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Barrichello leads Brawn 1-2 as Bulls stumble

13 September 2009

Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button look set to fight out the Formula One world championship between themselves after claiming a 1-2 finish for the Brawn GP team at Monza, while Red Bull Racing rivals Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel left all but empty-handed.

The Brawn team's confidence after qualifying on row three with a single-stop strategy was borne out in fine style as, despite ceding early ground to two-stoppers Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil, Barrichello and Button were able to keep close enough to vault into the pound seats while their rivals took on a third set of fuel and tyres, eventually coming home over 30 seconds clear of the Ferrari after Hamilton crashed on the final lap, bringing out the safety car.

Hamilton just made the most of his pole position to ease ahead into the first chicane, while Raikkonen used his KERS - and the grass - to go around the outside of Sutil and challenge for the lead. Sutil, meanwhile, stuck to the inside on the advice of his team and did enough to thwart Heikki Kovalainen, who was the loser among the frontrunners, looking at Sutil into the first part of the chicane, but finding himself shuffled out by the following Barrichello, and only just holding station ahead of his team-mate.

While the top six escaped towards the Lesmos, with the fast-starting Tonio Liuzzi also hounding Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel struggling to hold off those behind him in eighth, Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber found his race ended early, courtesy of a tag from Robert Kubica which beached the Australian in the gravel at the Roggia chicane. Button then made a crucial move on Kovalainen at the first Lesmo, sticking his nose inside the McLaren and benefiting when the Finn ran a touch wide, to keep in touch with Barrichello as Kovalainen began to suffer another Monza nightmare.

Vettel and Kubica continued to battle for the next couple of laps but, at the front, Hamilton was clearing off, setting new fastest laps with each tour as he attempted to build enough of a gap over his more distant pursuers to make his chosen strategy work. By the end of lap four, he was 2.8secs clear of second-placed Raikkonen, and continued to consolidate his advantage until pitting on lap 15 - a couple of lap ahead of where most 'experts' had predicted.

The stop dropped the world champion to fifth, with Raikkonen now at the front and trying to extend his slim lead over Sutil before his scheduled call for fuel and tyres. The German, however, was the next to blink, coming in on lap 17 and dropping to seventh. Raikkonen's stop slotted the Ferrari back in behind Hamilton, but there were suspicions that the Finn had been short-filled, such were the Scuderia's fears about Sutil's pace.

Barrichello and Button thus inherited the top two spots and would run until just after half-distance, but there was a brief moment of concern for the Mercedes-engined runners on a track where powerplants and transmissions take a hammering when Liuzzi pulled over with a clutch failure on lap 22.

Button was the first Brawn to pit, in line with their respective fuel loads, stationary for 9.1secs and returning to the track in fifth spot as the two-stoppers filled the gap between the white cars. Barrichello's run only lasted one lap longer, but the Brazilian was stopped for half a second less and resumed still with the upper hand over the championship leader.

Both Brawn drivers rejoined with a clear track fore and aft, and were able to push without the problem of traffic. Suddenly, where there had been messages to them - Button especially - urging lap times closer to Hamilton's, the emphasis switched, with the world champion being told that he needed to make up time before his second stop.

That came on lap 34 but the leader's pace had not been enough, as Barrichello was already through by the time the McLaren appeared at pit exit, and Button did enough on the run to the first chicane to claim a vital fourth.

Raikkonen was back in the lead, but no doubt suffering a case of déjà vu as a Force India again dogged his wheeltracks. Just as former team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella had done two weeks earlier, so Sutil refused to be shaken off by the Ferrari driver. Similarly, as it had done at Spa, the Silverstone team called its pit-stop at exactly the same time as the Scuderia - and could have benefited from another Ferrari hiccup.

Raikkonen's stop had gone smoothly until the very end, when the fired-up Finn reacted to the slightest movement from his lollipop man. Having to lift off again to ensure that the fuel hose had been disconnected, he lost a second or two getting underway again, giving Sutil and Force India the glimpse of fourth. Unfortunately, things were going worse at the other end of the pit-lane, with Sutil having locked up on arrival and bowled a couple of his crew to the ground. Add in a momentary second look at the right front and any hope of gaining a place was gone. The pair resumed order unchanged, but Sutil was never quite as close again.

Neither had managed to get out ahead of Hamilton, and the world champion was already trying to close the gap on Button as the race finally boiled down into a straight fight between the two Britons. Barrichello, meanwhile, was already away at the front, enjoying a near three-second cushion over his team-mate courtesy of his early pace.

With Webber's title hopes beached in the gravel with him, Red Bull's hopes rested with Vettel, but last year's Italian Grand Prix winner wasn't finding life anything like as easy as he had in the rain of 2008. Already struggling for grip early on, the German was in for a ragged afternoon, finally appearing to have lost any hope of a point when he skated wide exiting the second Lesmo with eleven laps to run as he chased Nick Heidfeld for eighth.

With the exception of the Toyotas, who battled intimately over twelfth after Jarno Trulli had been hampered by Kazuki Nakajima at the first chicane, there was little interest away from the front, where Hamilton was closing on Button and Sutil continued to harry Raikkonen. While second may have been beyond his reach entering the last lap, Hamilton was not about to give up easily but, having set a personal best in the first sector, his pursuit ended dramatically at the Lesmos. The McLaren had appeared to have been suffering from wheelspin from time to time, and a wheel on the artificial turf lining the circuit only served to spin the car into the inside tyre wall.

With bits of car and barrier spread across the road, the organisers had little option but to send for the safety car, confirming Brawn's 1-2 but ending Sutil's hopes of maybe annexing another podium for Force India.

Fernando Alonso claimed fifth for the beleaguered Renault team, having also got ahead of Kovalainen, while Heidfeld made up for his engine failure in qualifying by taking two points for seventh. Hamilton's accident also had upside for Vettel, who was promoted to the final scoring place, limiting his losses to Button but probably not enough to realistically harbour too many championship hopes.

Fisichella, second two weeks ago behind Raikkonen's Ferrari, just missed out on scoring anything on his debut alongside the Finn after a solid, but unspectacular, run for the Scuderia, while Nakajima rounded out the top ten.

Barrichello's success narrowed his points deficit to Button to 14 with four races remaining, with Vettel now 26 adrift and all but leaving the rest of the season to the Brawns.


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