Jarno Trulli beaming at Team Lotus steering update
Jarno Trulli was back in his Team Lotus seat with a bang for free practice in Hungary on Friday.
The Formula One veteran, who has struggled with power steering issues continually through what has been a mixed 2011 campaign, was dropped for last weekend's German Grand Prix in place of Karun Chandhok to give the Indian driver a chance to impress.
But returning to his T128 in Budapest and with a deal being arranged for Trulli to keep his seat for 2012, the Italian was 0.5 seconds up on team-mate Heikki Kovalainen after the afternoon practice session and just 0.1 seconds off Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso.
'I'm very happy today,' said the Italian. 'I want to thank the whole team, everyone at the factory and in the race team because they have all been patient with me and have worked hard to give me the new power steering system and a car that I can really feel.
'As soon as I pulled out this morning it felt so much better than before, so today I've been able to start rebuilding my confidence in the car and working on all the little changes and improvements that help me to find a setup I can really work with.
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'It's been a really positive day and for that my thanks go to everyone in the team.'
The Hingham outfit have finally redesigned the T128's power steering unit after months of work, in time for this weekend's race.
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And Norwich-born chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne was glad the weeks of effort seem to have paid dividends.
'That was one of the best Fridays we have had this year,' said Gascoyne. 'We have made some modifications to the diffuser and those changes have definitely worked, and with Jarno immediately telling us the new power steering system is working exactly as we wanted it to we have been able to push closer to the cars ahead than we have for a while.
'On Heikki's car we need to work on finding him a balance he is happy with and we will see how we have got on with that tomorrow, but overall this has been a very positive Friday.'
Kovalainen added: 'It feels like we have taken a step forward with the updates we've brought to the back end of the car but I still need to work on finding a balance I'm happy with.
'We tried a few different setup options today but I couldn't really find the best solution on either compounds, but we've completed a lot of mileage so I'm sure we'll find the right way forward in qualifying and the race.'
The Norfolk constructor have had a tough time of it in recent weeks, summed up by their early double failure at Silverstone but eased by a two-car finish around the Nurburgring last weekend.
However, Team Lotus will be keen for a strong showing in Hungary before Formula One heads into the five-week midseason break.
Chief executive Riad Asmat said: 'I am very pleased with today's work across the whole team. Back at the factory we have put in a lot of hours on the updates we have brought here, both on the diffuser and the new steering system, and it is clear from both drivers' laptimes that those efforts have closed the gap to the teams ahead more than we have seen for several races.
'Jarno in particular has been able to push today and he reported that as his confidence increases he will be able to find more time, so I think quali could be very interesting.'