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Special feature

The sweet-handling Toyota epilogue to its F1 adventure

Toyota's final Formula 1 car never won a race, although it was quick enough to take a pole position and three podium finishes in the hands of Jarno Trulli, who picks the TF109 of 2009 as his favourite racing car.

You might imagine that one-time grand prix winner Jarno Trulli would pick the mount that took him to his only success as his all-time favourite car - even more so if the backdrop for that success was Monaco. But the Italian driver instead plumps for the final truly competitive car of his Formula 1 tenure, the Toyota TF109 of 2009.

The Renault R24 in which he scored his first and only F1 win in 2004 was, in Trulli’s words, “extremely good only at Monaco, which is a particular circuit”. On the other hand, the double diffuser-equipped TF109 was “the best-handling car I ever had”.

He adds: “I tested the car very early and immediately, without having any reference to any other car, I could feel it would be competitive. It was the kind of car that gives you the feeling you can push, with a good front end and with good traction on corner exit.”

Trulli scored three podium finishes on his way to eighth in the drivers’ standings with the TF109, his best placing since taking seventh in 2005. As in that season when F1 mandated tyres had to last a full grand prix distance, Toyota also finished fifth in the constructors’ in 2009. But its success was front-loaded - after the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, Trulli was fourth in the drivers’ and Toyota third in the constructors’ table, only a point behind Red Bull.

There were two main factors behind its subsequent drop-off, according to Trulli. The first was that the TF109, while pleasant to drive, was inconsistent.

“I was on pole position at Bahrain with [team-mate] Timo Glock second, but two races later at Monaco, we were both on the back row,” he remembers. “It was a strange car in that sense. But when it was working, it was very nice to drive.”

The second was simply that Toyota, which was one of the three double diffuser teams at the start of the season along with Brawn GP and Williams, was out-developed by its rivals - notably Ferrari and McLaren, which both outscored Toyota by the end of the season.

Always renowned as a qualifying specialist, Trulli claimed pole at the 2009 Bahrain GP in the TF109

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Always renowned as a qualifying specialist, Trulli claimed pole at the 2009 Bahrain GP in the TF109

“The TF109 was very competitive at the beginning of the season, but we missed a bit of constant evolution in terms of upgrades,” explains Trulli. “The double diffuser was probably one of the things that helped, and the fact everyone else cocked up. But then, after the first four races, in Europe everyone was bringing big upgrades, and that’s where we missed out. Everyone caught up and started getting ahead of us.”

Trulli also points out that, unlike the Ferrari and McLaren, Toyota was not equipped with a KERS system in what was the first year that the technology was allowed.

“I’m not saying it was a good or bad decision,” he reasons, “but when you fought closely with another car that had KERS, for example the McLaren, which was not as good a car as the Toyota, they were so much quicker on the straight. That made everything more complicated racing-wise.”

"When the rain came I made a clear call to go on intermediate tyres. The team, without telling me, put me on heavy wets and Timo Glock on intermediates. He was ninth, but he finished the race second. I was second and I ended up fourth" Jarno Trulli

Trulli agrees with the notion that Toyota might have reconsidered withdrawing from F1 had it been able to score a grand prix victory in 2009. While Bahrain is often cited as the race that got away from the marque, Trulli cites the rain-soaked Malaysian GP as the real missed chance: “I honestly deserved to win, because I was fighting with [eventual winner] Jenson Button and when the rain came I made a clear call to go on intermediate tyres.

“The team, without telling me, put me on heavy wets and Timo Glock on intermediates. He was ninth, but he finished the race second. I was second and I ended up fourth. They really screwed up - it would have been an easy win. After that, we were close again, like in Japan [where Trulli finished second], but we were never quite good enough.”

That proved to be not only Toyota’s last chance to win, but also for Trulli to add to his one and only F1 victory. Following Toyota’s departure at the end of 2009, the now-49-year-old would struggle on in F1 for two more years, lumbered with uncompetitive Lotus machinery, before bowing out after 2011 with 252 starts to his name.

“I have some regrets because things could have gone differently, but that’s the way it is,” he concludes.

Trulli believes he should have won at Sepang in 2009 if he'd been put onto the inters he'd asked for

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Trulli believes he should have won at Sepang in 2009 if he'd been put onto the inters he'd asked for

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