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  • Writer's pictureRhonan Colquhoun

Toyota's missed opportunity - the 2009 Bahrain GP

One of today's biggest car manufacturers in the world, Japanese automotive legends Toyota once competed in Formula One during the 2000's with little success. The team was well-funded and had one of the biggest budgets on the grid but results were never consistent. However, at the 2009 Bahrain GP, they had a chance to rectify that.

22th July 2020

Toyota entered F1 in 2002 after a full year of testing and it took until the 2005 Chinese GP to achieve it's first podium finish. That season became it's most successful but despite being in the sport for eight seasons, it never managed to win a race, finishing in second five times. As a result, Toyota is widely regarded as F1's most expensive failure.

Today, we look back at Toyota's best opportunity to win a race - the 2009 Bahrain GP.

The 2009 Bahrain GP

The 2009 campaign started well for Toyota with two third place finishes in the first three races. Former Renault driver Jarno Trulli, now in his fifth season with the team, finished third in Australia while Timo Glock repeated the same result in the monsoon hit Malaysian GP. With these results, the team came into the Bahrain GP in third.

Toyota were one of three teams to start the season with the controversial double-diffuser with the other two teams being Williams and Brawn GP. This diffuser used the rear crash structure in order to generate additional downforce. This was protested by the other teams on the grid but the FIA deemed it legal.

In the desert heat of Bahrain, Trulli claimed Pole position in the final few seconds of Q3. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel had topped both sessions prior but it was the Italian who romped to pole, his first since the United States GP in 2005.

To make it even better, Glock put in a lap to go with less than three tenths behind in second to make it a front-row lock-out for the Japanese team for the first time.

Image from BBC -
Trulli on Pole in the Bahrain desert with Glock for company

Both cars were lightly fuelled so were predicted to make their first pit-stops of the race a few laps before the other cars around them. Toyota President John Howett said that the team were using a "fairly aggressive" strategy come the race.

He said: "We were pushing to be on the front two rows because of the tyre situations. If it's hot, the soft tyre is quite difficult to manage so we need some free air if we are going to use it."

So by using a different tyre strategy in comparison with the other teams be fruitful for the red and white cars who locked-out the front-row of the grid?

At the start, too much wheel spin for Trulli allowed Glock to take the lead. The fast-starting KERS equipped cars, most notably McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, had a great start and pressured Trulli for second on the run to turn 4. On exit, Hamilton went wide and Trulli fought back to re-take the position.

Hamilton couldn't keep with the leading Toyota's and by the start of lap two, he had fellow Brit and championship leader, Brawn's Jenson Button behind him. Button got the move done into turn 1 and was now in 3rd.

On lap 11, Toyota's differing strategy was put in place when Glock pitted from the lead to go onto the Medium tyre. The other teams were going onto the Supersoft tyre at this stage and saving the Medium tyre for their final stint. One lap later, Trulli pitted and he was sent out on the Mediums as well.

Race leader Button was pulling clear of the pack behind, setting good lap times as Vettel couldn't find a way past Hamilton's McLaren. Over team radio, Button was told to give "everything he had."

The Medium tyres were not working well as Trulli was passed by the Renault of Fernando Alonso. Team-mate Glock wasn't faring any better and a heavy fuel load wasn't helping. Over team radio, Glock said: "I'm losing everything, everything, the bloody tyres are not working at all."

The chance of a one-two finish and the team's first victory in the sport had slipped from their grasp.

Button made his pit-stop and rejoined ahead of Trulli while Glock had lost so much time that Hamilton appeared ahead of him in seventh.

By the time of their second stops, Button comfortably led while Trulli was now on the Supersoft tyres. Vettel stayed out a few laps longer than the Toyota driver and had put in good lap times. When he pitted and rejoined on the Medium tyre, he was ahead of Trulli.

In the final 16 laps, Trulli was quicker than the Red Bull ahead of him but couldn't find a way past. He finished just two seconds behind in third as Button crossed the line to take a third win in four races.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen edged ahead of Glock in the final ten laps to take sixth but Glock kept close to the Finn to be within eight tenths at the chequered flag.

After the race, Trulli said: "I am a little bit disappointed because I was waiting for the first win for Toyota. We did a very long second stint on Medium tyres, I was trying to fight and actually it was a really hard fight. "

"I wasn't extremely quick but I was competitive on Medium tyres - then eventually Sebastian took the position after my last stop - then he was on Mediums and I was on Softs, and I was pushing him. I was quicker but there was no way to overtake him."

Toyota remained third in championship with Trulli and Glock in the top five in the championship.

The 2009 Season was to be the last for Toyota as the team pulled out of the sport after huge financial losses due to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. 13 podiums in 140 race with three Pole Positions and the highest of fourth the championship in eight seasons was not enough to keep the manufacturer in the sport.

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