F1

Button locks up Spain, maybe the world

Button locks up Spain, maybe the world

Jenson Button, taking the checkered flag just ahead of compatriot Lewis Hamilton, albeit with the current World Champion a lap down, won the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday to chalk up four Formula One victories in five races. Statistics hold that ...

Jenson Button, taking the checkered flag just ahead of compatriot Lewis Hamilton, albeit with the current World Champion a lap down, won the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday to chalk up four Formula One victories in five races. Statistics hold that Button's season start has secured the Frome, England, native the 2009 driving title. Twelve races remain.

Podium: race winner Jenson Button, Brawn GP, second place Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Trailing the Englishman was teammate Rubens Barrichello, whose sprint to the lead from third when the lights blew out was dented first by a downfield melee that brought out a safety car then by a strategy switch that seemed to change him to three stops from two. Button corrected the notion in the postrace interview, saying the switch was to his strategy, shifting him from three stops to two. The Brazilian claimed fast lap but couldn't string together enough of them to fend off his teammate with a track gap that would have let him keep his early lead.

The one-two is the nascent Brawn GP team's second of the season and gives the Brackley bunch a 29.5-point lead over Red Bull Racing, 68-38.5. Button extends his driving points lead to 41 with Barrichello second on 27. Sebastian Vettel has 23 and Mark Webber 15.5. Half points were awarded in Malaysia, when fading light stopped the second race of the season short of full-points distance.

Finishing third Sunday was not the expected Red Bull of front-row sitter Vettel but that of his teammate, fifth-starting Webber. Webber parlayed a long second stint into a pit-stop pass of early front-runner Felipe Massa of Ferrari. Vettel moved to fourth after Massa ran into fuel economy issues.

Massa used the kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) to blast into the first corner to third ahead of Vettel then suffered the haunt of Ferrari gremlins. The Brazilian reached second place but shuffled back to third on stops. Then the team had a problem delivering all the needed fuel on his final stop. That dropped him to fourth. Fourth became fifth when he couldn't save fuel and stave off Vettel. Fifth became sixth when Renault's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso slashed a 16-second gap and passed on the final lap, to the crowd's delight. Massa's F60 ran out of gas on the cool-down lap, leaving him to walk back to the pits. Sixth, with its three points, is Massa's best finish this season.

Start: Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP leads Jenson Button, Brawn GP.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld was seventh, the German scoring points for only the second time this season. Williams F1's Nico Rosberg rounded out the points finishers, like Heidfeld scoring for the first time since Malaysia.

"They switched me a two-stop to cover all bases," Button said. "Three-stop was the quicker strategy, we thought. I wasn't sure about going to a two-stop. When they put the fuel onboard, the car felt very, very heavy. And I didn't think I'd come out in front of Massa and Vettel but I did and from then on I could just get my head down and concentrate on putting the laps in and being as consistent as possible. To come away with a win, this ... y'know, they all mean a lot, obviously, but coming back into Europe and winning in Barcelona, a circuit I've always found a little tough, is a good feeling. It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season."

A disappointed Barrichello brightened to a smile only when postrace interviewer Peter Windsor called him Jenson instead of Rubens.

"I had a great start, went to the lead," Barrichello said. "I was running a tiny bit quicker than Jenson. Then I heard they changed Jenson's strategy. I had to keep on pushing. My third set of tires was not good. I don't know if something was broken on the car. I couldn't keep my pace up as well as the last set. It wasn't the tire so it must be something to do with the car. And from there on, I was a struggle. It was a big struggle to keep the car on the track. I'm relieved to come second. I'm disappointed that I haven't won the race."

Restart: Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing and Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

If Barrichello suffered fizzle, Webber produced dazzle with a hip-check move on an ambitious Alonso on Lap 6, after the safety car pulled off. Alonso made his move down the main straight only to have Webber drive him right, across track to the main-straight grass, from which he powered past. The Australian then swept around behind the Spaniard and retook the spot.

"We did our best to hang in there on the first stint," Webber said. "The second stint went very, very well for me."

Moreover, Webber put his finger on just how this season is panning out: "These guys are still going away," he said of Brawn GP, "but we're going away from the rest of the field."

The rest of the runners, out of the points, were Hamilton for McLaren Mercedes, Timo Glock for Toyota, Robert Kubica for BMW Sauber, Nelson Piquet for Renault, Kazuki Nakajima for Williams F1, and Giancarlo Fisichella for Force India. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, starting 16th after a badly judged qualifying, leaped up the field, gaining six spots at the start, only to have first his KERS unit go then the whole car crap out before he completed 20 of the 66 laps.

The race took the highest attrition rate of the season. Six cars failed to finish, four of them through the first-lap clanger that happened not, as expected, in Turn 1 but in Turn 2. Rosberg got a wobble that forced Jarno Trulli off track. Trulli was slung back onto the track in time for Force India's Adrian Sutil, who had gone off track to avoid collisions, to come back on track and collect the Toyota. That shattered carbon fiber bodywork all across the track and sent Toro Rosso teammates Sebastiens Buemi and Bourdais smashing together. The Bourdais STR4 climbed over the back of the suddenly slow Buemi STR4, leading Bourdais to think he was going to roll.

Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren MP4-24 quietly lost its gearbox a few laps later to leave the Finn with three retirements in five races.

This first race in Europe represented a chance for a change in the New World Order. Most teams had installed upgrades. But Brawn GP and Red Bull strengthened their positions as the teams to beat. The would-be KERS advantage has shown middling results. Only Ferrari and McLaren used it Sunday. BMW Sauber and Renault didn't seem hurt without it. Alonso edged Massa. Heidfeld finished ahead of Hamilton.

The circus trundles on, to Monaco in a fortnight.

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