After seven races this season, Brawn Grand Prix and Jenson Button are still on top of the charts and firmly in control of this season's Formula One World Championship. It seems nothing can stop the white-yellow Mercedes propelled Brawn cars, many...
After seven races this season, Brawn Grand Prix and Jenson Button are still on top of the charts and firmly in control of this season's Formula One World Championship. It seems nothing can stop the white-yellow Mercedes propelled Brawn cars, many people fear the championship has already been decided, but with ten races to go and still 100 points to divide amongst the winners, the championship is far from over.
However, it is true that Jenson Button has a comfortable 26-point advantage over the number two in the championship, Brawn teammate Rubens Barrichello, and a 32-point advantage over the number three of the championship, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. Mark Webber is fourth in the championship with 27.5 points, and it seems both Red Bull drivers are the only ones who could pose a real threat to the double title aspirations of Brawn GP.
Ross Brawn is a man with many years of experience, and like no other, he knows the championship is far from over, and therefore will push his team even harder to keep the points advantage his team now has. After the race in Turkey, where Barrichello had to retire with a broken-down gearbox, the Brawn team is no longer the only team who has brought both cars to the finish during all races. Perhaps this is a sign that things will change, or was it just bad luck for the Brawn team?
Many people still believe the advantage Brawn now has is the result of their magic diffuser, but with other teams like McLaren, Renault, Ferrari, Red Bull and BMW-Sauber now running their car with the double-decker diffuser as well, it becomes more and more apparent that the success of Brawn GP is the result of a combination of a very well designed car and the driving skills of Button and Barrichello, rather than just a result of their magic diffuser and the 'unfair' advantage, according to other teams, Brawn GP has had.
Especially Button is, as Mark Webber described it "on another planet". Ross Brawn praised Button for his smooth and impeccable driving style, and said "there is nothing I can do or add to his performance". And indeed, Button hasn't made any mistakes this season, not during qualifying and not during the race. Ross Brawn has already compared him with Michael Schumacher. And don't forget, at the end of 2008 many people believed Button and Barrichello were history and wouldn't return to Formula One after their disastrous season with the Honda team. Both drivers in their Brawn car are now flying around the circuit, and they do it without drinking the famous beverage which claims it gives people wings.
The jewel in the crown
After the Spanish GP, the whole Formula One circus moved to the streets of the Principality of Monaco, where the yachts in the harbor seem to become bigger and bigger every year. Like last year, Force India owner Vijay Mallya won the competition of the guy with the biggest ... uh ... boat moored in the harbor of Monaco. While team principals were having meetings on Flavio Briatore's humble yacht, which won the second prize, the drivers tried to ignore all the frantic FOTA activities and just went about their usual business of being a Grand Prix driver.
During qualifying, Button grabbed the pole position with a last minute and again flawless flying qualifying lap, showing he was the master of Monaco. Button and Brawn made no bones about it, they wanted to win the Monaco Grand Prix.
At the start of the race, both Brawns took the lead, Kimi Raikkonen started on the dirty side of the track and even his KERS-launched start couldn't stop Barrichello from flying past him and taking second position. The Brawns had opted to start on the super soft tyres, a decision that proved to be the key to winning this race. Soon Button opened a gap to Barrichello, who was chased by Raikkonen's Ferrari.
Vettel and Felipe Massa had a battle of their own: the latter tried to overtake Vettel at the chicane, but made a mess of it and had to let Vettel past again, but when he did he left a little gap, just big enough for Nico Rosberg to squeeze his Williams through as well, and in the blink of an eye Massa lost two places. Vettel also missed the chicane, lost his fourth place and fell back to seventh place. After that he went into the pits for fuel and the harder tyres, but after 15 laps he ended in the tyre barrier, without any help of other competitors, and lost valuable points for the championship.
Raikkonen was the only driver who could pose a threat to Barrrichello, but due to a few perfectly planned pit stops of the Brawn team, he was never in a position to overtake Barrichello. Ferrari showed their best performance of the year with Raikkonen and Massa ending on third and fourth place, respectively. Red Bull's Webber took fifth position, and Rosberg brought his Williams home in sixth place. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Bourdais ended on seventh and eight position.
Toyota and McLaren had a miserable weekend, Lewis Hamilton finished twelfth, and teammate Heikki Kovalainen crashed after 51 laps. Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli ended on tenth and thirteenth place. Toro Rosso's Sebastian Buemi and Renault driver Nelson A. Piquet had a drivers' meeting at St. Devote after 11 laps, when Buemi pushed Piquet into the tyres, ending the race for both drivers. In the final laps, and after a strong race, Kazuki Nakajima managed to park his Williams into the tyres as well,
In his excitement, Button forgot where the parc ferme for the top three drivers was, and had to run the entire 400 meters of the pit lane straight, still wearing his helmet and waving to the crowd, to the royal box to collect his trophy from Prince Albert. And made life easy for many reporters, who came up with appropriate headlines like: "Button jogs to victory". Brawn GP scored their third one-two victory of the year, but this one was of course the jewel in the crown.
When the FOM officials arrived at the Turkish circuit, they were confronted with an alarming number of empty grandstands. In the good old fashioned FOM tradition, they positioned their cameras in such a way the empty stands would not show on TV, and covered up complete grandstands with a dark colored cloth, in an attempt to cover up the truth. But it didn't help, the truth is always faster than the lie, and many TV stations and reporters who had observed the FOM cover-up, reported it during their coverage of the Turkish Grand Prix.
Red Bull driver Mark Webber said he was really disappointed when he saw all the empty seats while he was on his parade lap, and correctly suggested that the ticket prices were way to high. And much to the dismay of the officials, he added that the organizers should have opened the gates to let more people in for free. The officials said 38,000 spectators attended the race, but it is more likely they referred to the number of spectators on Friday, Saturday and Sunday added together. Race promoter Bernie Ecclestone was also absent, not because he couldn't afford a ticket, but because of a kidney problem that had grounded him to his London apartment.
Although both Brawn's were out-qualified by Vettel's Red Bull, the amount of fuel carried by Button and Vettel, would theoretically give Button one-lap advantage. All Jenson needed was a good start and after that he could just follow Vettel, and overtake him after the first pit stop. Barrichello had an awful start, caused by a malfunctioning clutch, and by the time he had gained enough speed, he was almost at the back of the grid.
Vettel looked to be running away from Button, but at turn 10 he made a mistake, ran wide and that was the opportunity Button needed to overtake him. Vettel tried as hard as he could to make up for his mistake, but the damage had already been done, Vettel got a second chance when he, as a result of a three-stop strategy, with a much lighter car could gain time on Jenson again. Jenson saw Vettel appearing in his mirrors, but as we know, catching up is one thing, passing is another thing.
When Vettel disappeared from Button's mirrors for his third pit stop, Button pushed as hard as he could and after that Vettel couldn't catch up with the Brawn car anymore. Webber, who was on a two-stop strategy, was now second, with Vettel behind him, and their positions remained the same until the finish.
Barrichello collided with Kovalainen in an attempt to make up for his lost places as quickly as possible. After 47 laps Barrichello's car developped a gearbox problem, and he had to retire from the race, the first mechanical failure of a Brawn car this season.
Both McLarens were struggling during the race, and Hamilton and Kovalainen ended up on thirteenth and fourteenth place. Kubica scored his first points of the season finishing in seventh place. Both Toyota's did a lot better than in Monaco, Trulli finished in fourth place while Timo Glock finished in eight place. Ferrari had a reasonable successful day, with Massa and Raikkonen finishing in sixth and ninth places.
Button celebrated his sixth win in seven races, a remarkable achievement, something only the great Jim Clark achieved before him in 1965, and then Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 2004.
The KERS system was used only by the Ferrari and McLaren team in Monaco and Turkey, it seems other teams don't believe in the advantage of system anymore. Even Williams who favored the system, hasn't used it at all this year, and still have not announced a date for the race debut of their flywheel version of the KERS system. Force India recently announced it is very unlike they will use the system this year. BMW used the system on a few occasions, but are not sure whether it gives them an advantage or not, and are very reluctant to deploy the system in future races. The FOTA teams have now publicly announced they will seek a ban for the controversial KERS system in 2010, that is if they are still involved in Formula One in 2010 of course.
In both races, McLaren started at the back of the grid, and Hamilton couldn't even make it into Q2, what is going on there? Did Hamilton all of a sudden forget how to drive a Formula One car? Of course not, he still gives it all he has, but it isn't enough. Is this perhaps a sign that money is after all not the deciding factor when it comes to speed?
Despite all their impressive resources, dozens of brilliant and well paid designers, McLaren has failed to come up with a competitive car for this season and are even considering abandoning the 2009 car development in favor of the development of the new 2010 car. Hamilton is still confident his team will find a solution for all their problems, but after the disastrous qualifying and race results of Monaco and Turkey, even he is adamant he won't be able to defend his title with the car McLaren-Mercedes has given him this year.
The next circuit on the calendar, Silverstone, will welcome the Formula One teams for the last time, from 2010 onward, the event will take place at the (still not renewed) circuit of Donington. The first official Formula One race took place at Silverstone on May13 1950 and was won by Nino Farina driving an Alfa Romeo. Many fans and drivers see Silverstone as the birthplace of Formula One, and are not very pleased with the ten-year contract FOM now has signed with Donington Park. So keep your eyes open this weekend, you won't see any Formula One cars at Silverstone anymore for at least the next ten years.
Button and his Brawn-Mercedes team are of course very keen on winning their home Grand Prix, a victory at Silverstone would be another jewel in the crown. I'm sure Ross Brawn and his drivers will do their utmost to achieve that. And that leaves us with the last question for today: how do you stop a team that doesn't stop for anything?