With their fourth one-two finish of the year, Brawn GP drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button are well on their way to win the 2009 championship. Race winner Barrichello scored his second victory of the season, followed by Button in second...
With their fourth one-two finish of the year, Brawn GP drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button are well on their way to win the 2009 championship. Race winner Barrichello scored his second victory of the season, followed by Button in second place with already six wins under his belt. Before the race there were some concerns about the gearbox of Barrichello's car, but he insisted it would be better to take the risk to use the gearbox, rather than to replace it which would have given him a five place grid penalty. It turned out his decision was right and during the race he had no problems at all with his gearbox.
So, how did the Brawn team win the race? The car weights after qualifying already revealed that both Brawn cars, who qualified in fifth and sixth position, had about 25 kilos more fuel onboard than most other drivers in the top ten. Championship runners-up Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, were also heavy and had about the same amount of fuel onboard, but had qualified in ninth and tenth place. McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen also had a lot of fuel on board and qualified in fourth place and was therefore also a favourite for the Italian Grand Prix.
Ross Brawn is not only an excellent team manager and designer, he is also a brilliant strategist, and of course he had a plan. What no one realized after qualifying was that both Brawns were a one-stop strategy. His computers had figured out that it was possible to make only one pit stop, and after examining the tyre wear after the practice sessions and qualifying on Saturday, they came to the conclusion that the tyres would last for at least 30 laps.
Ross Brawn doubled his chances by sending Barrichello with the hard tyre and Button with the soft tyre compound to the start grid. If the soft tyres were faster in the last stint of the race, the honours would go to Barrichello, and if the hard tyres were better, Button would have the advantage. As it turned out, both Brawns were equally fast and their tyre strategy didn't really matter all that much.
Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was on a three-stop strategy and had to push very hard to make up for the time he would lose with a second pit stop. At the start he took the lead and immediately started to build up a gap to the rest of the field. Mark Webber's hopes of winning the championship quickly diminished when Robert Kubica pushed him into the gravel at the second chicane. Vettel had a bad start and on lap two he was passed by the much lighter Renault of Fernando Alonso. Kovalainen was overtaken by Alonso in lap three, and after that Kovalainen wasn't able to materialize the advantage of his one-stop strategy anymore.
On lap five Hamilton led Raikkonen, followed by Sutil, Barrichello, Button, Liuzzi, Alonso, Kovalainen, Kubica and Vettel. While most teams at the front of the pack had to stop for the first time on lap 15, both Brawns continued the race and made their first and only pit stop on lap 25 and 26. On lap 34 Hamilton makes his second pit stop and rejoins the race in fifth place.
On lap 38 first-place Raikkonen and second-place Sutil both pitted, and both teams make a mistake during that stop. Sutil overshot his pit, hitting two of his mechanics, but nobody was hurt. At the same time Raikkonen's pit stop went slightly wrong when the lollypop man gave him the signal to leave, but stopped him half a second later because the fuel man wasn't ready yet. Sutil was hoping to gain some advantage over Raikkonen during the pit stop, but after his little incident he was in fact lucky not to lose time on Raikkonen. On lap 45 Barrichello led Button, followed by Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel and Fisichella in tenth place.
Hamilton started to gain some time on Button, but never got close enough to force him into an error, let alone to overtake him. With only one and a half lap still to go, Hamilton was the one who made a mistake and his race ended at the Lesmo corner. He had put his right rear wheel just a little to far over the kerb, just enough to loose the back of the car and sending him into the barrier. Hamilton was unhurt, but the stewards decided to neutralize the race because of all the debris on the track, yellow flags were waved, and the race ended under caution.
Force India surprises again
Force India again surprised with a very good second place during qualifying, while Vitantonio Liuzzi, without any experience with the 2009 car, took an impressive seventh place. Liuzzi didn't finish the race because of a gearbox problem, but Sutil took fourth place and went home with five championship points in the bag. It seems that Force India has found something that makes their car very fast, and needless to say, other teams very curious about what they exactly have changed on the car that makes them all of a sudden a front runner.
Well, there isn't really a big secret, the team has constantly developed their aerodynamic package this season. And now it pays off, especially on circuits where you don't need a lot of downforce like Spa and Monza. Compared to four of five races ago, Force India is now about 1.3 to 1.5 seconds faster, and that is a huge step in the world of Formula One. The first aerodynamic update was introduced in Hungary, and another update followed in Belgium. The most significant changes can be seen on the front wing and on the sidepods of the car. But those changes are not really much different from the solutions other teams have found in their eternal quest for more downforce.
Vijay Mallya is confident that his team can keep up the same pace for the remainder of the season, and said that the races in Japan and Brazil would also suit the characteristics of the car. He also announced they will keep pushing and said there would be another update for the next race in Singapore. His only frustration sofar is the fact that the team had lost places to KERS equipped cars, which ultimately cost him a win in Belgium.
Giancarlo Fisichella in his dream machine
Giancarlo Fisichella who finished ninth in the race, was definitely faster than Luca Badoer, but his speed during the Italian Grand Prix was not that impressive. Fisichella had some problems getting used to the car and the KERS system. He said the Ferrari had less downforce than his Force India car, and because the Ferrari is a more technical advanced car, he had to get used to flicking all kinds of switches every lap during the race. Team boss Stefano Domenicali was happy with the performance of both drivers, Raikkonen's third place will help them to retain their third place in the Constructors Championship.
Engine concerns for Red Bull and BMW-Sauber
With only four races to go, some teams are now running out of engines, Vettel and Kubica already have used 7 out of the 8 allocated engines. Red Bull's Christian Horner and his boss Dieter Mateschitz are not at all happy with the Renault engine. Mateschittz told the media that the Renault engine was inferior and said he thought the championship was over for his Red Bull team. If Vettel's last engine has to be replaced it will cost him 10 places on the grid and when that happens it is very unlikely that he will be in a position to score points and become world champion this year.
During qualifying, both BMW-Sauber drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica had an engine problem and were forced to watch the rest of the qualifying sessions from the pit lane. The engines were checked, but it was not necessary to replace them, and Kubica and Heidfeld escaped a 10 place grid penalty. Same story here, a grid penalty would make it very difficult for Kubica to score points. Well, at least the BMW-Sauber team builds their own engines and can only blame themselves if they can't finish the season with eight engines.
Is it over or not? Of course the championship isn't over yet. The constructors championship will be decided between Brawn and Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren are no longer in the race for first position. In theory Ferrari could take the second place from Red Bull, but they will have to score maximum points during the last four races.
A number of people say that the drivers championship will go to Button or Barrichello, that is of course a very likely scenario, but mathematically speaking, there are four drivers still in the race for the championship: Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber.
Although the chances for Vettel and Webber have decreased dramatically after the Italian Grand Prix, it is not impossible for them to win the championship. Yes it is true, Vettel could run out of engines and that would indeed ruin his chances, but if he wins the next two races and Button doesn't score any points, things look quite different.
Barrichello also looks to be in good shape to beat Button, especially during his home Grand Prix in Brazil he will be very determined and motivated to win the race, the fact that he never won this home Grand Prix before will make him even more determined. Force India has some unfinished business as well, they are now in a position to win a race, they are waiting for the right opportunity, maybe they will get lucky in Brazil or Japan.
And let's not forget what happened last year, the championship was decided in the last corner of the last lap of the last race of the season. And that's what we want to see in Formula One isn't it? A fight for the championship until the very last second of the race.