The state of modern-day Formula One is this: You want the big-framed, bigger-brained Ross Brawn as boss. The tactic worked to perfection for Rubens Barrichello on Sunday as he won the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia, Spain, with a ...
The state of modern-day Formula One is this: You want the big-framed, bigger-brained Ross Brawn as boss.
The tactic worked to perfection for Rubens Barrichello on Sunday as he won the Grand Prix of Europe in Valencia, Spain, with a text-book performance of fuel-load and tire management. The Brazilian, 37, the oldest and most experienced regular runner in the series, drove from third on the grid to first by pit-passing second qualifier Heikki Kovalainen, and then pole holder and early leader Lewis Hamilton, both of them in power-boosting, kinetic energy recovery system-assisted McLaren Mercedes models.
Barrichello was overjoyed. Victory-lap sobbing for joy gave way to beaming smiles of joy. His return to the pits to stop in parc ferme was met with an F1 version of a standing ovation as teams up and down pit lane poured forth to share the love.
"Delightful," he told assembled reporters. "I wish this moment could be forever. I want to be here for the whole Monday, as well. So, please, stay there.
"It's been 17 years. When I come into the track, I come 15 minutes earlier. When I go out, it takes me 15 minutes more because I know everyone. I've worked with almost 80 percent of the paddock. All my wins seem to be so emotional. They're a part of it as well, all the teams I've worked with."
Barrichello, who had been telling everyone and anyone he was far from a spent force in the series, won for the first time in nearly five seasons -- since China 2004 for Ferrari -- and pushed to 17 years the time passage between a driver's F1 series entrance and victory. Victory was the 10th of his career. The only thing he lost all day was fast lap, which Toyota's Timo Glock snatched on the penultimate lap.
"After five years, you don't forget how to do it, but it was tough," Barrichello said. "In the middle of the race, they were telling me 'push, push, push.' And although you're pushing like hell, there are some things that go through your mind and you know you cannot commit any mistakes. You want to do for yourself. You want to do for your country. You want to do for your family. So there was a lot going on through my mind. The car has been perfect. I want to thank the team for that. It wasn't just me. The car has been really brilliant."
Brawn, Barrichello's boss for that victory in China, too, meantime, reportedly responded to victory in Valencia by asking for cricket scores from the final Ashes test. Now that's knowin' what yer doin'.
"That was a fantastic performance from Rubens today to take his first and Brawn GP's seventh win of the season," Brawn said later. "We knew that having a heavier fuel load would give us an advantage over the cars in front, but Rubens had to drive at his absolute best to have a chance of victory. He pushed exactly where he needed to. When we got on the radio and told him that he had to put in some quick laps, he delivered. It was a great performance and an extremely well-deserved victory. We're all delighted for him."
Barrichello raced wearing a helmet adorned with a message for close friend and compatriot Felipe Massa. Massa is sitting out a few races at home in Sao Paulo while recovering from a spring to the head encountered in the most recent event, a month ago in Hungary. The spring had fallen from Barrichello's rear suspension.
Hamilton, whose race was knocked into a cocked hat when he materialized in his pit box for his second stop and a tire change with his crew standing there without the tires, came second. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen scored a second successive podium in third.
"We win and we lose together," Hamilton said in clipped response to a postrace interviewer's assertion the team cost him victory. "We've had a tremendous effort to get us here so we cannot at all take second place for granted or be disappointed we didn't get the win, because we've had extraordinary pace for us in the past two races, last three races. I still feel and believe it was a tremendous effort from everyone, and I think these things happen. I've had so many races with this team and this has very rarely happened. This could be perhaps the second time."
McLaren began a turnaround with major upgrades delivered at the Grand Prix of Germany, three races ago.
Ferrari's inching toward improvement started earlier -- Raikkonen started from the front row in Monaco -- but hasn't quashed the news that Brawn GP and Red Bull, not McLaren and Ferrari, are the teams to beat.
"I mean, we needed to go 100 percent all the time," sixth-starting Raikkonen said. "I knew from Friday already I had a good feeling with the car. It was working very well on the longer stints, so I was hoping it will be OK for the race and it turned out to be good. So we know that we are not where we want to be. We're not really bringing new parts anymore for the car so we're a little behind the leaders, but once we get the car running well and know that it feels good then usually we can fight for third place. If something weird happens in the race maybe we can even fight for the win. But overall it was a good weekend for me, and we were pretty happy to score the podium."
Kovalainen finished fourth ahead of Nico Rosberg of Williams F1, Fernando Alonso of Renault, Jenson Button of Brawn GP, and Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber. Button padded his championship points lead to 72. Kubica scored his third point of the season.
The scene was todo igual for Mercedes, celebrating their 250th race with McLaren. The German engine supplier swept the podium and watched their midpack runners Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella finish 10th and 12th, sandwiching Nick Heidfeld. That's right, Force India are midpackers, right there with BMW Sauber. Right there getting money-paying TV time. Did you know their cars bear green? For real now. Their Indian flag color scheme is metaphor for a rising nation on an improving race team. As McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh reckons his team have carved 2.5 seconds out of their early season time, so Force India boss Vijay Mallya, he of the biggest yacht in the harbor, reckons more than a full-second gain has pulled his team off the bottom. Can points be far behind?
Big losers were Red Bull, whose senior driver Mark Webber finished out-of-the-points ninth to lose his runner-up drivers' title spot to Barrichello. Barrichello jumps to 54 points behind Button's 72. Webber stays on 51.5. Red Bull junior ace Sebastian Vettel lost a second engine in one weekend to become one of only two retirements, with Scuderia Toro Rosso's bashed-about Sebastien Buemi. Vettel, who stays on 47 points in the drivers' chase, is left with one rule-allotted engine to finish six races.
"What happened?" Vettel echoed questioners. "Too much. Too many issues. First stop, we did not put fuel in the car. Then the race was lost. After that we had an engine failure, or it was exhaust. I will fight for the championship until the last breath, but days like this... not finishing the race is not a good thing."
Ferrari's Luca Badoer, in for Massa, might argue his day wasn't a bowl of cherries, either. Still, the oldest driver in the field at 38, and the only one who hasn't raced since the past century, got through it. Although he leaped up six places at the start -- only to spin and go to the end of the line -- Badoer soldiered on ... only to spin again. Then he nudged the white pit-out line in giving way to Renault newcomer Romain Grosjean and was penalized for it. He declared mission accomplished for having finished the race. He managed to finish ahead of one runner, Kazuki Nakajima of Williams F1. The hard-luck Japanese suffered a tire puncture that resulted in the carcass ripping off the left rear wheel. Fingers crossed that stories about Williams seeking an engine change from Toyota won't mean the loss of Nakajima, too.
Between Fisichella and Badoer were Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Glock, Renault debutante Grosjean, and Toro Rosso's teenager Jaime Alguersuari, who finished better than his teammate for a second successive race. Hey, his second-ever F1 race.
But the nail-biting business was up front.
Barrichello, in a Mercedes-powered Brawn GP not equipped with the braking-energy go button, used a heavier fuel load to start. And while his McLaren competitors started with the softer of Bridgestone's two tire choices, Barrichello rolled out on the harder choice. Each team would need to switch those choices later, per rules. Barrichello's boss Brawn figured the better-sticking softies would give his runner grip to the end on a 3.3-mile harbor-wrapping course that reached 110 degrees before race time. So they did.
Barrichello scampered off the line behind Hamilton and Kovalainen and ran longer to the first pit stop. Kovalainen did his best to hold off the Brawn to let fast lap-setting Hamilton get away, but once the Finn stopped, Barrichello pounced. One down, one to go. Barrichello then bumped Hamilton's times out of fast-lap designations and kept the runner-up spot through his first stop.
The stint that followed told the tale. Hamilton had to manage rear tire wear with Barrichello nipping at those heels. A battle of four seconds between them spurred them on. When Hamilton stopped for tires only for the tires not to be ready, the five seconds added to his pit stop swung the race to Barrichello, who took a six-second lead he wouldn't relinquish. Hamilton niggled it down to two seconds by the end but so what? The world champion was still first loser.
"Basically, we had different tires all through the race," Barrichello said. "There is some question to see which ones were faster, but, for sure, mine were very, very consistent and I was able to produce my lap times every lap just the same or a little bit better. Toward the end of the second stint, I was able to catch him a little bit and that, of course, gave me some margin for those three, four laps that I pushed after he stopped. So brilliant job for the team. Great pit stops."
Said Hamilton, "The first part of the race was very well controlled, from my point of view. It was a very consistent and nice, flowing pace. But in the second stint, I was struggling with my tires and to keep up the pace that Rubens had, especially in the high-speed corners. That seemed to be where he was catching me. I just didn't have the car beneath me to push in those areas to pick up the pace."
Although Kovalainen's slide to fourth wasn't his team's preference, what he and Hamilton proved was McLaren is the cat among the pigeons for championship results. Barrichello's teammate Button certainly didn't figure it was his lot to chase the small points, but there he was, tussling with Webber for much of the race, until traffic interfered with the Australian's final pit stop and left him out of the points. Renault's Alonso had legitimate expectations of better placing. Rosberg couldn't press an advantage of up-front placeholder while others pitted.
Good thing the Grand Prix of Belgium is only a week away.