Brawn GP loses grip on title after crash fiesta at Suzuka After a start to finish victory for Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel in Japan, Jenson Button's lead in the Drivers Championship has been reduced to only 16 points. Rubens Barrichello also...
Brawn GP loses grip on title after crash fiesta at Suzuka
After a start to finish victory for Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel in Japan, Jenson Button's lead in the Drivers Championship has been reduced to only 16 points. Rubens Barrichello also closed in on Button and his gap to the leader is now 14 points. Both Brawn drivers failed to impress at the Japanese Grand Prix, ending on seventh and eighth position during the race, and scoring just a miserable three points for the Constructors Championship. Brawn GP had to score just a half point more than Red Bull Racing to secure the title, but even with the help of Mark Webber, who scored no points at all, they failed to do so.
Qualification on Saturday was dominated by crashes and red flag periods, Red Bull driver Mark Webber had crashed his car during the Saturday morning practice and was forced to watch qualifying from the pit lane as his mechanics frantically worked to rebuild his car. But he wasn't the only one to crash at Suzuka. During the qualification session the first red flag came out during Q1 after Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Buemi lost control of his car at the Degner Curve, and plunged into the tyre barriers.
Buemi was unhurt and continued qualifying, but crashed again in Q2 while exiting the Spoon Curve where he left a trail of debris on the circuit. Although he had qualified for Q3 he had to sit out the last session while his car was in the garage for repairs.
Timo Glock had a more serious accident at the last corner before start and finish where his Toyota changed course and smashed into the tyre wall like an unguided missile. Again the red flags came out. Glock wasn't able to get out of the car himself and was airlifted to hospital. He escaped with a minor leg injury but could not participate in Sunday's race.
The other Toro Rosso driver, Jaime Alguersuari, crashed his car in the Degner Curve as well. He was soon joined by McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen who performed the same trick at the same corner, bringing out the red flag for the third time. Both drivers emerged unscathed but could not continue qualifying.
As a result of these crashes many drivers couldn't even put in one single fast lap, but the second crash of Buemi proved to be the key to the qualification result. Because of all the debris on the track left by Buemi, the yellow flags were out, but Alonso, Sutil, Button and Barrichello did not slow down and were demoted five places on the start grid for ignoring the yellow flags. Buemi was also demoted five places for trying to get his badly damaged car back to the pits, and Kovalainen lost five places for replacing his damaged gear box.
After the stewards of the race had announced their verdict, Barrichello was on ninth and Button on eleventh place at the start grid, not a very good position at all to launch an attack on the championship. Jarno Trulli pleased his Toyota team with a surprising second place and thus had the possibility to score points for Toyota at their home Grand Prix.
At the start Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren launched a KERS propelled attack on Trulli and Vettel for first place, but had to give up when he simply ran out of asphalt, and settled for second place, with Trulli in third place behind him. Vettel started to open a gap and at lap 10 he had extended his lead to 4 seconds over Hamilton. Behind Hamilton was Trulli (6 seconds), Heidfeld (11seconds), Raikkonen (15 seconds) and Barrichello (17 seconds) in sixth place, and Button in eleventh place, almost 28 seconds behind the race leader.
Mark Webber had to start from the pit lane, but after one lap he came in again, changing to the hard tyres, and also took in some extra fuel. A lap later he was back into the pits again, this time the mechanics had to tape up the cockpit padding. Needless to say he didn't stand a chance to score points in Japan.
Buemi's bad luck continued this weekend during the race and after 12 laps he was forced to call it quits and parked his Toro Rosso in the garage with a broken clutch. Meanwhile Force India's Adrain Sutil and McLaren driver Kovalainen were battling for eighth place, but when Sutil tried to overtake Kovalainen the pair collided and Sutil was send into a spin by the McLaren. Button benefited of this maneuver and overtook both Sutil and Kovalainen. After the race Kovalinen blamed Sutil, and of course, you already guessed it, Sutil blamed Kovalainen for the incident.
After the first round of pit stops, Vettel is still leading the race, followed by Hamilton, Trulli, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Kubica, Raikkonen, Barrichello in ninth place, and Button way back in fourteenth position. On lap 38 Hamilton makes his second pit stop, but loses one place to Trulli who stopped one lap later. By lap 38 Button had managed to climb to the sixth place, and after his second pit stop he is in ninth place.
When Kovalainen for McLaren and Giancarlo Fisichella for Ferrari left the pit lane after their second stop, they were locked in a battle for tenth position, but Kovalainen surprised Fisichella and overtook him at the pit lane exit. The pair briefly touched without causing any damage, but it was clear Fisichella had left the door wide open and hadn't paid attention to what was going on behind him. A pity, because Ferrari needs all the points they can get to secure their third place in the Constructors Championship.
The Japanese crash fiesta continued when Jaime Alguersuari, after he had left the pits, crashed his Toro Rosso at the very fast 130R Curve, hitting the barrier at high speed. He got out of the car unhurt, but was brought to the medical center for a thorough check-up by the doctors. The safety car was deployed and the whole field was now closely behind leader Vettel again. The safety car came in at the end of lap 49, Trulli reacted a bit slow and, although Hamilton couldn't use his KERS system anymore, he came dangerously close to the Toyota of Trulli. This was the second race in succession where McLaren had problems with the KERS system and after the race Hamilton said it had cost him second place.
Vettel had no problems at all during the last laps and cruised to the finish line to collect his fourth career win, followed by Trulli, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Heidfeld, Barrichello, and Button. Vettel completed a very successful weekend in Japan, and he did exactly what he had to do, he took pole position and won the race, thus maximizing his chances and he is now still in the race for the championship title. Brawn however, had to struggle to score three points for the championship, and it seems Brawn GP is losing the firm grip they had on the championship earlier this year.
Ross Brawn has been criticized by the media for his very careful approach to secure the championship during the last races. Many feel that Brawn, and especially Button, should have had a more aggressive approach and should have attacked harder instead of waiting for the championship to come 'their way'. According to the media Brawn and Button have lost many valuable points during the last races, and they fear that if this trend continues, they will lose the championship to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull.
Before the race at Suzuka, Button insisted that his objective would not be sealing the championship, but to finish the race and to score points. "I don't come into the race thinking I am going to seal the title here, there are so many things that can happen this weekend. There are three people in the running for the title and I am just one of them."
And it looks like Barrichello is opting for the same approach during the race in Brazil in two weeks time, in an interview with a British newspaper he said: "'I'm not there [Brazil] calculating what I can do, I'm going there to win the race and see later what happens. I have no intention whatsoever of looking at points or this and that."
For Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel things have changed for the better. During the past few races they managed to put pressure on Brawn GP and Button, and Vettel's win in Japan is a major step forward in the championship. But it remains a fact that Barrichello and Vetttel will have to win the Brazilian Grand Prix if they want to keep their championship hopes alive. Just scoring a few points will not be enough. Button is in the most comfortable position of the three possible title candidates, even if he scores no points at all in Brazil, he could still become the 2009 champion. But...
In 2007 Lewis Hamilton had an advantage of 17 points over Kimi Raikkonen with only two races to go. And Hamilton lost the championship because he and his team thought they were in control of the situation, they figured just scoring a few points and limiting the damage would be enough to claim the title. But in China Hamilton ended up in the gravel trap when he entered the pit lane for a pit stop, and during the last race at Interlagos he spun on the first lap, and seven laps later his McLaren lost its drive. After a few breathtaking moments he managed to get his car going again, but by then had lost so many places that he was no longer in a position to score the three points he needed to win the championship.
A painful lesson for McLaren, nothing is certain in Formula One, one day you have it all, the next day you have nothing. And Ross Brawn will need all of his skills to make sure he doesn't make the same mistake McLaren made. And Button needs an error free race in Brazil or he will lose more points to Barrichello and Vettel.
There is one thing in particular I'm looking forward to as we move towards the race in Brazil, I'm pretty sure Felipe Massa will be present in the pit lane to support his fellow race driver and countryman Barrichello, and to speak with the press and his fans about the possibility he might return to his cockpit at the last race of the season at Abu Dhabi. After his terrible ordeal during the Hungarian Grand Prix, Massa has made a remarkable recovery and is in good spirits, and it will be a pleasure to see him walking through the pit lane again.
More about Massa, and a preview of the Brazilian Grand Prix will be available on the Thursday before the race on Motorsport.com.