24 May 2009
Button hits F1 jackpot for Monaco GP glory
World championship leader Jenson Button added the jewel in Formula 1's crown to his increasingly glittering career CV by triumphing in the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix held around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality, leading home team-mate Rubens Barrichello in another crushing Brawn GP one-two.
Key to the British star's success – one that has increased his lead in the drivers' standings to 16 points over Barrichello and 28 over the first non-Brawn competitor – was the manner in which he managed his super-soft tyres in the opening stint, ceding little ground as his immediate rivals gave away seconds to gift the Frome-born ace some vital breathing space.
Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen put the smile back on Ferrari's face with the Scuderia's first podium of the season in third, narrowly ahead of the sister scarlet machine of Felipe Massa and Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber. The greatest drama of the race, though, arrived after the chequered flag had fallen, when the winner mistakenly parked his car in the wrong parc fermé and had to jog along the pit straight to the podium ceremony, holding the celebrations up in the process. On current form, it looks doubtful that he will take quite so long to be crowned 2009 F1 World Champion.
A textbook getaway from pole-sitter Button was matched by a similarly fast start by Barrichello behind, as the Brazilian – who had turned 37 the previous day – vaulted past Raikkonen's Ferrari. Behind them, Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Racing chopped off the second scarlet machine of Massa to preserve his fourth place, allowing Nico Rosberg to get a run on the São Paulista up the hill, only to ultimately be forced to yield to the KERS-equipped car and settle into sixth position ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Webber.
As the two Brawns made good their escape with little to choose between them – trading fastest lap times at the head of the field as they pulled inexorably away from Raikkonen in third – the lightly-fuelled Vettel began to frustrate the ambitions of Massa and Rosberg several seconds further behind. There was a change of position, though, when a ragged Massa ran off the circuit at the seafront chicane at the exit of the tunnel, and in ceding the place back to Vettel once again, the Ferrari ace inadvertently allowed Rosberg to aggressively and opportunistically force his way past too – meaning rather than gaining a spot, he actually lost one.
With Vettel's super-soft tyres shot less than ten laps in and no rear grip or traction left, the RBR rapidly found itself holding up an entire gaggle of cars lapping as much as four seconds slower than the race leaders. Rosberg was the first man to successfully make a move, followed by Massa, before Vettel peeled into the pits for an early first stop, as did Lewis Hamilton a long way further down the order, with the Briton having looked racy in the opening laps before coming a cropper when he nerfed somewhat clumsily into the side of the BMW-Sauber of Nick Heidfeld and also brushed against a barrier.
The first retirements, meanwhile, came when Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sébastien Buemi locked up his wheels entering Ste Dévote and shunted the Renault of Nelsinho Piquet into the barriers, putting the former out on the spot and causing the latter to trundle slowly back to the pit-lane and out of the race.
With Barrichello quickly slipping back into the clutches of Raikkonen as his tyres – like those of Vettel – similarly faded, fourth-placed Rosberg was the fastest man on the track, gaining on race leader Button at the rate of two seconds a lap, albeit more than twelve seconds in arrears. The Briton, however, succeeded in managing his super-soft rubber rather better than did his team-mate, leaving the latter to back Raikkonen up towards Rosberg, but it was the Finn who was the first to blink.
Vettel was the next man to fall out of contention, understeering off into the barriers at Ste Dévote to cap a less-than glorious weekend for the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner, as Barrichello pitted – retaining track position over Raikkonen – and a lap later Button did likewise, rejoining behind Rosberg but critically ahead of Massa. The young German pitted next time around, but the timing failed to work out for him as he rejoined behind not only Barrichello and Raikkonen once again, but also, critically, the heavily-fuelled Renault of former double world champion Fernando Alonso.
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