so it has been a very successful day for us,” he said.
“The car feels strong now but I have to admit I wasn’t sure I would be in this position after practice yesterday because it was quite difficult.”
“I worked hard with my engineers to analyse the data and make some improvements to the set-up and we got it spot-on in qualifying. In a way it’s a little disappointing to miss pole position by just a few hundredths but that’s how close Formula 1 is at the moment.”
After several lacklustre seasons the Cologne-based outfit find themselves right on the pace of the front-runners in 2009, despite coming close to following Honda’s suit and withdrawing from the sport at the beginning of the year. Trulli is adamant there is more to come from Toyota.
“Compared to last year we are much more competitive this season and instead of fighting for the top six we are now here fighting in the top three,” added Trulli. “I hope for a strong race tomorrow and I will fight as hard as I can.”
Timo Glock confirmed the improvements Toyota have made through the winter to qualify in fifth place before being promoted to third.
“Overall the qualifying went quite well and I’m happy to be starting third. But I’m a bit frustrated with my final lap in Q3 because I was struggling a little bit to get used to how the car felt with a heavier fuel load. That meant I didn’t get 100% out of the car,” he said.
“In Q2, on a light fuel load, I made a few mistakes on my first run but then I got it absolutely right on the second and I was really pleased with my lap. In the end it’s a good result for the whole team to have two cars in the top three. It will be a tricky race and Jarno and I will push each other very hard but we also have to think about the weather because that could be a factor.”
Toyota’s senior management meanwhile were delighted to start tomorrow’s race from such a strong position.
“We are very pleased with this result even if the ultimate target is to be on pole position,” said Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s senior chassis manager. “Yesterday’s sessions went so-so I would say, we were not completely happy with the car balance and the grip but obviously we have reacted well overnight and finally it has been a very good team result.”
“Thanks to Bridgestone, the tyre situation here is quite easy to handle for qualifying and the race so we don’t expect anything unusual in that sense, which is the opposite of Melbourne when the final laps were dictated by the tyres. So all in all it has been a good weekend so far and we are very optimistic for the race tomorrow.”