F1 World Championship leaders Brawn GP were left reflecting on their worst qualifying of the 2009 campaign to-date in Hungary this weekend, with title pace-setter Jenson Button managing no better than eighth and Rubens Barrichello missing the top ten altogether after a piece of his rear suspension fell off and caused the terrible accident that befell countryman Felipe Massa.
That, indeed, was the main story of the Brackley-based outfit's session, with Barrichello understandably upset that a failure on his car had led to his friend and countryman being injured and requiring surgery for a fracture to his skull, after a spring flew off the 37-year-old's Mercedes-powered BGP 001 in the closing moments of Q2, striking Massa on the helmet at speed.
That left Barrichello an unrepresentative 13th on the starting grid – around a circuit at which passing is all-but forbidden – and led to a delay to team-mate Button's entry onto the track in Q3, with a precautionary component change carried out on the British star's car to ensure that there was no fear of a repetition.
That meant the Frome-born ace had to conduct just a single run with a car fuelled heavy enough for two, but if he acknowledges that a fourth row starting spot – and on the wrong side of the grid at that – is less-than ideal, he at least has the comfort of knowing that he will be going further into the race before making his first pit-stop than all seven of the drivers ahead of him [see separate story – click here
“The car felt reasonably good through the first two sessions,” the 29-year-old reported, “although none of my laps were perfect due to traffic and yellow flags. I thought we would be competitive in Q3, but unfortunately the work required on the car meant that I was only able to get one run, and that was on a heavy fuel load with four more laps of fuel than we had planned.
“We were on the edge of the working range for the tyres with the cooler temperatures, so the car wasn't handling quite as well as in practice. Starting from eighth on the grid isn't ideal, and I'm on the dirty side but we're remaining positive and will see what we can do from there. Hopefully we will hear that Felipe is okay, and we are thinking of him.”
“We had a great plan for qualifying,” added Barrichello, “and I was confident that we could have a really good session. Unfortunately I had the problem with the rear of the car on my second timed lap in Q2, and I had to come into the pits and abandon the lap. I was unlucky to have had traffic on my first lap, otherwise that might have been enough to make it into the top ten.
“Starting from 13th at this circuit where it is almost impossible to overtake will make for a really tough race, but at least we can choose the fuel load and we'll give everything to get some points. My position is unimportant, though. My thoughts right now are with Felipe and his family who are really close friends of mine, and I hope he is going to be okay and will be fit as soon as possible.”
Whilst the tight and twisty nature of the Hungaroring was expected to shift the momentum back in Brawn's favour following two Red Bull-dominated weekends, even without the dramas the ex-Honda F1 operation suffered in qualifying, the BGP 001 has not seemed to be on the same pace as the RB5 in Budapest, with Barrichello only scraping through Q1 by less than two tenths of a second.
It is perhaps a sign of how the tide has turned in F1 as the season revs into its second half that team principal Ross Brawn is now talking about battling for 'points', rather than victories or podiums.
“A very difficult day for the team, and most importantly we hope to hear soon that Felipe is okay,” summarised the Englishman. “Qualifying was going well for both drivers in Q1 and Q2 before Rubens' car had a problem at turn three on his final run of the session, costing him a place in the top ten.
“We changed the same part on Jenson's car as a precaution just before the start of the final qualifying session. The process was completed as quickly as possible, but left Jenson with only one chance of a flying lap. Having already fuelled the car at the start of Q3, he was therefore considerably heavier than planned and didn't have a particularly good balance.
“It is, of course, frustrating to have qualified in these positions after a good start to the weekend, but we have two good strategies and will take advantage of any opportunities which arise to score as many points as possible.”