Brazilian GP 2009
OCTOBER 19, 2009
Race Report - Jenson intercepts the title
After a miserable qualifying on Saturday, it did not seem very likely that the World Championship would be decided in Brazil. The folk in Abu Dhabi were no doubt happy. Bernie Ecclestone was no doubt pondering astronomical TV viewing figures. It all looked as though Rubens Barrichello would win at home and close the gap to Jenson Button... Ah, but that was on paper...
The moment the lights went out at the start, it was clear that there is no such thing as a script in Formula 1 racing. Barrichello and Mark Webber set off at the first corner in a relatively orderly fashion, but behind them things started to get lively. Adrian Sutil tried to insert his Force India between Webber and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari's, which was on the outside line. All seemed well. But then the attention was diverted by another bingle as title hopeful Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull found itself in a McLaren sandwich. Heikki Kovalainen spun, forcing Giancarlo Fisichella to swerve on to the grass.
As they were getting this one sorted out, further down the road Raikkonen tried to go down the inside of Webber at turn four, his KERS giving him a slight edge. Webber defended his line, Kimi ran out of space and had a wheel in the dirt and a right front wing in pieces. This slowed him as they went through the corner. Sutil tried to taker advantage of the situation and went for the inside line, only to have the door slammed firmly in his face, whereupon he was somewhat shocked to find that Jarno Trulli was trying to go around the outside in turn five. The Toyota ran out of room, got on to the kerbs and spun, taking out the Force India as it did so. Trulli smashed into the wall on the left while Sutil went for a twirl on the right and came back on to the circuit just in time to be walloped by Fernando Alonso's Renault, which had nowhere to go. All three were out. The Safety Car was deployed and the TV viewers of the world were given live pictures of an irate Trulli berating Sutil - never a great idea when both men were wearing helmets. It was clear, however, that they had different opinions about the incident.
"Sutil was very slow through Turn Four because he was fighting with Raikkonen," Jarno explained. "He was on the inside so I took the outside line but he kept pushing me wider and wider. In the end I was on the grass and had no control of the car."
Oddly enough, Sutil saw it differently.
"Kimi hit Webber and lost his front wing," he explained. "I was following him through the corner but then suddenly I got hit in the rear and lost control of the car. Trulli was there on the outside trying to go round. It was a really stupid maneouvre as there was no space and I couldn't see him at all. At that point it wasn't worth it and it ended my race far too early.
"Jarno was furious and said it was my mistake but I just told him what had happened to me. But it's over and now he's just got to deal with it."
But the action was not over yet. Up in the pits there were various callers. Kimi needed a new nose and new tyres. Lewis Hamilton popped in too, as did Tonio Liuzzi. As everyone was trying to work out who had hit whom, it became clear that these were strategic pit stops: Hamilton changing his strategy to take advantage of the situation - which would bring great rewards later on - and Liuzzi switching to soft rubber for a lap before returning to the medium tyres during a second stop. This lost him minimal time, gave him a full fuel tank and the tyres he wanted and by mid-race he too had risen up the order although his mid-race stop would drop him back into traffic and he would end the day 12th on the road. It was, nonetheless, worth a try.
There was more excitement going on in the pits as both Raikkonen and Kovalainen stopped for repairs. Kimi got a new nose section and new tyres and was off, but McLaren released Heikki a little too quickly, the result being that he took the fuel hose with him and came out just in front of Raikkonen, spraying fuel all over the place. And "whoompf!" Kimi found himself in the middle of a flash fire. He was cool enough to jink to the left and having ascertained that all was well rejoined the fray. Heikki stopped at the Brawn garage where they were kind enough to remove the flailing hose and he then rejoined as well. Up in Race Control fingers were soon busy typing reports and in the minutes that followed McLaren was notified of no fewer than four infractions which Heikki would have to answer for when the race was over. He had a relatively quiet race after that and finished ninth but then the FIA did its investigation and fined him $50,000 for trying to set fire to Raikkonen and gave him a 25-sec penalty, which pushed him back down the order. It did not much matter as he had not scored.
The Trulli-Sutil incident was studied by the FIA Stewards, with Jarno being fined $10,000 for shouting and gesticulating at the German.
Body language can be expensive in Formula 1...
All this was for later, however, as the the racing was soon underway again and Button was the man to watch. No longer hedging his bets, Jenson turned the full force of his talent on Romain Grosjean, who soon gave way after a few lively moves. Having dealt with the oddly-coiffed, border-jumping, Franco-Swiss Renault driver, Button had Oxford-based Japanese Kazuki Nakajima in the gun sight. Not for long. On the seventh lap Button was up to seventh place and homing in on Kamui Kobayashi, who was making his F1 debut (very well) with Toyota. Having qualified 11th Kamui impressed onlookers by being completely unimpressed at having the World Championship leader snapping at his exhaust pipes. He held his ground; made Button work for it.
"He was crazy!" Jenson said later. "I suppose he's just inexperienced, but he moves about a lot in the braking zones, as Nakajima found out. Everyone else was tough but fair but he had to be put in his place."
Stuck behind Kobayashi, Button found his mirrors filled with Nakajima and Vettel.
While this was going on, Barrichello was leading Webber but not making enough of an impression to look like a winner, given their relative fuel loads. Rubens stopped on lap 21 and so the Australian took the lead. Early on Nico Rosberg had been third but at the restart Robert Kubica lined him up nicely and took the position. Robert then chased after Barrichello and Webber and found them slower than he would have thought. He pitted two laps after Barrichello and came out ahead of the Brawn. Webber was still out and Rosberg was then second and Buemi third for a lap before they both stopped. At the same time Button finally nailed Kobayashi with a nice move into Turn 1. This put Jenson into second place and when Webber pitted on lap 26 but was by then so far ahead that he retained his lead while Button pressed on until lap 29 before his stop. That dropped him back to ninth, but as those with more exotic two-stop strategies and even the odd one-stoppers did their thing so Button climbed back to third before his second stop on lap 55. By then he was behind only Webber and Kubica. He dropped back to seventh on that occasion but moved up to sixth when Kovalainen did a late stop and to fifth when Barrichello had a puncture. And that was that. Rubens had been running third but that was not enough to stop Button taking the title and although Vettel was fifth he too was out of the running. The title was Button's to lose. And that is how it stayed all the way to the flag - waved by Felipe Massa.
By an odd turn of events car number 22, powered by a Mercedes engine, finished fifth and made a British driver World Champion - for the second year running. Lewis Hamilton having done exactly that in the mind-boggling finale at Interlagos last year.
Brawn won the World Championship for Constructors at its first attempt, a spectacular achievement.
"The second half of the year has been tough after such a successful start," Ross Brawn said. "Getting the results in the difficult times is what counts in a Championship season. It's really going to take a while for what we have achieved today to sink in. Jenson is a fantastic racer and he had a great race today, particularly after such a difficult qualifying yesterday. He knew what he had to do and did just that and is a very deserving World Champion. I hope that everyone at the factory in Brackley and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brackley, is very proud of what we have achieved today."
Button crossed the line and after much whooping and hollering broke into a truly bad rendition of the Queen song "We are the champions", but you could not fault him on the claim.
He was the World Champion and he spent the rest of the afternoon saying that to himself and to everyone who cared to listen until the sun went down. He is probably still saying it now, although by Monday morning he probably had quite a headache...
One had to feel a little sorry for Webber who drove a great race and won his second victory. When he arrived in the press conference room he found it half-empty as most of the European journalists were battling with instant deadlines or were chasing Button around the paddock.
"I'm happy with that," Webber said, "I knew Rubens and Robert were a bit shorter than me. I was matching Robert's pace to start with and when they made their pit stops, I knew I had a clear run to make a gap to start my second stint. I just cleared Jenson on my outlap, which was good too. I was just making sure the tyres were comfortable for the whole stint. I was a little bit panicky in the second stint as Robert started closing, although my pace was not too bad and I knew he was quite short in the middle stint. I was then able to control the gap to Robert and he backed off towards the end, which gave me a nice run home.
"It's fantastic feeling to win again. As a team we've had quite a few victories this year off the back of some tough seasons, but today has confirmed second place for us in the Constructors' Championship."
His team-mate Vettel ended the race in fourth place.
"It was a good race - starting from the back and finishing fourth," he said. "We were helped by some people crashing, but I think fourth was the maximum we could do today. Without the problems in yesterday's qualifying, we could have won the race, but we didn't so there's not much more to say."
The result moved Sebastian to second in the Drivers' Championship, two points ahead of Barrichello. They will fight it out for the position in Abu Dhabi.
You had to feel a little sorry for Rubens, particularly with the late-race puncture.
"We really have a great car and a great team and it has truly been an amazing year when you consider the situation that we were in just before the start of the season," he said, with much grace. "I'm truly pleased for Jenson as a friend and he is a great champion. We have a fantastic relationship working together and that has really shown through this year. Well done to him. It was a true fight and I fought really hard but he really won it in the first half of the season."
Kubica drove a super race to finish second.
"The basis for today‰ s result was laid yesterday when we decided to take a gamble and drive the wet qualifying with a low-downforce set-up," he explained. "This went well in Q1, but was difficult in Q3. Although some people were disappointed with eighth place yesterday, I was quite pleased. Today we had a good and consistent pace. I was surprised at the beginning that it was quite easy to follow Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber. But I had to reduce the engine revs after about 15 laps because the water temperature was too high, and I had to avoid the tow of the guys in front of me. After my first pit stop I was unlucky because I got stuck behind four cars. At that stage Mark was able to increase the gap. This is a great result in a difficult season, and I really hope that I will see this team on the grid next year."
Nick Heidfeld did a decent job early on, avoiding fights and bingles and getting into a strong position. At the pit stop the refuelling failed and although the team tried to warn Nick to drive slowly round to the pits, he ran out of fuel.
Hamilton was delighted with an unexpected third place, after passing Barrichello on lap 61.
"I didn't expect to finish on the podium, but I fought so hard and kept pushing like crazy throughout the whole race," he said. "It feels like a win when you come through fighting for positions all the time with good overtaking manoeuvres at the end. I just kept pushing and did one qualifying lap after another, which was very hard."
Behind Button, Raikkonen was a singed sixth, but rued what might have been.
"What happened on the first lap ruined my race," he said. "First I was hit at the first corner, then when trying to pass Webber, I was hit and lost the front wing. At the pit stop, I ended up with some drops of petrol in my eye, from the fuel line stuck on Kovalainen's car and then I was engulfed in flames and blinded: I was going to stop, but luckily the flames soon went out. Even now, my eyes are still burning, but I'm all right. At least I brought home a few points."
Fisichella brought his Ferrari home 10th, struggling with a KERS malfunction.
Sebastien Buemi was pleased with seventh.
"It was a very difficult race for me, as I had to push hard every lap, but in the end to come away with points for the first time since China is a good result, for me and for the team, who did a good job today. My start was difficult, as I was sandwiched between Kubica and Rosberg at the first corner, so they got past me, which was a shame. However, we did not have a particularly strong race pace, so we must look at the data to try and understand why."
Initially Kovalainen was classified ninth but was dropped to 12th by the stewards which elevated Kobayashi, despite a rather rude assault from the rear by Kazuki Nakajima, who was fortunate not to cause himself serious injury when he had a high-speed wheel-over-wheel accident with his fellow countryman.
"Physically it felt like a really long race and it was quite tough," he said. "My first target was to finish the race and I am pleased to achieve that, but after the start I was in a decent position to score points so I am a little disappointed I didn't. The car felt good in the first stint but when I changed tyres the balance felt a different and I was struggling a bit; probably this was just down to experience."
It was a bad day for Team Willy with Rosberg retiring from fourth place with a gearbox problem and Nakajima' accident, which came just after Kobayashi came out of the pits. The Toyota moved to block the passage of the Williams. The result was that Kazuki was none too happy with his countryman.
Romain Grosjean managed to get through the race without hitting anything which was an achievement after his torrid time in qualifying. He finished 13th, six seconds ahead of Alguersuari.
It was a great race, a great result and great TV, which was good news for Mr E.
In Abu Dhabi there may not be a title to be decided but no doubt F1 will come up with some excitements!