Jenson Button has made it four wins from five races as the Brawn driver lead team mate Rubens Barrichello over the line for a one-two and an extended lead in both championships. The race started poorly for Button as Barrichello managed to grab the lead into the first corner, and while Barcelona often results in a processional event, the 2009 race proved interesting for the most part, from lights out to chequered flag.
Rubens Barrichello enjoyed a great start as the Brazilian squeezed his Brawn ahead of his team mate. Elsewhere down the grid, Hamilton too had a great start initially, but as the Briton tried to get his McLaren between the wall and Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard edged over, clearly unaware that Hamilton was there and forced the Briton onto the grass and out of the throttle.
Hamilton and Alonso wasn’t the biggest incident of the start though as the pack threaded their way through the first and second corners. Jarno Trulli ran out wide as his Toyota leaned out of the left hander and over to the right for the long right-hander. Skating over the gravel Trulli was effectively off the track.
Behind, Adrian Sutil was having his own issues as the German skipped the left hander and crossed the run-off. As both drivers rejoined the track, Sutil cut into Trulli and forced the Toyota into a spin. Sebastien Bourdais got out of the throttle to avoid the accident ahead of him, but this only meant that Sebastien Buemi plowed into the back of him.
Trulli, Sutil and both Scuderia Toro Rossos retired on the spot as the field struggled to get through the carbon fibre that was flying up in the air and scattering itself over the tarmac.
Also suffering from the word go was Kimi Raikkonen, who on the grid-forming lap radioed his team to say he was having a problem with the KERS on his Ferrari F60. It later turned out that Raikkonen couldn’t see the light properly in his car and was therefore unsure when he could use the power boost.
The first corner incident brought out the safety car, although it did take a few moments before race control finally made the decision. The pack closed up and followed Bernd Maylander in the Mercedes-Benz sports car. The safety car was only out for a few laps though but the restart looked worrying for the leading Brawns.
Felipe Massa had managed to get himself into P3 from the line thanks to KERS. And once again, with KERS enabled and charged, Massa could attempt to gain another position, especially as the cars are already travelling at the 100km/h limit for the device to be used. Alas, Barrichello closed the pack up well and jumped on the throttle as he lead the field through the final sequence of corners. The Brawns maintained their lead.
Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso shared some tarmac on the restart as the pair battled their way down to the first corner. Alonso managed to draw alongside the Australian, positioning himself between the RB5 and pitwall as they dragged each other down to T1. Comfortably ahead thanks to the KERS on the R29, Alonso moved back over the left to take a more standard line into the corner only to find that Webber had darted back under the Renault and braked desperately late. Webber somehow managed to make the car stick to the road, hit the apex and reapplied the throttle, retaking the position from the double world champion and leaving myself gawping at the scene.
On L6, Heikki Kovalainen slowed on track and eventually pulled into the pitlane to retire his McLaren, the Fin enduring a very difficult start to the season having only finished one race so far in 2009. This time it was the gearbox on his MP4-24 that caused the retirement.
Rubens Barrichello edged out a small gap over Jenson Button as the team switched the strategies of their cars. Button went onto a two-stopper while Barrichello remained on the original plan of a three-stopper. Because both cars had been fuelled relatively light before the race, it meant that Button would have to endure a long middle stint before he could pit for the final time. However, the plan worked out for the Briton in the end.
Behind the leaders, it became clear that Felipe Massa was holding Sebastian Vettel up and although the German was running very close behind the Ferrari, Vettel couldn’t make any moves stick and the Red Bull pilot spent most of the race studying the rear wing of the Ferrari F60.
Further back, Kimi Raikkonen was also being held up as he couldn’t find a way pass the BMW of Nick Heidfeld. The Finnish pilot was struggling with his KERS and although Raikkonen had a couple of looks, he just couldn’t make one stick. By L19 though, Raikkonen’s race was over as he slowed down and pulled off the track. Another retirement for Ferrari is not good, especially as they have made a big improvement in pace for this weekend, not being able to capitalise on it is disastrous.
On L19, Button pitted for tyres and fuel, and the amount of fuel that was pumped into the Brawn meant that he lost a lot of time to the leader Barrichello. However, the plan was that Jenson would be able to regain this by having to make one less stop than his team mate. Barrichello pitted on the following lap and reemerged in the net-lead, which six laps later would be more than 10s.
If Barrichello was to win the race he had to set some stunning laps and pull out a margin to Button in the middle stint. By L30, Rubens pitted for the second time, but the lead was only 13.5s and wasn’t enough to cover the stop. With each driver having one more stop to make, the race was Jenson’s barring any other problems.
Further back Sebastian Vettel was still looking at the back of Massa’s Ferrari. The pair duelled for most of the race and even a wheel-cover flying off the F60 didn’t help the Red Bull pilot much.
As the second round pitstops happened, Mark Webber managed to leapfrog Massa, which was important for his race. On L43, both Massa and Vettel pitted, leaving once again in the order that they came in. Webber got the hammer down and pumped in some good laps and by the time the Australian had completed his second stop, was ahead of the pair in essentially a net-P3.
It was after the final round of pitstops that a communication from Rob Smedley to his driver Felipe Massa that caused concern. Ferrari had not pumped enough fuel into Massa’s car during both stops due to a problem with the rig. Thus, Massa was light on fuel and had to conserve. The problem for the Brazilian is that he was vigorously defending his position from the frustrated Vettel directly behind. If Massa backed-off and short-shifted through the gears, Vettel would simply drive by.
A few laps later, with the fuel issue becoming critical for the safety of Massa’s race – he would either have to splash-and-dash and fall out of the points, or retire – Smedley ordered Felipe to let Vettel go. With 16s to Fernando Alonso further back, it would be touch and go if even P5 would be safe for the Ferrari pilot. Alas, it was not and by the end of the race, Alonso had simply driven around the Ferrari for fifth.
Although some of the gaps between the drivers closed up towards the end of the race, with Lewis Hamilton having to defend to Timo Glock and Mark Webber having caught up with Rubens Barrichello, the positions remained and Jenson Button crossed the line to take his fourth victory of the year, a win he wasn’t expecting. Brawn felt the two-stop strategy was not the fastest, and with Button struggling with the car’s balance all weekend, the pole position on Saturday that was converted to victory on Sunday will undoubtedly be very sweet.
Mark Webber completed the podium while team mate Sebastian Vettel came home fourth to give Red Bull another dose of points. Fernando Alonso had his fans on their feet as the local hero finished in P5, unexpectedly finding himself ahead of the Ferrari. Massa collected three points, his first of the year and equal now to team mate Kimi Raikkonen. Although the F60 did splutter to a halt on the slow-down lap. Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg complete the top eight finishers.
Brawn now have a very healthy lead in the constructors championship and Button leads the drivers from Barrichello by fourteen points. Red Bull extend their lead over Toyota who did not score today, while Ferrari doubled their tally thanks to Massa nursing his emptying fuel tank to the finish. Those extra three points from the Brazilian mean that the Scuderia have moved ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Williams and now sit in P7 in the constructors.
The circus will now fly to Monaco, a race that is often considered the jewel on a drivers CV. Jenson Button would love to win around the streets of Monte Carlo, but as we have seen in Barcelona, the others are catching up a little and it is getting harder for the Brackley squad to maintain the lead. However, a little bit of hard work, some good strategy calls from the pitwall and clearly Brawn are the team to beat. With an awesome chassis though, I think Monaco might lean towards the favour of the Red Bull squad, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
- The race results can be viewed here: Spain 2009: Race Result.
- The live race notes can be viewed here: Spain 2009: Live Race Notes.
- The current championship standings can be viewed here: Championship Standings.
- The pitstops and fuel strategies can be viewed here: Spain 2009: Pitstop & Fuel Strategies.
If you really want a picture of how the tables have been turned in F1, go back to the last lap of the 2008 season, when Vettel and Hamilton passed Button’s lapped Honda while fighting for that all-important spot. After that, revisit Button getting out of his car just as a small fire broke out from the exhaust while he was attempting to offer his congratulations to Lewis on becoming the new champion.
Now, go back to this weekend, and Button- while driving in first place- laps Hamilton’s uncompetitive McLaren machine en route to his fourth win in five races. Afterward we have Button, with a completely new name on the team, pulling the car into parc ferme and standing on the top step of the podium, with both he and his team seemingly in great shape for both championships.
My, what a difference a year makes 😉
That comment rather neatly sums up the difference between early-November 2008 and late-March 2009. And when you consider everything that happened in between, it makes it even more impressive.
I have a post that’s currently in construction that talks about cars that were successful straight out of the box with little-to-no testing, and new teams that have either done very well in their debut year or not (and yes, I took into account that Brawn are not really in their debut year as they are essentially Honda). But the results so far from my research are very interesting.
Let’s just say that the most memorable time in recent history that a car arrived at the first race of the year pretty much untested was the Lola in 1997. Oh boy. For those who do not know, it was ever so slightly embarrassing. 😀