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Brawn helps Button to strategic win in Barcelona

10 May 2009

Jenson Button upheld his sensational start to the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship by strategically overcoming team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the second Brawn GP one-two of the campaign and his fourth triumph in five races in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.

The eight previous editions of the race in the Catalan capital had all been won from pole position, but for the first half of the 2009 event that record looked to be in danger of being broken. Button, though, had other ideas, and if anybody had any doubts at all about the 29-year-old's championship credentials in the lead-up to the weekend, they don't have them anymore.

Tensions were high in the build-up to the race that with the extra 80bhp afforded to him by his KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology at the start, Massa could upset the complexion of the grand prix considerably for the Brawn GP and Red Bull Racing protagonists by gaining a place or three at their expense – particularly as the even-numbered side of the grid had got away better in the earlier GP2 Series race.

The Brazilian did indeed gain at the start, pulling past Sebastian Vettel for third place on the run down to turn one, but with all eyes on the Ferrari as last year's world championship runner-up bravely forced his way by the Red Bull almost on the grass – mirrored by Lewis Hamilton further down the order – Barrichello's meteoric getaway to leap past Brawn GP team-mate Button went largely unnoticed.

What could not fail to be notice, however, was a pile-up further down the field on the exit of turn two, when in avoidance of Williams' Nico Rosberg, Jarno Trulli in the Toyota ran wide, and as he spun back onto the track again collected a whole gaggle of rivals, harpooning Adrian Sutil in the Force India and leaving the young German similarly out on the spot.

The unluckiest team of all, though, was undoubtedly Scuderia Toro Rosso, with Sébastien Bourdais and Sébastien Buemi tripping over each other in the confusion and taking one another out of contention as debris flew all across the circuit. The safety car was unsurprisingly swiftly deployed.

At the re-start the Brawns made good their escape, as behind the leaders Fernando Alonso used his KERS to perfection to dive alongside fifth-placed Mark Webber along the straight, but the Australian was not willing to give up without a fight, and in a supreme display of bravery produced a counter-punch to slice back down the inside into turn one and somehow slow his car down in time to retain the position.

As Massa proceeded to frustrate the intentions of RBR duo Vettel and Webber behind him and increasingly spoil the Milton Keynes-based squad's afternoon, allowing the Brawn pace-setters to trade blows and fastest lap times at the front and edge further and further away. Barrichello would significantly increase his margin over Button by dint of a lightning-quick opening pit-stop, with the heavily-fuelled Rosberg now between the pair, but it soon afterwards became apparent that whilst the Brazilian was sticking to his planned three-stop strategy, his British team-mate had switched over to a two-stopper in an attempt to turn the tables – meaning the pressure was on.

Also crucial during the first round of pit visits was Red Bull's failure to clear Massa with Vettel, as a fuel rig delay prevented the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner from clearing his quarry. Worse still for the energy-backed outfit's chances, Webber suffered a slow 'out' lap that dropped the New South Wales native several spots down the order and out of podium contention.

Needing to pull out around a second a lap over the sister BGP 001, Barrichello as the hare got the hammer down, with Button in the tortoise role marginally ahead of the duelling Massa and Vettel, and Nick Heidfeld in the leading BMW-Sauber and Hamilton playing the long game in fifth and sixth. A 13.5-second lead for Barrichello when he came into the pits for the second time at the end of lap 31 not only was not enough for the oldest man in the field to retain the lead, but indeed significantly he slipped back behind Massa and Vettel too – and with all now having one stop left to make, the face of the race had suddenly changed.

As the second round of stops approached for the remaining front-runners, Massa and Vettel began to turn up the wick on race leader Button, but both would be in considerably before the world championship leader, and once again the status quo was resumed as Ferrari rejoined narrowly ahead of Red Bull. Barrichello's battle now was for second place rather than first, and he was dragging Webber along for the ride.

Button pitted for his final stop with 18 laps left to run, rejoining the fray with a clear track all around him but now on the harder rubber – and putting the ball back into Barrichello's court, with the São Paulista still on the soft-compound tyres. The question was, how far could 'Rubinho' go..?

A swarm of traffic ahead of him did Barrichello no favours just as he was beginning to eke out a gap over Webber, but as the pair pitted in unison at the end of lap 50 of 66, they rejoined ahead of the Massa-Vettel scrap in the remaining rostrum positions – and as the race entered its closing phase with the top five contenders all on the same tyres, the chase was on.

As Button sailed serenely on out front, the men on the march were RBR duo Webber and Vettel, with the former hunting down Barrichello in second and the latter beginning to pile the pressure on Massa, with the Ferrari struggling woefully on the harder-compound rubber but continuing to hold his pursuer at bay by dint of his KERS advantage. There were also some question marks over whether Massa – famously heavy on fuel consumption – could even make it to the end without having to stop again.

He could, but it was tight, and the Brazilian was forced to let Vettel go for fourth place as he switched his attentions to fuel-conservation mode, but ahead of them – well ahead, in the final reckoning – the podium would be composed of Button, a full 13 seconds clear of Barrichello and Webber. With Massa shedding time by the second in a bid to ensure he made the end, home hero Alonso sent the crowd into rapture by not only catching but indeed sweeping around the outside of the ailing Ferrari on the final tour for fifth place at the end of a largely solitary race for the former double world champion.

Massa crept across the line in sixth a scant 1.4 seconds ahead of Nick Heidfeld – who drove well from a lowly grid position – only to run out of fuel on the slowing-down lap, with Rosberg stealing the final marker in eighth. The finishers were completed by Hamilton in a distant ninth on distinctly worn tyres, Timo Glock a disappointing tenth for Toyota, Robert Kubica a long way behind BMW team-mate Heidfeld in eleventh, Nelsinho Piquet twelfth, Kazuki Nakajima 13th and Giancarlo Fisichella 14th and last.

Aside from the first lap casualties, the only other drivers to fail to reach the chequered flag were a KERS-less Kimi Raikkonen and compatriot Heikki Kovalainen. Both lost drive early on, though the former at least enjoyed a lively scrap with Heidfeld, Hamilton and Kubica before his retirement. This time last year Raikkonen secured what remains his latest F1 victory, whilst Jenson Button equalled his best finish in eight starts around the Circuit de Catalunya. How times change.

Crash.net Driver of the Day: Mark Webber (second podium of the season courtesy of a solid charge)

To see the race result in full, click here


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