5 April 2009
Lightning strikes twice in Sepang as Button wins again
Formula 1's renaissance man Jenson Button has made it two from two in the second round of the 2009 world championship, after rising above the chaos and confusion with a flawless drive to triumph in the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang – as the weather did its worst to add yet more uncertainty to what is already turning into a highly unpredictable campaign.
There was, though, a brief scare for Button on the starting grid, with a new nosecone needing to be fitted to his BGP 001 after the one already on the car had been left out in the rain, damaging the electrics inside, but the British star kept his calm – and he would maintain that composure race-long, as his deft touch in treacherous conditions paid off generously and earned the world championship leader a second successive victory this year.
With rain hanging in the air and the clouds moving in over Kuala Lumpur, at lights-out it was Nico Rosberg who made all the moves, as the young German superbly sling-shot past a slightly tardy Jarno Trulli – who, cool as a cucumber in the Malaysian heat as he prepared for his second front row start in three grands prix, had been seen wandering around in shorts and flip-flops as little as 20 minutes earlier – and dived to the inside of pole-sitter Button to snatch the lead into turn one. It was an advantage the Williams ace would hold – and extend – all the way to his first pit-stop on lap 15.
Button quickly atoned for a poor getaway by vaulting his way back past Fernando Alonso – who had made a meteoric start down the inside in his KERS-equipped Renault – to regain third place at least by the end of the opening lap, and he would go on to hunt down second-placed Trulli as Rosberg, setting a string of fastest laps, made good his escape.
Behind the leading trio, after Rubens Barrichello had forced his way past for fourth place, the defensive Alonso continued to frustrate the ambitions of the train of cars building up behind him, with Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber and Timo Glock crawling all over the back of the Spaniard for lap after lap. It would take the Ferrari star ten whole laps to find a way by the fuel-heavy Renault, whilst there were a number of close calls between Webber and Alonso and Webber and Glock as the gaggle of drivers disputed track position, whilst having disposed of both Lewis Hamilton and Nick Heidfeld, Sebastian Vettel came along to play too.
Early retirements, by contrast, were Robert Kubica – who had reported 'strange noises' emanating from the engine of his BMW-Sauber on the way around to the grid, corroborated by barely getting away from his slot when the lights went out and a smoky end shortly afterwards – and Heikki Kovalainen, for whom a visit to the turn six gravel trap made it two opening lap retirements in as many grands prix.
Up front, though, an almost Michael Schumacher-esque series of qualifying-style laps enabled Button to leapfrog both Rosberg and Trulli in the first round of pit-stops, and the British star would maintain that supremacy as the clouds increasingly moved in and the rain arrived.
That left drivers twitching their way around the track and some – like Alonso – going off-piste altogether. As Button continued to lead at the front – mastering the tricky conditions to perfection to extend his advantage over Rosberg to a gaping 16 seconds before half-distance – it was the Red Bulls that were on the prowl, with Webber finally gaining the upper hand over Hamilton following an entertaining and energetic wheel-to-wheel duel with the reigning world champion that was enlivened by the McLaren-Mercedes star pressing his KERS power boost button to re-pass the Australian each time his adversary made a move. The New South Wales native would ultimately have the last laugh.
Webber's next victim was Heidfeld in the BMW – the experienced German using all of his guile in making the most of his long first stint – as team-mate Vettel in the sister RB5 was similarly on a charge a little further back. The man to watch, though, was Vettel's countryman Glock – the only driver in the field to have taken a punt on intermediates rather than wet-weather rubber when the rain had begun to fall. A full ten seconds a lap faster than Button, it was not long before the Toyota was up into second position.
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