Right in the middle of a nice, little Malaysian Grand Prix, a swim meet broke out. Podium: race winner Jenson Button, Brawn GP. Photo by xpb.cc. An eventful Formula One race at Sepang International Circuit ended in Jenson Button's ...
Right in the middle of a nice, little Malaysian Grand Prix, a swim meet broke out.
An eventful Formula One race at Sepang International Circuit ended in Jenson Button's favor Sunday when the Englishman was clever enough to be leading when an expected monsoon arrived and put so much water on the 3.44-mile track that a safety car was deployed and the race red-flagged on Lap 32 of 56 scheduled. The final lap behind the safety car was done at pedestrian speed.
"It was really bad conditions," Button said. "You couldn't actually see the circuit. I mean it was that bad. We were behind the safety car and my team, who did a fantastic job, said all you've gotta do is just drive around, and that was just wah! I almost went off the circuit. We were going around at running pace, it was that slow. The safety car was pulling away from us."
Button won from under an umbrella, sitting in his Brawn GP BGP001 with his helmet off, as the race's two-hour time limit ticked away. Victory is Button's second in two races of the 2009 season; precedents for such success include eight world driving championships.
"What a crazy race," Button said. "It really was."
Rain is a daily event in the Malay Peninsula's latitude and the race's delayed start to twilight to accommodate European television viewers hit the precipitation hour as surely as gin and tonic in a glass. More pertinent, the halt came just on an hour into the race with the sun dropping, rain pelting and light fading so fast that a restart became practical. As the race reached half but not three-quarters distance, half points were awarded for the fifth time in series history.
Button and Toyota's Timo Glock were a lap ahead of everyone else -- Glock having just given up the lead as drivers pitted for tire changes -- which led to official scheming on how to deploy the field to let it unlap itself. Grand Prix Drivers Association honcho Mark Webber spent the break springing from group to group to ascertain what drivers thought and indicate they were thumbs down on the notion of continuing.
Scoring counts back to Lap 31, so not only did Glock lose what he thought might be victory, he lost second, too. He was accorded third behind BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. Jarno Trulli of Toyota was fourth, Rubens Barrichello of Brawn GP fifth, Webber of Red Bull sixth, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes seventh, and Nico Rosberg of Williams F1 eighth to complete the points finishes. They were followed by Felipe Massa of Ferrari, Sebastien Bourdais of Scuderia Toro Rosso, Fernando Alonso of Renault, Kazuki Nakajima of Williams F1, Nelson Piquet of Renault, Kimi Rakkonen of Ferrari, and Adrian Sutil of Force India. Results were posted as provisional.
Rain was predicted as early as 10 minutes into the race but it didn't arrive, giving Button a chance to recover from losing the lead and dropping to third into the first corner as he struggled with oversteer. Rosberg shot from fourth position into the race lead at the first corner and looked prepared to score a result after recording fast laps in five of six pre-race practices sessions this season. Instead, events overtook him.
For what would become the first half of the race, all that designed racing and overtaking was on show as dices took place and positions changed up and down the field.
Vettel, on the lightest fuel load, pitted on Lap 13 to open the window. Rosberg pitted and relinquished the lead on Lap 15. By Lap 19, Ferrari put Raikkonen on full wets and sent him onto a dry track. By Lap 20, when race leader Button, who started heavy on fuel, pitted for dry tires, Button asserted his presence by setting a blistering fast lap, 1 minute, 36.641 seconds, on Lap 18. Raikkonen was struggling. Button resumed the lead and was there when real rain drops appeared on Lap 22, too late for Raikkonen. A lap later, everyone pitted for wet tires.
Tire changing took over as water levels changed across the course. Button changed tires four times, Glock three. Heidfeld, who started 10th, made only one stop, for intermediates.
"I think it was a very difficult race, obviously, in these conditions," Heidfeld said. "The team told me there's heavy rain expected. I told them inters would be a little quicker now. And then just when they told me to pit, it started to rain heavier and actually was just 200 meters from the pit entry, and I said, 'No, no, I'll stay out.' It started to rain more heavy, so I tried to preserve my tires. At the beginning, some other guys were quicker than me on the extra wets but I knew if the rain starts, then, hopefully, I can stay out. That worked, but my rear tires were destroyed completely and was for the slicks basically. And when it started to rain, I just tried to stay on the circuit."
Glock called for intermediates at an opportune moment.
"It was a tricky race, I have to say," Glock said. "At the end, I have to say, one of the best races I ever could do, but from the start we struggled. I don't know why we lost so many places. I couldn't believe that Fernando and Kimi were in front of me in the first corner, I didn't know where they come from.
"After five or six laps, I saw already the clouds and I kept asking, 'When is the rain coming/? When is the rain coming?' They said it should come in the next couple of minutes, definitely. It took so long and we were so close to the first stop, I said, 'OK, you know what, I'll take the risk, we go for inters and then we'll see.' We took the risk and at the end it paid off."
Glock said rain brought not only tire decisions but confusion.
"My engineer told me when I did the pit stop, 'You're leading the race,' so I said OK, I don't push because I want to save the tires. then I saw Jenson coming out in front of me and everybody said, 'You're P2, P2,' and now I come here I'm P3, so, hopefully, when I come down, back to the team, I'm still in P3."
Third represents successive podium finishes for Toyota runners as the Japanese factory team have shown marked improvement this season. But they, like Williams F1 and Brawn GP, face a hearing in Paris on April 14 over their rear diffusers. A protest by BMW Sauber against Williams F1 was denied by Malaysian race officials who approved the disputed diffusers. BMW Sauber has joined the appeal to be heard by the sanctioning body, the FIA.
Classified as non finishers included Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, whose water wings wilted when he spun out of eighth place on Lap 30 as rain that hit first in drops then on one part of the circuit turned to torrents that had everyone scrambling for tires. Sebastien Buemi of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Adrian Sutil of Force India were a lap behind Vettel. Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India was two laps behind them, also retiring in the rain.
Two others who failed to finish, Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber and Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren, had problems from the off. Kovalainen failed to finish the first lap for a second consecutive race as his McLaren was in the gravel. Kubica told his team on the formation lap that his engine was making a strange noise. It was up in flames on Lap 3 after the car stalled at the start.