It had all looked so good for Toro Rosso going into the Japanese Grand Prix. In front of the Honda bosses at the track the company built back in 1962, Brendon Hartley qualified a season-best sixth, one place ahead of his team mate Pierre Gasly, both drivers using Honda’s upgrade package to great effect around Suzuka.
So how, despite no major incidents for either driver, did they end the race P13 and P11 respectively, having looked set to have a big points-scoring day on Honda’s home turf? It was something Gasly was still chewing on when he faced the media after the Grand Prix.
“I don't really know why we went so long on the first stint,” he said, referring to Toro Rosso’s decision to keep him out on his supersoft tyres until lap 29. “We got undercut by four or five cars.”
It’s just a shame. After such a good qualifying yesterday, it would have been great to reward the team and Honda here in Japan
Up to that point, Gasly had spent most of the race holding steady in P7 behind the Haas of Romain Grosjean – a finishing position that would have netted the Red Bull-bound Frenchman six very welcome points. But after rejoining the race in P13 and battling his way up to 10th with some well-executed manoeuvres, Gasly was pipped for the last points-scoring position by the Renault of Carlos Sainz with just two laps to go.
“Honestly, I don't want to speak about it,” an emotional Gasly said. “We were in P7 for half the race and then after the pit stop, I think we dropped to P12 or P13.
“We put the soft tyres on so I enjoyed a couple of overtakes, but after 10 or 15 laps the soft tyres had massive blisters and it was even difficult to see on the straight because the rear tyres were square.
“At the end I was just trying to survive the 20 last laps, but it was very difficult.
“It’s just a shame. After such a good qualifying yesterday, it would have been great to reward the team and Honda here in Japan for their home race with some points today.”
So, not the race that Toro Rosso wanted. But despite not managing to add to their tally in the constructors’ standings, the Italian squad will still be buoyed by their Saturday pace in Suzuka as the teams prepare themselves for the the final four rounds of the 2018 season.