The Bahrain Grand Prix has seen Jenson Button reclaim his position at the top of the podium after the Briton charged his way to victory around the sandy Sakhir circuit. The race was one of strategy and the Brawn team perfected Button’s two-stop race, who won from Sebastian Vettel and pole-sitter Jarno Trulli. Hamilton came home in P4 and Ferrari have finally scored points with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in P6.
The opening laps of the race saw overtaking a’plenty as the drivers jostled for position while working out the grip levels and temperatures of brakes and tyres. Timo Glock managed to squeeze himself ahead of team mate Jarno Trulli going down and through the first corner, capitalising on the lighter fuel load from qualifying and taking the lead of the grand prix.
Lewis Hamilton made a great start and from P5 the Briton found himself in P3 as the pack exited the first corner. Nico Rosberg appeared to leave the line well, but quickly fell backwards after that. Jenson Button proved the Brawn wasn’t as shabby as it perhaps appeared to be during qualifying and soon dispensed of Hamilton for P3.
Not having a great opening tour of Sakhir were Robert Kubica and Kazuki Nakajima, the pair tangling and having to pit for new front wings. Heikki Kovalainen may have been involved as well. Felipe Massa’s hard work in qualifying also came undone as the Brazilian toured down the pitlane with a possible KERS issue. The Ferrari team told their driver to turn it off as he entered the pits, but later in the race the problem was solved and Massa was able to turn it back on.
Although Glock was able to extend a margin to second placed driver and team mate Jarno Trulli, the Italian kept in touch with Glock at the front and the gap between the pair stabilised at around the 1.8s mark. Trulli came back though, just prior to Glock’s first scheduled stop which happened on L10, the German being the first of the front runners to blink.
Interestingly, Trulli pitted on the following lap, going against general expectation that the Italian had 2 or 3 extra laps of fuel on board. With the Toyotas having stopped, Button found himself in the lead, with Hamilton in P2 and Vettel in P3. Trulli had to vigorously defend his position on his outlap as Fernando Alonso caught a whiff of an advantage. By L13, the Spaniard had made a move stick and although Trulli didn’t make it easy for the former world champion, Alonso eventually made it through.
L14 saw leading driver Button relinquish his commanding position as the Briton made his first stop, allowing Vettel to take over P1 from Glock. Further down the pack, Mark Webber was enjoying a good start to his race, moving his Red Bull up to to P11 before having to make his first of three stops on L14.
With Rubens Barrichello slightly out of sequence he found himself stuck behind a long-running Nelson Piquet. The Renault held up Barrichello for several laps and essentially ruined the Brawn driver’s race. Rubens gesticulated to Piquet ahead of him but as the fight was for position, Piquet had every right to defend. And defend is exactly what the R29 pilot did. On L19, Barrichello had clearly allowed frustration to get the better of him, but thankfully his experience paid off and Rubens threw his car up the inside of Piquet, ran wide but was able to claim the place.
On L19 Vettel pitted and handed the lead to Raikkonen with Button having now moved up to P2 thanks to the pitters ahead of him. As the pack started to shake out from the opening round of stops, it was Trulli who became the centre of the driver’s frustration as the Toyota, now on the harder compound, was holding up a train of following cars. Snaking behind the Italian were Vettel and Hamilton, and Barrichello very quickly thundered his way up to the tail. This allowed Button to extend his net lead (Raikkonen didn’t pit until L20) as each lap passed.
Despite Rubens’s race been held up by fellow Brazilian Piquet, the Brawn driver showed good pace in catching the Trulli-train, and the Brackley team made a good call to pit Barrichello as soon as he came into the dirty air of Hamilton. This slight change in Barrichello’s strategy indicated a three-stopper, but ultimately it wouldn’t work out for Rubens.
By L35, Brawn’s rival teams were utterly confused as to Button’s strategy, all the time the Briton extending his lead. On L37 Jenson’s strategy was confirmed as he pitted from a 16s lead for the harder tyre; Button was two-stopping while Ross Brawn attempted something brave with Barrichello on a three-stopper.
Button’s margin prior to his stop meant that only one position was lost whilst in the pits, and two laps later Vettel handed it back by stopping himself. With Jenson on the harder tyre though, the gap to Vettel proved to be a little shakey. Undoubtedly the Brawn driver had turned the engine down a little but the Chinese Grand Prix winner hadn’t given up just yet. From around 12s Vettel closed up to be around 10s shy. From here though the gap stabilised and the pair would go on to the end of the race in P1 and P2.
Other battles further down the field featured Kimi Raikkonen and Timo Glock, the German having mixed fortunes in the middle part of the race. Raikkonen managed to claim a position from Glock and the moves were mature, but racey. Not behaving quite as gentlemanly were Robert Kubica and Kazuki Nakajima. Frustrated at having a disastrous race at the back of the pack, Kubica launched his BMW up the inside of Nakajima’s Williams. The Japanese driver turned in and contact was made, sending the Pole into a spin. Kubica was able to recover but the move was born from frustration and not one of Robert’s finest moments.
Also getting annoyed while stuck behind a slower car was Felipe Massa, who on L51 was chasing the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella. Massa made his move up the inside but Fisichella maintained position and turned in. Massa held on, the pair wrangled a little and Fisichella was sent off to the outside of the corner, over the kerbs and onto the sand.
The following lap Jenson Button cruised up behind the Force India of Fisichella who appeared to give the Briton some hassle when Button attempted to lap. To be fair, the Italian was probably seething at Massa’s audacity, but the incident allowed Vettel to close up a little more on the race leader.
Somewhat surprisingly, the only retirement of the whole grand prix was Kazuki Nakajima, who pulled his FW31 into the pits on L50 and parked it in the garage. The team later reported that the car was suffering from an oil pressure problem and couldn’t continue.
Jenson Button managed his third victory from four races, thus extending his lead in the championship and moving Brawn further away from Red Bull Racing and Toyota in the constructors. Vettel scored well for Red Bull but will leave Sakhir wondering how Button managed to get ahead, and Trulli, although scoring some solid points for himself and his team, will be disappointed at not converting his pole position in to a race victory.
Kimi Raikkonen ensured that Ferrari did not make the headlines on Monday with “Worse start ever for Ferrari” by scoring 3 points from P6. Massa ended his afternoon well down the order thanks to a problem which caused an unscheduled stop at the start of the race. Lewis Hamilton enjoyed a confidence boost by finishing in P4, but most importantly being able to hang on to the cars in front during the race.
Timo Glock finished in P7, which after a stunning job in qualifying as well as a great opening lap that saw him in the lead, is ultimately a poor performance. Fernando Alonso collected the final point of the afternoon, and Mark Webber finally crossed the finish line in P11, just behind Piquet Jr who enjoyed a better race than he is used to.
From Bahrain the circus returns to Europe in a fortnight, and the teams are expected to start adding updated parts to the cars. Ferrari desperately need to find some pace as they languish towards the bottom of the tables, although no longer actually at the bottom. We should start to see some of the teams close the gap to Brawn as they get their ‘double diffusers’ sorted out and may be even their KERS devices.