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Button damns F1 statistics for Turkish GP glory

7 June 2009

Jenson Button had vowed to re-write the unwritten Formula 1 rule that says the pole-sitter always wins the Turkish Grand Prix – and in dashing Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel's dreams in the 2009 edition, the current world championship leader did just that.

The Brawn GP star took advantage of an opening lap error by Vettel to pounce and dive past into the lead around the undulating, technically challenging and physically demanding, anti-clockwise Istanbul Park Circuit – and he went on to fairly crush the opposition with his searing raw pace and flawless consistency, meaning he will travel to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix in front of his adoring home supporters in a fortnight's time with a 26-point lead in the drivers' title chase, and every inch the 2009 F1 World Champion in-waiting.

A textbook getaway propelled pole-sitter Vettel into the lead when the lights went out, with Button – who had positioned his car aggressively pointing inwards on the grid – slotting into second as a fast-starting Jarno Trulli in the Toyota vaulted up to third, with Rubens Barrichello in the second Brawn entry bogging down and falling back ten places to 13th.

Later around the lap, however, Vettel's costly error as the young German got out-of-shape on the exit of turn nine enabled Button to snatch the lead, and the Briton immediately set about pulling away, lapping as much as a second quicker than his Red Bull pursuer despite carrying two laps' more fuel on-board. Less than a lap into the grand prix, and it was already advantage Brawn – and Vettel would never truly regain his lost momentum.

Behind the lead pair, Mark Webber in the second RBR battled his way past Trulli for third, with Nico Rosberg in the Williams making impressive progress from ninth on the grid in aggressively fighting his way past both Ferraris and up to fifth.

The remainder of the top ten early on was completed by Istanbul specialist Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen and Kazuki Nakajima, with Raikkonen slipping back to ninth as a result of tapping the rear of Alonso's Renault and losing part of his front wing. Barrichello, meanwhile, was finding his progress frustrated by the KERS-equipped McLaren-Mercedes of Heikki Kovalainen, finally finding a way by on lap seven only for his Finnish adversary to exploit his power 'boost' button on the following straight to go immediately back past him again.

Indeed, things would soon go from bad to worse for the veteran Brazilian – the most experienced driver in F1 history – as he went for the inside into turn nine and almost collected Kovalainen as he spun his chances away. That left him to rejoin even further back in 17th, behind the second McLaren of Lewis Hamilton – which was carrying an even heavier fuel load than the sister Silver Arrow...

The racy-looking São Paulista – by now missing seventh gear, to add to his woes – made much shorter work of the defending world champion, however, as his team-mate continued to edge clear at the front of the field, holding a 3.7-second advantage over Vettel nine laps in, with Webber five seconds further in arrears in third and Trulli and Rosberg holding on well in fourth and fifth respectively.

Barrichello's next drama came when he lost his front wing endplate as he attempted in vain to wrest 15th place away from Adrian Sutil in the Force India, though the sister VJM02 of Giancarlo Fisichella had long since trundled into retirement in the Silverstone-based squad's pit garage with ongoing braking issues, meaning the Italian has still to complete more than a handful of racing laps in Turkey in the last four years, though on this occasion he did at least get slightly further than his successive first corner exits in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Alonso was unsurprisingly the first of the front-runners to pit from seventh place on lap 14 of 58, as Button extended his lead over Vettel to 5.6 seconds – and the latter was pit-bound on lap 15, with Red Bull aggressively short-fuelling its leading driver as it attempted to minimise the amount of time he would have to spend on the softer-compound Bridgestone rubber later on.

Trulli was next to blink, followed by Button, who comfortably rejoined ahead of Vettel, promoting Webber into the lead from Rosberg, who both pitted next time around. There was bad news for the Australian, who took to the track again right in the wheeltracks of the heavily-fuelled Kubica, but better news for Rosberg, who jumped Trulli by dint of a mistake in the pits by the Italian when he missed his markers.

With Button on a heavy middle stint, the lighter-fuelled Vettel set off in search of the lead, whittling down the gap in the knowledge that he would need to pass the Brawn on the track and then stop once more than the world championship leader if he was to resurrect his fading chances of victory. Five seconds apart immediately following the pit-stops, Vettel quickly halved that deficit – and before long there was nothing in it at all.

The dirty air of the Brawn's slipstream, though, would count against the man from Heppenheim, as he suddenly found his progress stunted. A mistake from Button in the final corner almost gave Vettel the break he needed, but a move was not made, and when the sport's youngest-ever grand prix winner pitted for the second time exactly halfway into the race, the duel for the lead was all-but over. With Button immediately proceeding to up the ante in terms of lap time, now the question had switched to which of the Red Bulls would wind up as runner-up.

Nakajima pitted from fourth following a long opening stint in the Williams as the Grove-based outfit eyed its first double points finish of the year, as some way further down there was a good battle going on with Hamilton forcing his way past the struggling Raikkonen, but whilst the pair might have been duelling for the top spot this time last year, twelve months on their scrap was over just 13th place...

With 24 laps left to run, Button had extended his lead over Webber in second to almost 18 seconds as Brawn broke Red Bull's spirit, with third-placed Vettel similarly making no gains behind, and Rosberg not entirely out of the picture in fourth and beginning to close with his own personal best lap time. Trulli, too, was continuing to hold a steady watching brief in fifth.

Rosberg, though, became the first of the leading runners to pit to change over onto the softer rubber with 18 laps left to run, and in running longer, Trulli would reclaim the place from the Williams when the Italian made his own stop a handful of laps later. There was further bad news for the former multiple world champions as Nakajima – who had performed superbly to haul himself up into the points on his long first stint – suffered a delay in changing his tyres second time around, dropping the unfortunate Japanese ace some way down the order.

With Webber's second stop allowing Vettel back into P2, the pressure was on the latter again to push if he was to remain ahead after his third and final stop – and the 21-year-old was flying, taking as much as seven tenths of a second out of Button per lap. With ten laps to go, he was in for a quick splash n' dash, but Webber was through – and the damage was done.

Barrichello pulling into the pits to register Brawn's first retirement of the season may have put a slight downer on what was another otherwise impeccable day for the ex-Honda F1 outfit, with Button motoring serenely on to his sixth triumph of a peerless campaign, but over at Red Bull there was less composure, with Vettel's continued push inexorably reducing the gap between himself and second-placed Webber as the laps ticked down. The duel, though, was soon called off, with a disgruntled Vettel being told over the team radio not to challenge his 'faster' team-mate.

That saw the status quo of Button-Webber-Vettel preserved right the way to the chequered flag, with Trulli helping to banish Toyota's Monaco misery with a strong fourth and Rosberg taking his best result of the season to-date in fifth. Massa's Istanbul reign ended with a distant sixth, as Kubica narrowly held off Glock for seventh, with the latter having been aided along the way by some clever Toyota strategy as the Cologne-based concern freed the young German up from team-mate Trulli towards the end of his long first stint to enable him to make up some valuable ground.

The top ten was completed by former world champions Raikkonen and Alonso, followed by Nick Heidfeld in the second BMW, the luckless Nakajima, McLaren duo Hamilton and Kovalainen, Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sébastien Buemi, Piquet – who enjoyed an entertaining, literally wheel-to-wheel scrap with erstwhile GP2 Series rival Hamilton mid-race – Sutil and Sébastien Bourdais.

All the talking after the race, though, was focussed on the winner, who has now equalled a record held by the great Michael Schumacher and Jim Clark in triumphing in six of the first seven grands prix of the campaign. Should he make it seven out of eight next time out, get ready for the party to end all parties at Silverstone in a fortnight's time...

Crash.net Driver of the Day: Mark Webber (out-witted team-mate Vettel with a canny drive on a day when the Red Bulls just couldn't live with Brawn's pace)

To see the race result in full, click here


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