Malaysian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Jenson Button won the Malaysian Grand Prix in his Brawn-Mercedes - but this was not an easy victory. The rains in Malaysia came down and caused mayhem. It was all very predictable given the start time of the race and the daily afternoon deluge. It may have worked well for the European TV audiences but it was not much fun for the drivers...
Nico Rosberg took the lead at the start leaving Button in the dust. Jenson found himself under attack from Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Button was not about to take that and battled his way back ahead of the Spaniard before the end of the first lap. As he was doing this his team-mate Rubens Barrichello was carving his way through to fifth, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Timo Glock, Nick Heidfeld and Lewis Hamilton.
"There was so little grip," Button said. "I was really surprised. I was really struggling. So was Alonso. I've never seen a car so sideways!"
Up at the front Nico Rosberg was fairly comfortable and was able to edge away from Trulli. A Williams was leading a Grand Prix again.
Trulli was not really able to keep up and had to keep an eye on his mirrors as Button was on his tail and looking for a way through once he had got clear of the wild Alonso.
Already gone from the action were the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen, who went sideways and fell off on the first lap.
"It was my mistake," said the Finn. "Game over."
Gone too was Robert Kubica. The BMW driver went slowly off the line and his engine had blown before the end of the second lap.
"At the start of the formation lap, the engine was making strange noises," said the disappointed Pole. He managed to get up to speed but things were clearly not healthy, the engine sounding dreadful as it passed the pits at the end of the first lap.
"I asked my team what I should do," Kubica said. "The car caught fire before I got an answer."
The order quickly settled with no-one making any great progress until Alonso began to struggle after 10 laps and he fell back behind Raikkonen and then Webber. Further back Nick Heidfeld, his car full of gas, also lost out to Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton when he wide at one point.
Vettel, who was running light in an effort to overcome his grid penalty, was the first to pit on lap 15. Glock followed on the next lap and then in came the leader Rosberg on lap 15. Trulli led for a couple of laps and then he too headed in. All the while the dark clouds moved towards the circuit. It was going to rain. It was just a matter of when the heavens would open. Those with the bigger fuel loads were hoping that they would make it to the pits and be able to combine fuel stops with the switch to wet weather tyres.
Ferrari exhibited something that must be seen as being close to desperation when Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 18 and was put on full wet tyres. It was a huge risk and very quickly it was clear that the team had made a mistake. Raikkonen was 20secs off the pace and the tyres were being destroyed.
"My race was pretty much over," said Kimi. "In Melbourne I was the one to make a mistake but today it was the team, the result being we find ourselves without any points."
As Kimi struggled around Button dived into the pits at the end of the 19th lap and for a lap Barrichello was ahead before he too disappeared into the pits. It was still too early to go to wets.
Once those stops were done the order was Button, six seconds ahead of Rosberg, Trulli and Barrichello. Alonso and Hamilton had yet to stop and were fifth and sixth. Then came Heidfeld and Massa.
The rain did not arrive until lap 22. Button went back to switch to extreme wet weather tyres but he stayed in the lead as pretty much everyone followed him into the pits. And then as they all re-emerged and began to get used to the tyres it was clear that Timo Glock had done something different to everyone else. He had decided to use intermediate tyres and he was eating up those ahead of him, lapping around eight seconds faster than all but Vettel, who had made the same choice. Timo climbed to second by lap 28. Button and the Brawn team saw the danger and went back to the pits on lap 29 for similar tyres and in less than a lap he was able to catch and pass Glock, who was now struggling. A lap later the rain was getting worse and Glock went back to the pits for full wets. Next time around Button picked extreme wets himself. He rejoined in the lead yet again as Glock battled with Nick Heidfeld for second place, the German having stopped only once. The conditions were by then out of control and a Safety car was sent out. Within a few seconds the race was red-flagged.
It was clear as the cars drew up on the grid that Button was going to be declared the winner if the race could not be restarted, but who would be second?
The timing screens showed Glock second but a lap earlier and he would have been third.
The time dragged on and the rain abated a little but time was running out. And eventually the race was abandoned. Button had won again, but this time it was only going to be half points.
"What a crazy race!" he said. "My start was very bad, I went down to fourth, then up to third, fighting some oversteer, then eventually I got up to the front. I was happy with that, and then it started to rain. Normally when it rains here it pours but this time it didn't. We had been expecting it to start chucking down but my extreme wet tyres soon destroyed themselves. We saw that Timo was on intermediates, and he was charging, so I dived in for some on lap 29 and came out close behind him. As I went by him I saw that his tyres were bald and he had to pit. I got one lap on the inters and had reasonable pace, but then I came in for wets again on lap 31 because finally it really had started raining."
In the end Heidfeld took second ahead of Glock, with Trulli, Barrichello, Webber, Hamilton and Rosberg completing the points scorers. Incredibly, for the second race in succession, Ferrari had failed to score points.
"I'm obviously very happy to be second after starting from 10th," said Heidfeld. "It was a really extreme and challenging race today. I had a good start but also quite a heavy car, which meant racing was not easy for me. When it was obvious it would rain soon I pitted seven laps earlier than planned, and we decided to go on full rain tyres. They wore down quickly because the heavy rain didn't come. The team kept telling me stay out, heavy rain expected, but the tyres felt almost like slicks. For those laps intermediates would have been much quicker. When it finally poured down it was the right decision to stop the race. It was absolutely impossible to drive. I spun behind the Safety Car!"
Glock as a little disappointed but third was still good.
"I was going well on my extreme wets at the end, and it was unlucky that they declared the results based on the order at the penultimate lap," he said. "When the flags come out I was second."
Trulli was also happy. "I feel a bit unlucky this weekend - I missed pole position by a tenth and it could have been an even better result for me," he said. "I was pushing at the front and fighting with Rosberg for the lead. Then the rain came and the team chose to go with heavy wets, which was the more conventional strategy. I was the quickest car on them but that was not enough because they went after two laps."
Barrichello was happy enough to be fifth, but he knew he would have done better if the rain had not come.
The remaining points went to Webber, Hamilton and Rosberg.
"It's been the mistiest and coolest day I've ever seen in Malaysia for race day," the Australian mused.
Hamilton had started the race with a heavy fuel load, but was up to 10th and able to stay in touch with many lighter-fuelled cars. He battled in particular with Vettel and Heidfeld, eventually moving up to fifth as those around him pitted for tyres and fuel. He then stopped on lap 22 and took on wets.
"It was a very tough call because you could only see the clouds," he said. " It was hard to commit. When the rain came down, it was impossible to drive. I was aquaplaning everywhere. These were the most dangerous conditions I've ever raced in."
But he got a point. It was something.
Rosberg got half a point.
"It's a while since Williams has been out front on pure performance," he said. "The car was going well and I showed my ability to consistently push on each lap and open the gap to those behind me. And then the rain came and unfortunately the situation just didn't go our way."
Massa was not far behind but never got over the qualifying disaster while Bourdais moved up to 10th as others pitted, finishing ahead of Alonso who spun at one stage. Nakajima took 12th ahead of Piquet, while Raikkonen was in the pits by the end of the race.
Vettel deserved better than his eventual 15th ahead of the riff-raff at the back.
So Button has won twice for Brawn, but he's yet to see a chequered flag at racing speed...