Jarno Trulli on his dream start with Toyota 06 Apr 2005
When Toyota recorded their maiden podium and best-ever Formula One result in Malaysia, some said it wouldnt last. In Bahrain, however, they did even better, with Jarno Trulli scoring eight points and Ralf Schumacher another four. Trulli spoke to the team about his Sakhir race and the coming start of the European season
Q: Jarno, two second places in succession! How does that feel?
Jarno Trulli: It a honestly a fantastic feeling to have claimed two successive podium places for Panasonic Toyota Racing and to have strengthened our second place in the constructors' championship. When I signed for Toyota last year I was impressed by the facilities but also mindful that the team had 50 races to its name whereas Ferrari has 50 years experience! I never expected to be so competitive so soon. It's a bit of a dream.
Q: Alonso apart, you seemed to have everyone else under control in Bahrain?
JT: I think I was more competitive than everyone in the field with the exception of Fernando. Michael Schumacher qualified the new Ferrari in front of me after a good lap on Sunday morning but I made a better start and got around the outside of him in Turn 1. Michael is not renowned for backing down though, and I did not want to throw away the promise of another super-competitive race by braving it out into Turn 2 with him and having an accident.
Q: And what was your assessment of the early laps?
JT: I was pretty comfortable and at that stage Michael looked quite threatening. He was very close to Fernando, who later said that he thought the Ferrari was on a lighter fuel load. But we never actually found out because Michael retired after just 12 laps. Even so, Michelin has done a tremendous job with the tyres and so I felt confident that I would have beaten the Ferrari over a full race distance.
Q: Was it surprising to be so competitive without a good car balance on Friday?
JT: It was more than pleasing to be so competitive! We entered the weekend feeling that we could be as strong as we were in Malaysia. However, when we got to the track on Friday, I felt that the car was a little bit more challenging to drive, even if our lap times were still quick. There were some handling issues to be resolved, which we improved by Saturday. It's difficult to know exactly where you are with the car set-up at Sakhir. The track is built in the middle of a desert and the sand is an issue.
Q: What problems does the sand bring?
JT: First of all the sand makes the track slippery of course, which is why there were so many cars using the run-off areas on Friday. But, combined with high winds, it means varying levels of grip, which makes it difficult to assess set-up changes or make tyre choices. The golden rule is to make one change at a time to assess progress, but with sand blowing onto different corners depending on the wind direction, even that is not foolproof. And our situation was complicated by our test driver, Ricardo Zonta, having a mechanical problem, which stopped him doing his full tyre evaluation programme during the second Friday free practice session.
Q: So the car was not ideal when you had to do empty tank qualifying?
JT: The car was not too bad on Saturday and improved from Friday, but I still didn't have total confidence to push 100%. It's actually quite demanding. When we qualified the old way, with 12 laps and all the cars out together, the first run would be a banker' lap, and then you'd gradually push more and more over the remaining three attempts. But now you get just one chance and the penalty for making a mistake is very severe. Then you've got to do it all again on Sunday morning with full tanks.
Q: What's the bigger challenge, the empty tank run or the race fuel session?
JT: Although you are going faster with empty tanks, it's probably easier to make a mistake with race levels of fuel. That's because with empty tanks and a light car, you might find you have more grip than you expected. Okay, you might not have squeezed the maximum from the car, but the car is at least in its optimum configuration. But with race fuel loads the car is heavier and more difficult to handle. You have to be quick but disciplined. On the positive side it's more about driver than car, which has to be good.
Q: The heat was even more intense than Malaysia. Was that a problem?
JT: Physically the heat was not more intense than in Malaysia, even if it was several degrees hotter. The car was actually a pleasure to drive in the race and I had no problems whatsoever. But Bahrain can be very tough on the machinery. Brakes are at the limit, as we saw with one team, and apart from sand making the track surface unpredictable, it can also wreak havoc on the engines. We bring a number of different air filters, for example, and make a decision on which one to run based on the conditions. The denser ones keep more sand out, but at the expense of engine power. Some of the engine guys estimate that it can cost you as much as 20bhp. You have to get things like that right because, as you would imagine, racing engines and sand do not make happy partners! Once again the team did a great job and I can't emphasise enough how impressive it is for us still to have a 100% reliability record after the first three flyaway races.
Q: Can you maintain momentum when the European season begins at Imola?
JT: I don't see why we cannot keep this pace up, although historically Imola has not been a happy circuit for Toyota. In the past the car has had some problems running the kerbs, which is an intrinsic part of squeezing a quick lap time out of a car at Imola. But as Mike Gascoyne says, you solve a whole myriad of problems with a decent aero package and we have certainly made progress in that area. We will have more aero updates at San Marino and I hope that will bring us even more success for the upcoming European events.