Trulli a great day for Toyota but best of British on their tails

McLaren likely to be let off over 'Liegate' as Hamilton produces finest form
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The Independent Online

The cars in front were Toyotas, led by Jarno Trulli, when the desert dust settled after qualifying here yesterday, but whether that will be the story today after 57 laps in ambient temperatures of 35C, and track temperatures exceeding 50C, is a moot point. But the world championship leader, Jenson Button, who had to be content with qualifying fourth in his Brawn, believes that the red-and-white cars have a good chance of scoring their first victory.

"We were aiming for pole position today but unfortunately it wasn't our best qualifying session of the season and the pace just wasn't there," he said with resignation. "I didn't have a great lap on my final run in Q3 and we were struggling for grip on the corner exits and locking tyres throughout the session. We were surprised by our lack of pace and the quicker pace today of our competitors, who have obviously made advances and caught up quickly.

"It's going to be a tough race tomorrow, but our long-run pace with heavy fuel was really competitive on Friday so that will stand us in good stead if we can get a clean start."

Tyre preservation will again be the name of the game here, but the Sakhir circuit is a very different type of track to Melbourne and China, where the degradation of Bridgestone's supersoft-option rubber militated in favour of their medium-compound prime tyres. These take longer to hit their optimum temperature and have less grip here, so everyone will try to go as far as they can on supersofts and keep their running on the primes to a minimum. Some, however, are more adept at eking out tyre life than others.

"We've struggled compared to the whole field and we don't have the pace we had in the first few races," Button continued. "It's going to be a tough race tomorrow – it's not a walk in the park. At the moment we don't have the pace of the Red Bulls and the Toyotas. Our race pace was good yesterday when we were doing long runs. We were a little bit quicker with high fuel, but we're not running that long in our first stint and I think that the guys at the front are pitting around the same lap that we are."

Those guys were the polesitter Trulli (his car with 648.5kg total weight), his Toyota team-mate Timo Glock (643), and the Chinese Grand Prix winner, Sebastian Vettel, in the Red Bull (659). Button qualified at 652.5kg, justifying his worries.

"I'm thrilled to be back on pole again," Trulli said. "This weekend has gone well and it's great to be starting at the front tomorrow. This afternoon didn't go quite as smoothly as yesterday because I had a bit of a problem with my brakes during the session. That's a bit of a worry for the race, so we'll have to look into it overnight. Still, I'm confident for tomorrow because our race pace has been good this weekend and we've been looking after the tyres well.

"I'd like to dedicate this pole both to my team, who have worked so hard, and to the people of my home region, Abruzzo, who suffered a disastrous earthquake this month."

The top four will have their eyes on Lewis Hamilton, who starts fifth for McLaren in the fastest car to be using Kers, which confers a definite power advantage on acceleration. While Button was slightly pessimistic, his fellow countryman was the opposite.

"We have been pushing incredibly hard over the last couple of months and this is a result of all our hard work," Hamilton said. "I'm very proud of what we've achieved. Firstly, it was good to get into the top 10, then it was even better to battle inside the top 10. We've got a similar pace to some of the guys in the top five; as long as everything goes smoothly we should be able to get a top-five finish."

Against this backdrop, the word from deep within the governing body, the FIA, is that McLaren will be let off without serious penalty when the extra-ordinary meeting of the world motorsport council is convened in Paris on Wednesday to investigate allegations that Hamilton and the dismissed McLaren sporting director, Davy Ryan, lied to the race stewards in Melbourne in March. Over the weekend it was leaked that the beleaguered new team principal, Martin Whitmarsh, has written to the FIA offering an unconditional apology. News agencies quoted Whitmarsh as saying: "We are co-operating with the FIA, I have written to [President] Max [Mosley], but obviously before the 29th I can't say anything about it. It's a letter to them. Certainly there's been no leak about it from us and I can't comment on it.

"I think anyone who has looked at the relationship between McLaren and the FIA over the last few years would have to conclude that it would be healthier for all of us to have a more positive, constructive relationship than perhaps we have had in the past."

Ryan was made a scapegoat and dismissed. Hamilton made a public apology in Malaysia. And Ron Dennis, the architect of so much of McLaren's success, has stood down from his F1 responsibilities. Many people in the paddock believe that is more than sufficient sackcloth and ashes, and that the FIA's perceived hunger for penalties against the team should have been sated by Dennis's departure. The real scandal is that the whole thing has been a storm in a tea cup.

Way back in the late Eighties, when the McLaren diehard Tyler Alexander was tasked with looking after new boy Ayrton Senna in Port Douglas, the Brazilian offered the American a homily that holds good even today: "The only thing that you need to know about F1 is that everybody lies."

Ain't that the truth.

Coverage on BBC1 starts at 12.10pm

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