Adam Cooper Interviews Mike Gascoyne

This is a crucial year for Toyota, not least because the team now has two drivers with wins and poles in their respective CVs. The new car didn't set the world alight in its initial tests, but once all the latest bits were fitted it began to look quite respectable, popping up in third or fourth in some of the later pre-season sessions

Adam Cooper Interviews Mike Gascoyne

Saturday's rain made first qualifying in Australia a complete lottery, but nevertheless the drivers still had to make the most of the chance they were given, and complete their lap without messing up.

While he couldn't match Giancarlo Fisichella's grooved tyres pole, Jarno Trulli did a pretty good job to set the best time by any driver on intermediates. Don't forget that David Coulthard actually went after him and was some three seconds slower, possibly because it was getting just a little too dry for inters.

Sunday was a bit of a strange session for many drivers, as the gaps meant that in most cases it was relatively easy to defend a position with a fairly large race fuel load. It was very hard to judge who was pushing to the limit and who wasn't, but nevertheless his fourth fastest time - behind Fisichella, Mark Webber and Coulthard - was a respectable effort.

Clearly Toyota wanted to hang on to that priceless front row spot, come what may. As the race was to prove, Jarno was the lightest of the frontrunners, although not by much compared to the guys who beat him.

"He was light compared to Fisi," says technical director Mike Gascoyne, "but only five or six kilos lighter than Webber and Coulthard. I was slightly surprised that people went as long as they did. We certainly thought we'd be going to the same sort of time that everyone else was."

There may have been some luck involved in getting on the front row, but Trulli was certainly going to make the most of it. He might have been bundled down a few spots on the first lap, or built up a queue of cars behind him, but he not only held on to second spot, he kept leader Fisichella in sight and left his pursuers behind. Just prior to his pitstop on lap 18, he was only 4.8 seconds behind the eventual winner, which was not a bad effort. However, that's when things started to go wrong.

"Just after his first pitstop Jarno blistered or delaminated his right rear," says Gascoyne. "We noticed at the second stop that, all the way round, something happened to it. He was six seconds up, he stopped a couple of laps earlier than Coulthard and Webber, and that should have been enough.

"After they stopped we couldn't work out why he was nowhere, he wasn't even close. He hadn't pulled away enough to hold that position. As soon as he went out with the higher fuel level, the rear tyre just gave up. It cleared up eventually, after another 30 laps, as it just wore down. But he was knackered by then."

Many of those who stopped later - seven laps later in the case of Alonso, Barrichello and Raikkonen, and eight for Michael Schumacher - leapfrogged the struggling the Toyota man. He eventually came home a frustrated ninth.

Interestingly, despite running so well in second early on, Jarno set only the 14th fastest lap of the race, just 0.8s quicker than the similarly powered Jordan of rookie Narain Karthikeyan. His time was set right at the end, proving that the tyres had to some degree come back to life.

If you consider that two of the guys on the podium had started 11th, and 13th, Jarno's trip from second to ninth is not much to write home about, but Ralf Schumacher's race gave some cause of optimism.

Having caught the worst of the rain, Ralf started 15th. Mired in traffic, he pitted on lap 21, but had to come in again immediately to sort out his seatbelts. After that there was no chance of getting into the points, and he eventually finished 12th. He was far from despondent, however.

"Ralf did a good first lap and then sat behind Villeneuve and the two BARs," notes Gascoyne. "He did his first stop and then his seat belt came loose, so he had to do another stop. After that, if you go away and have a look at it, he set a blistering pace. He probably lost 10 or 15 seconds to the leader over the last two-thirds of the race.

"When he was behind Villeneuve and the BARs he did that extra pit stop, caught two of them up, and passed them. As I say if you go away and look at Ralf's lap times after the last two-thirds, he's very happy. He's said, OK we started from the back because of circumstances, and he had the seatbelt problem, but the car was really nice to drive, and he could really push.

"To catch up and pass Sato and Villeneuve... It doesn't happen very often in F1 that you actually pass anyone. He's very positive about it. In the end it was pouring down with rain on Saturday and then he had to go out first in the morning. You were going to be where you were going to be."

It would be easy to say that the Toyota set-up caused Trulli to have the tyre dramas, but the fact that Ralf had no problems suggests otherwise. Gascoyne admits that Trulli's press-on style in the early laps was probably the key factor, and it highlights something that will be an issue all season.

"Ralf says the tyres were great and the balance was perfect, but having said that he was held up for the first stint, and it's the first part of the race where you're going to overstress the tyre if you do.

"Jarno was obviously pushing like hell to keep up with Fisi and maybe get a gap, so maybe that contributed. If it's delamination it's just a tyre issue, if it's blistering, because he's sliding too much and got too much rear temperature.

"I think it was very disappointing to have had the good qualifying and have the car we've got, but not come away with two cars in the points. But as I say, the right rear had totally gone, and he spent 30 laps just struggling massively."

Despite the dramas, Gascoyne says he thinks the team can still fight for podiums this year.

"I think for sure we can, and without the tyre problem and a bit of luck, it could have been Australia. You can't run second for the first stint in a race and say you've got no chance of scoring a podium."

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