Australian GP - Sunday - Race Report
The customer comes first
Formula 1 people may be kids at heart, but they don't tend to believe in fairy-tales. They are a little too cynical for that. And yet, ever since the retirement of Robochamp Michael Schumacher, the sport has been blessed with a series of fairy-tales. In 2007 we had Lewis Hamilton living out the ultimate teenage racing dream and almost winning the title at his first attempt. In 2008 we had Robert Kubica's first F1 victory in Montreal, the very same track where a year earlier he had had a huge crash. And then came Monza and the fable of Sebastian Vettel, a kid who took Scuderia Toro Rosso to an astonishing victory.
How can you top that? Well, it is possible. Indeed we just saw it happen again. Brawn GP rose from the ashes of Honda Racing F1 and built a car so fast that even the motor manufacturers cannot compete. In Albert Park Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello both made mistakes but by the end of the day they were 1-2. There was a large element of luck involved for Barrichello, but not half as much as the string of coincidences that put Lewis Hamilton third place. A year ago Lewis would have been disappointed with such a result but it just goes to show that half the battle in Formula 1 is to be in the right car, at the right time.
It was ever thus...
Three months ago Button seemed to have no real future in F1. He had not done much for two seasons. His career has been eclipsed by Hamilton's rising star, and people were questioning his motivation. And then Honda decided that the F1 programme must stop. It was a sorry state of affairs
"It's not just for me but for the whole team, a fairy-tale ending really to the first race of our career together, and I hope we can continue this way," Button said. "We are going to fight every way we can to keep this car competitive and at the front."
Jenson admitted that there is still much to be done to get the Brawn team to speed.
The race began well for him but Barrichello fell victim to the car's anti-stall system and was swallowed by the pack. This meant that the first corner was very busy and a carambolage duly followed with Rubens bumping Mark Webber into Nick Heidfeld and then being hit by Heikki Kovalainen. Somewhere in all this Adrian Sutil gave the Force India a nose-job. The four cars headed for the pits but the Brawn lived up to its name and went on regardless.
"I was hit from behind and I hit someone in front," said Rubens. "I thought the car was done from that crash but I survived quite well. People think that our car is only good because of the diffuser. Well that big hit from behind broke the diffuser completely!"
Out front, Button was streaking away with Vettel in hot pursuit, followed by an aggressive Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Nico Rosberg, although the last-named was pushed backwards in the order at Turn 3 as Kimi Raikkonen moved up. Barrichello was still going but it was the men with KERS who were the ones to be watched. Hamilton made his way from 18th on the grid to eighth in those early laps. This was helped by the fact that some of the drivers chose to start on the softer tyres, which were (at best) marginal and needed to be handled with care. Massa, Raikkonen, Kubica, Trulli and Bourdais all took their medicine early on - and suffered for it
Things were thrown somewhat on lap 19 when Kazuki Nakajima messed up and planted his Williams in the wall, scrambling a Safety Car which seemed to stay out far longer than was necessary. Six laps later the field had been closed up and the fight was allowed to begin again, All of Button's advantage was gone. Despite struggling to get heat into the tyres, he began to edge ahead again. We lost Piquet at this point when the Brazilian spun out at the first corner.
The pattern that emerged was that Button and Vettel were able to disappear again but the Ferraris were eating tyres and holding up those behind to a massive extent. Massa was the first to pit for the second time - and needed to - but it would be another 14 laps before Button stopped again. He stayed ahead with Vettel next and then the recovering Barrichello and Kubica, who now became a force as he was on the harder tyres while the others went on to the softer rubber. As the finish drew nearer and the shadows lengthened Vettel began to struggle and Robert felt the race coming to him. But on lap 55 the two tangled at Turn Three. Both men managed to keep going after the bingle but both then crashed as they put strain on damaged parts. The Safety Car re-emerged. Vettel drove on, no doubt whistling "Three Wheels on my Wagon" and generally getting in the way. Later he would be given a 10-place grid penalty for Malaysia for admitting that he caused the crash with Kubica and then $50,000 for staying on the race track.
"I had a chance to win this race," Kubica said. "Button and Vettel were on soft tyres and struggling, while I was on the harder compound and was able to drive much quicker. I was already in front, but he didn't want to let me by. I think Sebastian was a bit too optimistic. Had this been the last corner OK, but there were still three laps to go and he really had no realistic chance to defend his position. I was so much quicker. My car was very good."
Vettel said that he was ahead when they turned into the corner but he could not hold the speed.
"At the time we collided he was in front," he said, "but I had nowhere to go, I couldn't stop the car, or turn to the right and my tyres were gone. It's a shame as it meant the end of the race for both of us. Maybe I should have said: 'Let him go' and brought third back home, but that's life. I'm sorry to the team and also to Robert."
This mess meant that suddenly Barrichello was back in second place, despite the early crash and a later brush with Raikkonen, which removed bits of the front wing and required a new one. Second was a surprise.
Trulli had started from the pit lane after the Toyota rear wing debacle after qualifying and he moved gradually through the order, avoiding trouble to inherit the third position but unseen during that final Safety Car was a moment when he went off and lost a place to Hamilton. He retook the position and the stewards felt this was wrong and gave him a 25-second penalty that dumped him to 12th and so Hamilton was surprised to be third (albeit some time after the race had ended). Glock, Alonso and Rosberg picked up points and the last-named also set the fastest lap but in doing so ruined his tyres and dropped several places in those closing laps.
Hamilton was happy to take the points
"Considering the package we've got, I wrung every last ounce of pace out of the car, drove one of my best ever races and absolutely raced my heart out," said Lewis.
Toyota took consolation from the fact that the car was at the front by the end, despite starting in the pits.
"This is proof that our car has real pace," said Glock.
Alonso ended up fifth in the lacklustre Renault but reckoned that things would have been better if he had not lost time in the first corner kerfuffle.
"It was difficult and so it's great to score points," he said. "We need to work on the tyres a bit more at the next race."
Rosberg felt that things would have been easier but for a problem during his pit stop.
"I believe we are faster than a couple of cars who finished ahead of us today," he said.
True, but on such occasions it is best to get points in the bag.
Sebastien Buemi drove a very solid debut and ended up with two points, while his team-mate Sebastien Bourdais ended up eighth.
"Maybe we had a bit of luck with the accidents, but even without that we were not too bad," said Buemi. "I made a mistake when I was alongside Massa, hitting the limiter button, but when he put the KERS on you could really see the advantage it brings. I am pleased with what happened today because to get a point in the bag at the first race takes some pressure off."
Sutil and Fisichella sandwiched Heidfeld. Sutil needed a new front wing after the first-corner drama, while Fisi ran strongly in the midfield early on but then made a mess of his pit stop and lost a load of time as the team had to push him into the right place.
"I was just confused with last year as we were always in the last slot in the pitlane, so I just overshot and had to be pulled back," he said, scraping the darkest depths of the barrel of excuses.
Heidfeld deserved more luck than he got after being clobbered in the first corner and never being able to recover from the damage. Webber too had reason to feel aggrieved.
"I lost a huge amount of downforce; we had a lot of damage and I wasn't going to be a threat to anyone after that," he said.
Vettel ended up listed in 14th, ahead of Kubica, and the Ferraris, both of which ended the day in retirement. The decision to start on the soft tyres was not a good one.
"After five or six laps we ran into trouble with the soft tyres, to such an extent that we had to pit early," said Massa. "We then switched to a very aggressive strategy, which with hindsight turned out to be the wrong one, as shortly after the pit stop, the Safety Car came out. At the second stop, we filled it for the finish, but then I was very slow." He went out with a damaged car, as did Kimi, who spun and clonked a wall after the brush with Barrichello.
"It was my mistake," he said. "Given what happened later, I could have finished second. We lost valuable points. Definitely the main problem was in managing the tyres, but we also need to improve our overall performance."
The day, however, belonged to Button and Brawn.
"It always looks easier than it is," Jenson said. "I struggled massively to heat my tyres after the first Safety Car, and flat-spotted the left front really badly. After that I was struggling with vibration and, towards the end, with the bad light. It was not easy. I made a mistake in my second pit stop. I was in the wrong gear because I was confused with Massa in front of me. I overshot the box and they couldn't get the fuel hose on. It was not my best race I have to say, but I won so I'm chuffed to bits. The good thing is we came out on top despite that. I made it difficult for us today, but we got there."
McLaren may not have been a threat all day but Mercedes-Benz ended up with a 1-2-3, with the customer cars ahead, giving the team's spin merchants the chance for a bit of drum-beating about customer service...
You do what you can with what you have.
Malaysian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Jenson Button won the Malaysian Grand Prix in his Brawn-Mercedes - but this was not an easy victory. The rains in Malaysia came down and caused mayhem. It was all very predictable given the start time of the race and the daily afternoon deluge. It may have worked well for the European TV audiences but it wafs not much fun for the drivers...
Nico Rosberg took the lead at the start leaving Button in the dust. Jenson found himself under attack from Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso. Button was not about to take that and battled his way back ahead of the Spaniard before the end of the first lap. As he was doing this his team-mate Rubens Barrichello was carving his way through to fifth, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Timo Glock, Nick Heidfeld and Lewis Hamilton.
"There was so little grip," Button said. "I was really surprised. I was really struggling. So was Alonso. I've never seen a car so sideways!"
Up at the front Nico Rosberg was fairly comfortable and was able to edge away from Trulli. A Williams was leading a Grand Prix again.
Trulli was not really able to keep up and had to keep an eye on his mirrors as Button was on his tail and looking for a way through once he had got clear of the wild Alonso.
Already gone from the action were the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen, who went sideways and fell off on the first lap.
"It was my mistake," said the Finn. "Game over."
Gone too was Robert Kubica. The BMW driver went slowly off the line and his engine had blown before the end of the second lap.
"At the start of the formation lap, the engine was making strange noises," said the disappointed Pole. He managed to get up to speed but things were clearly not healthy, the engine sounding dreadful as it passed the pits at the end of the first lap.
"I asked my team what I should do," Kubica said. "The car caught fire before I got an answer."
The order quickly settled with no-one making any great progress until Alonso began to struggle after 10 laps and he fell back behind Raikkonen and then Webber. Further back Nick Heidfeld, his car full of gas, also lost out to Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton when he wide at one point.
Vettel, who was running light in an effort to overcome his grid penalty, was the first to pit on lap 15. Glock followed on the next lap and then in came the leader Rosberg on lap 15. Trulli led for a couple of laps and then he too headed in. All the while the dark clouds moved towards the circuit. It was going to rain. It was just a matter of when the heavens would open. Those with the bigger fuel loads were hoping that they would make it to the pits and be able to combine fuel stops with the switch to wet weather tyres.
Ferrari exhibited something that must be seen as being close to desperation when Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 18 and was put on full wet tyres. It was a huge risk and very quickly it was clear that the team had made a mistake. Raikkonen was 20secs off the pace and the tyres were being destroyed.
"My race was pretty much over," said Kimi. "In Melbourne I was the one to make a mistake but today it was the team, the result being we find ourselves without any points."
As Kimi struggled around Button dived into the pits at the end of the 19th lap and for a lap Barrichello was ahead before he too disappeared into the pits. It was still too early to go to wets.
Once those stops were done the order was Button, six seconds ahead of Rosberg, Trulli and Barrichello. Alonso and Hamilton had yet to stop and were fifth and sixth. Then came Heidfeld and Massa.
The rain did not arrive until lap 22. Button went back to switch to extreme wet weather tyres but he stayed in the lead as pretty much everyone followed him into the pits. And then as they all re-emerged and began to get used to the tyres it was clear that Timo Glock had done something different to everyone else. He had decided to use intermediate tyres and he was eating up those ahead of him, lapping around eight seconds faster than all but Vettel, who had made the same choice. Timo climbed to second by lap 28. Button and the Brawn team saw the danger and went back to the pits on lap 29 for similar tyres and in less than a lap he was able to catch and pass Glock, who was now struggling. A lap later the rain was getting worse and Glock went back to the pits for full wets. Next time around Button picked extreme wets himself. He rejoined in the lead yet again as Glock battled with Nick Heidfeld for second place, the German having stopped only once. The conditions were by then out of control and a Safety car was sent out. Within a few seconds the race was red-flagged.
It was clear as the cars drew up on the grid that Button was going to be declared the winner if the race could not be restarted, but who would be second?
The timing screens showed Glock second but a lap earlier and he would have been third.
The time dragged on and the rain abated a little but time was running out. And eventually the race was abandoned. Button had won again, but this time it was only going to be half points.
"What a crazy race!" he said. "My start was very bad, I went down to fourth, then up to third, fighting some oversteer, then eventually I got up to the front. I was happy with that, and then it started to rain. Normally when it rains here it pours but this time it didn't. We had been expecting it to start chucking down but my extreme wet tyres soon destroyed themselves. We saw that Timo was on intermediates, and he was charging, so I dived in for some on lap 29 and came out close behind him. As I went by him I saw that his tyres were bald and he had to pit. I got one lap on the inters and had reasonable pace, but then I came in for wets again on lap 31 because finally it really had started raining."
In the end Heidfeld took second ahead of Glock, with Trulli, Barrichello, Webber, Hamilton and Rosberg completing the points scorers. Incredibly, for the second race in succession, Ferrari had failed to score points.
"I'm obviously very happy to be second after starting from 10th," said Heidfeld. "It was a really extreme and challenging race today. I had a good start but also quite a heavy car, which meant racing was not easy for me. When it was obvious it would rain soon I pitted seven laps earlier than planned, and we decided to go on full rain tyres. They wore down quickly because the heavy rain didn't come. The team kept telling me stay out, heavy rain expected, but the tyres felt almost like slicks. For those laps intermediates would have been much quicker. When it finally poured down it was the right decision to stop the race. It was absolutely impossible to drive. I spun behind the Safety Car!"
Glock as a little disappointed but third was still good.
"I was going well on my extreme wets at the end, and it was unlucky that they declared the results based on the order at the penultimate lap," he said. "When the flags come out I was second."
Trulli was also happy. "I feel a bit unlucky this weekend - I missed pole position by a tenth and it could have been an even better result for me," he said. "I was pushing at the front and fighting with Rosberg for the lead. Then the rain came and the team chose to go with heavy wets, which was the more conventional strategy. I was the quickest car on them but that was not enough because they went after two laps."
Barrichello was happy enough to be fifth, but he knew he would have done better if the rain had not come.
The remaining points went to Webber, Hamilton and Rosberg.
"It's been the mistiest and coolest day I've ever seen in Malaysia for race day," the Australian mused.
Hamilton had started the race with a heavy fuel load, but was up to 10th and able to stay in touch with many lighter-fuelled cars. He battled in particular with Vettel and Heidfeld, eventually moving up to fifth as those around him pitted for tyres and fuel. He then stopped on lap 22 and took on wets.
"It was a very tough call because you could only see the clouds," he said. " It was hard to commit. When the rain came down, it was impossible to drive. I was aquaplaning everywhere. These were the most dangerous conditions I've ever raced in."
But he got a point. It was something.
Rosberg got half a point.
"It's a while since Williams has been out front on pure performance," he said. "The car was going well and I showed my ability to consistently push on each lap and open the gap to those behind me. And then the rain came and unfortunately the situation just didn't go our way."
Massa was not far behind but never got over the qualifying disaster while Bourdais moved up to 10th as others pitted, finishing ahead of Alonso who spun at one stage. Nakajima took 12th ahead of Piquet, while Raikkonen was in the pits by the end of the race.
Vettel deserved better than his eventual 15th ahead of the riff-raff at the back.
So Button has won twice for Brawn, but he's yet to see a chequered flag at racing speed...
Chinese GP - Sunday - Race Report
If it had been dry in Shanghai, it would almost certainly have been a different story... but on Sunday morning the clouds turned to drizzle and then to rain and the winds came whipping in across the flatlands on which the Shanghai International Circuit sits. It was miserable. All the planning and the number-crunching that had kept the engineers busy on the Friday and Saturday went out the window, and suddenly it was a question of seeing what happened.
And what happened was that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were unbeatable in their Red Bull-Renaults.
The young German was on pole position and as it was decided to start the race behind the Safety Car, that did not change. The Safety Car would remain out for the first seven laps. This was not classic motor racing and the F1 world really needs to have a serious thought about whether or not it is best to start races behind the Safety Car.
Such was the extent of the Renault grandstanding in qualifying that on that lap Alonso went into the pits for more fuel. The mirror was held up in front of Renault and the picture was not a pretty one. With Alonso down the back it was left to the Red Bullies to lead with Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button playing a waiting game. The Red Bulls needed to speed away to make the most of their light fuel loads. This they tried to do but progress was slow. They led until their stops, Webber on lap 14, Vettel on 15. That put Button into the lead after he had passed team-mate Barrichello on lap 11. Behind them, there was some fabulous fighting as Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa went on to the warpath. Lewis climbed up to fifth place and then spun back to 10th. He then went back up to eighth but then the Safety Car was sent out again on lap 18 after Robert Kubica ran into the back of Jarno Trulli's Toyota. Robert was fortunate to be able to dive into the pits but poor Jarno could not get into pitlane and had to spend a lap driving around with the back end of his Toyota looking like a right royal mess.
"There was a lot of standing water and lots of aquaplaning," said Jarno. "When the Safety Car came in I made a solid start and my pace was OK in the early laps. But then I started struggling for grip, the pace just wasn't there and the longer it went on the more ground I lost. On lap 17 I just felt a big hit from behind and I lost my rear wing. I made it back to the pits but we couldn't continue."
As the Safety Car was calming things down there was another nasty moment when Sebastien Buemi's Toro Rosso was caught out and ran hard into the back of Vettel, unsighted in the spray as they came upon the slowing Trulli.
"I didn't see him and I tried to swerve to the right," said the Swiss driver. "It was not enough to avoid him. We changed the wing on my car and I'm glad I didn't spoil his race."
"I was lucky", Vettel admitted. "We build a very strong car!"
Vettel was at an advantage but a quick refuelling stop by Brawn had Button out in second ahead of Massa. His race, however, ended on lap 21 when the Ferrari shut down with an electronic glitch.
"We are very annoyed about what happened to Felipe," said team boss Stefano Domenicali. "He was driving an amazing race, when an electrical problem saw the engine die. He was third at the time and even though he had a heavy fuel load, he was lapping in the same time as the fastest and he would have almost certainly finished the race on the podium."
The racing was on again a couple of laps later and with a lighter fuel load Vettel began to pull away from Button and Webber.
The Brawn team knew that the Bulls were lighter and that Button ought to be able to emerge ahead again, but on lap 29 he went off and instantly Webber was back in second again. Two laps later Button grabbed the place back when Webber went wide but then Mark pulled off a lovely move and sailed around the outside of Jenson, catching the Englishman completely by surprise.
Vettel made his final stop on lap 40 and Button was ahead of him again but it was clear that Button would have to stop. Before Jenson could do that Vettel went ahead with an assured move.
"Everyone was struggling, all aquaplaning in pretty crazy conditions," Jenson said. "The last corner was a lake, you couldn't brake for it, and I was really struggling because the tyres were shuddering with no temperature in them. Every lap I thought I was going to throw the car off, so just to finish the race was an achievement, and it's great to get on to the podium. These guys were extremely quick, their car was working really well - cheeky!
"For me, I felt I was pretty much always out of control! I was just waiting for Mark to appear in front of me, because I was really struggling get heat in the tyres. In Turn Seven and Eight I had no idea where Mark was, it was such a shock as I couldn't see anything. It was impossible to do anything about it and it would have been silly to try to have challenged him."
"It wasn't quite do or die," Webber said with a big smile, "but it was one of the best moves of my career because I knew he wouldn't be able to see that I was there."
"I didn't have a clue where he was and he was alongside at turn eight and it was such a shock as you can't see anything when it is raining," said Button. "Then he just cut across the front and made the move stick. For me it was impossible to do anything about it. As soon as these guys get near you or alongside you, you cannot challenge them and it would have been silly to have tried."
Jenson was not sure why the Brawn could not compete with the Red Bulls but there is one possible explanation. The RBR5 is a car that is tyre-hungry in the dry. In the wet, when there is less grip, the disadvantage becomes an advantage. The Brawn is very kind to its tyres in the dry but in the wet proved unable to generate enough heat in the tyres. Button talked of feeling that the car was floating on the surface of the water, while Vettel and Webber were able to find grip.
The weather also probably helped the Red Bulls to survive. The team went into Sunday worried that the cars would fall foul of the same driveshaft problems that had made the qualifying day such a challenge. On a dry track the components would have had to cope with much heavier loadings, but in the wet the stresses and strains were lower.
It also helped that the race was started behind the Safety Car. This is never popular with the fans, but the drivers are keen to keep everyone safe.
"I think we've seen the Safety Car work quite well on releasing the field in a much more controlled fashion," Webber said. "I think that we've learned a lot in 10 years in Formula 1 that there's no real need to have a standing start is not really necessary. We can use the Safety Car and it works quite well."
The top three were really in a race of their own but behind them Rubens Barrichello was also having a fraught time, with a number of different off-track moments
"I only had three brake discs working on my car for the first 19 laps which made it even more difficult for me to keep the car on the road," he said. "Thankfully the problem resolved itself when the brakes heated up during my first pit stop and I had a good pace from then on. Unfortunately it was a bit too late."
In the end the fifth place went to Heikki Kovalainen, who was thus able to celebrate his first points of the season. He was also able to beat Lewis Hamilton. After his early charges, Hamilton had a number of incidents which dropped him behind Kovalainen.
"Our strategy was spot on," he said. "Finishing higher than fifth was not possible today and I'm very pleased to have scored four solid points without making a single mistake - despite some massive moments!"
Hamilton also fell behind the Force India of Sutil, but the German did not last long before he lost control of the car and piled into the wall on lap 51.
"We took a risk with the strategy with a very early stop and it was a long way to go with one set of tyres," he explained. "Then it started to rain again and it was very hard to keep the car on the circuit. Sometimes even in a straight line in fourth or fifth gear I was struggling with aquaplaning and I was very lucky to keep the car on the circuit for so long."
Hamilton duly took back sixth place.
"I had some fun in the early laps," he said. "Unfortunately I destroyed my tyres quite early on. I made a few too many mistakes today but I still gave it my best. This afternoon was a real struggle but I'm glad I got some points for the team."
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh explained the decision to go for a one-stop strategy.
"We were never going to be able to live with the Red Bulls or the Brawns today, " he said. "The track was wet throughout the race, and the longer stints that our strategy dictated inevitably caused more wet-tyre wear than that experienced by the two-stoppers; but, despite the challenges posed by that extra wet-tyre wear, our drivers both coped very well. So, overall, an encouraging result."
It was not a great day for Toyota, but Timo Glock ended the day in seventh place, having yo-yoed up and down the order. He started from the pit lane with a heavy fuel load on wet Bridgestone tyres. He quickly made up ground and was up to 11th by the second Safety Car. He then damaged his front wing and had to pit but then fought back up the order again.
Buemi survived his brush with Vettel and then showed some true grit as he held off Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard eventually overtook but Buemi went ahead again when Alonso spun. Fernando finished ninth.
"We were very competitive in the early stages," said Buemi. "I got past Raikkonen and Hamilton, but after that I struggled a bit.
Sebastien Bourdais finished 11th after a couple of spins.
"I don't think we should have raced as there was so much aquaplaning," he said. "The fact the cars have a lot less downforce this year, aggravates the situation as it's hard to get the car down onto the track surface. I could have spun 15 or 20 times and Sutil's crash showed what could have happened."
Raikkonen was 10th and figured only briefly at the end of his long first stint. He then tumbled back to 14th but could not get temperature into his rubber. With Massa out early the team failed to score a point for the third consecutive race, a painful experience for a team that is used to success.
BMW Sauber also had a miserable time. Heidfeld looked like he might score points but then faded after a collision with Glock. He finished 12th, just ahead of Kubica, who had a torrid time, running into Trulli and later damaging his nose a second time. Fisichella finished 14th but the performance was nothing to write home about.
Williams had another shocking day, which is hopeless when one considers how fast the car has run. Nico Rosberg complained about his visor, which made it impossible to see, but then things began to look a bit better. Sadly, he switched to intermediates hoping that the rain would finish. It did not.
Nakajima looked hopeless all day and spun a lot before retiring with a transmission problem.
Nelson Piquet continues to look like a man who is better suited to sports car racing. He spun a lot and had to replace the nose of his car twice.
The F1 circus is not very fond of China and as the rains pelted down, many raced to get to the airport to leave.
Time is short. It is Bahrain in a few days.
Bahrain GP - Sunday - Race Report
Button on top
Jenson Button won the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, scoring his third win in four races with the incredible Brawn-Mercedes Benz. The 29-year-old Englishman's pace ended Toyota's hopes of a first victory in Formula 1, and Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull-Renault added to Toyota's woes as he fought his way to second, leaving Jarno Trulli to settle for third place, despite having set pole position. As the Formula 1 circus heads back to Europe the Brawn team and Button have big leads in the two World Championships. The big question now is whether they can stay ahead as everyone rushes out new parts in an effort to close the gap...
After qualifying Button was slightly alarmed. The car was not as competitive as it had been at the earlier races and the team was worried that the opposition was already getting close. As the teams lined up on the grid, there were rumours that the Brawns would have to detune the engines because of worries about heat. But it did not turn out that way. Timo Glock took the lead from the start when Trulli's engine bogged down a little. At the same time Button was slightly slow away but he knew that he needed to get ahead of Sebastian Vettel, if he was going to have any hope of victory.
"I knew when I got to Turn One that I really had to make my move to get past Sebastian," he explained. "Otherwise I would just get stuck behind him. Lewis (Hamilton) had come barrelling past on the right, so I went round the outside of Sebastian and made it through to fourth place. Lewis is always very difficult to pass and he was blocking very well and using his KERS, but I knew those first laps were going to be so important that I had to make it work. He was making a few little mistakes and I knew when we got to the start/finish line that he'd press his KERS button and get away just as I was getting alongside, and he did, but I got him going into Turn One and that was the key to my race."
With Hamilton and Vettel taken care of, Button went off after the two Toyotas. He knew that all he had to do was to wait because the Toyotas were lighter and would pit earlier.
"Chasing down the two Toyotas was very exciting," Button said. "I was surprised by their pace and not sure how it was going to work out."
Behind him Vettel was stuck behind Hamilton.
Button was in the perfect place.
Glock pitted first having built up only a small lead. It was lap 11. Trulli pitted a lap later. Jenson then took the lead and with no-one ahead he was able to lower his lap times. When he stopped on lap 15 Vettel moved into the lead, Hamilton having gone into the pits by then. This was Vettel's chance but he had lost too much time. When he went into the pits Kimi Raikkonen had a moment of glory and led the race for two laps. But then Jenson was back ahead once more and there he stayed. He stopped again on lap 37 and at that point switched to the harder tyres. For the next three laps Vettel was in the lead once more but the German had to pit. When he emerged from the pits he found himself behind Raikkonen, who was due to pit again. Unable to deal with the Ferrari, Vettel had to wait. His tyres lost the edge and Button was gone, leaving Vettel to spend the last laps of the race with Trulli right behind him, the Toyota driver now on the good soft tyres.
"He was very close in my mirrors," said Vettel. "But I didn't make any mistakes."
Trulli was disappointed with third and he reckoned that the strategy of using the harder tyres in the mid-race was the wrong thing to do.
"I'm a little disappointed," Jarno said. "I thought we had a chance to take Toyota's first win this weekend but it was a hard race. I was slightly slower into the first corner than Timo so I spent the first stint following him. I knew I was going longer than him but it was still difficult. Then we went for a very long second stint on the hard tyres. It was really hard fighting with the other cars. After that Vettel was on the hard tyres and I was on the soft. I was pushing him but there was no way to overtake."
Glock disappeared down the order because his stop was really too early. He went straight to ninth, while a couple of laps later Trulli lost only six places.
"We were the first car to pit, which was already critical," Timo explained. "When I went out on the prime tyres I don't know how many seconds I lost on the first two laps because I was really struggling for grip. I couldn't get any heat into the tyres and I really lost the race in the second stint. I was sliding around and it was clear that the speed was better on the options."
Later, after Raikkonen's second stop on lap 44 Glock managed to scramble ahead of the Finn but the Ferrari had a KERS advantage and used it, leaving Glock behind him. After that Timo was on Kimi's tail but he could not get ahead.
While this was going on, Lewis Hamilton was left to chase after the top three.
"I'm delighted with fourth," he said after the race. "The Toyotas, Red Bulls and Brawns were so fast in the high-speed corners that it was just impossible to keep up. But this is another encouraging step for the team, we just need to keep working on the car because we're not really fighting back quite yet, we are collecting points. And the gap will be bigger when we go to Barcelona because it's a high-downforce circuit."
Rubens Barrichello tried a three-stop strategy to get clean air and managed to get up to fifth by the finish. It was a lot of work for just one position.
"We brought home some valuable points today," he said. "But it was a tough race for me. I lost a lot of time behind Piquet after my first stop, which was a real shame as it compromised my race plan. We went for a three-stop strategy and then took the decision to come in slightly early for my second stop as I was being held up behind Hamilton. It was so hot out there this afternoon and the car was burning my waist on the right-hand side which made it very difficult for me. It seems that luck is on Jenson's side at the moment and well done to him and to the team for winning the race today. I hope that my turn comes soon!"
Behind the second Brawn, Kimi Raikkonen brought Ferrari its first points of the season - three to be precise. But they came at a price. As Kimi and his team-mate Felipe Massa clashed in the first corner. It was good to score points but Ferrari was still well off the pace.
"I am happy to have picked up a few points," said Kimi, "but I can't be that pleased with our level of performance. I've been around long enough not to get very excited about a sixth place."
For Massa it was another dreadful day.
"I was sandwiched between Kimi and Rubens Barrichello and the front wing got broken after making contact with my team-mate's rear wheel," he said. "It was a shame because once again we lost an opportunity to score points." He ended the day 14th, a lap down.
The final point of the day went to Fernando Alonso in his Renault. He proved once and for all that Flavio Briatore's protestations about the team having the third best car were utterly misplaced.
"We did our maximum today," he said. "The start of the race was not perfect and we lost a position which put me down to eighth. After that nothing unusual happened and there were no retirements so we were eighth fastest and we finished eighth."
He lost his drinks bottle in the course of the race and was exhausted by the end of the race.
Team-mate Nelson Piquet was 10th and had a better than usual run but it was worth noting that at one point Rubens Barrichello showed himself to be very angry with Nelson, assuming, one must suppose that his fellow countryman was a lap down and not getting out of his way. In fact Nelson was perfectly entitled to fight for position.
Nico Rosberg failed to score points again, losing the benefit of his ninth place on the grid as his KERS-equipped rivals overtook him at the start. Team-mate Kazuki Nakajima was the sole retirement in the race, damaging yet another front wing early on and requiring a replacement. That dropped him to the tail of the field and he eventually stopped when oil pressure problems hit his engine.
Mark Webber drove a solid race after his disappointment in qualifying and was up to 12th when he got caught behind Piquet. The Red Bull team decided to switch him to a two-stop strategy (he had been planning three) but the car was not good on the harder tyres and so 11th was the best he could do.
He was still ahead of the second McLaren, with an unhappy Heikki Kovalainen at the wheel. He started the race with a heavy fuel load and the harder tyres. He was engulfed on the first lap and never recovered from it.
Sebastien Bourdais brought his Toro Rosso STR4 home 13th, as Sebastien Buemi struggled to 17th, but neither did much worthy of mention, while Force India had another uninspiring day. Sutil moved up the order thanks to his strategy early on but then faded back. Fisichella, for his part, collided with Massa on lap 51 and then got in Button's way.
Way way way back came the two BMW Saubers after a quite awful race which resulted in Robert Kubica finishing 18th and Nick Heidfeld 19th. Not only were the cars uncompetitive but there were also incidents.
"My race was destroyed after corner one," said Kubica. "I was between Nick and another car, we touched each other and I destroyed my front wing. Then after the crash there was a miscommunication with the pit crew. I asked to come in straight away, but was only able to pit after the second lap. For a long time I was in a heavy car on prime tyres. We were really nowhere with our pace. I hope we make a big step forward in Barcelona."
Heidfeld called the race "a disaster," which was not too strong a word for it.
And so it ended with Button and the Brawn team celebrating once again.
"We were a little worried about reliability," Button said. "For us it was very difficult because of the heat more than anything else, as this is not a very physical circuit. We were a little worried about the engine after we encountered high temperatures in practice and qualifying and at one stage we thought we might have to restrict our revs for the race, which would have been terrible. Thankfully we didn't need to. Over the last 15 laps I had to conserve the engine a little bit as the temperatures were again hotter than we expected. The way the regulations are these engines have to do a lot of running, so we have to look after them."
The worst problem, however, was backmarkers. "The traffic was terrible. On the run down to Turn 4 on one lap Robert Kubica shot past me with his KERS, just to unlap himself."
Button added that there had been one more problem. He had burned his bottom on an electrical box in the cockpit...
But it had been worth it. Button said it was his finest hour in F1 to date and no-one disagreed.
Spanish GP - Sunday - Race Report
Button does it again
Button does it again
Jenson Button took his fourth victory in five races in his Brawn-Mercedes Benz, ending speculation that rivals teams have caught up with the team. He also saw off a strong challenge from team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who seemed to have the race victory in his hands before the team switched him to a three-stop strategy. Button defended the decision, saying that a three-stop race was the fastest thing to do. Barrichello said he wanted to know what had happened.
"It is good for him and the team that they changed the strategy," he said, "but I'd like to understand why they did that. This morning we decided three stops was the way to go, but after this we'll have a meeting and then we'll have some answers."
When it was suggested that he might be in a situation similar to the days at Ferrari, when he was forced to give up victories to help Michael Schumacher.
"If it happens I won't follow any team orders any more," he said. "I'm making it clear now so that everybody knows. It is different than what we had at Ferrari, much more friendly. I'm not blaming this or that. That's the way the race went. No way am I crying I should have done this or that. I just need to know what went wrong today, that's it."
"We both work very closely in the team," he said."We are both here to win. It went my way today, but he might win in Monaco. I won today, he could tomorrow. That's the way we go racing. I don't ever want to go down that avenue, talking about that, because it's so far from the way it is in our team."
Ross Brawn himself was clear on the subject.
"I don't want a driver working for me who doesn't get angry in such situations," he said. "But if you look at the lap times, they show that Rubens was not as quick as we expected. That's what won Jenson the race."
At the start of the race it looked like Rubens had it all sorted out. Rather than being swallowed up by Felipe Massa's KERS-equipped Ferrari, Barrichello rocketed off the line, leaving his rivals in the dust. Button was busy watching in case Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa came at him. Button knew that he had to stay ahead of Massa or there would be trouble because the Ferrari had KERS and was going longer.
"Mine wasn't a great start," Button said, "but Rubens got a fantastic one. I stayed to the inside to try to hold the line but with that much of an overlap between us there was nothing to do about it. I knew then that it would be very difficult to beat him."
Barrichello led while Vettel tried to squeeze Massa off the track to stop the Ferrari passing him. He failed and Massa was third.
The battle up front was then disrupted as all hell broke loose in the midfield. There was pushing and shoving going on down through the field, which included Lewis Hamilton being shoved off the road by Nelson Piquet as they headed down to the first corner. Jarno Trulli came off the line slowly and this created much congestion. At Turn 1 Fernando Alonso pushed Nico Rosberg off on to run-off on the left. As he came back on to the road he caused Trulli to go off into the gravel on the right and he then began to spin. While this happened Adrian Sutil went off on the left, which meant that in effect he was cutting the corner. As he came back on to the tarmac he found Trulli in front of him and there was a sizeable impact which sent carbonfibre and suspension all over the place. Sebastien Buemi braked hard and his team-mate Sebastien Bourdais drove into and over the back of him.
"I lost some positions and was right behind Fernando and Nico going into the first corner," said Trulli. "Rosberg went off then during the next corner but he came back on to the track right next to me. I had to avoid him because he came back on really quickly. I had to steer off the track and lost control of the car so I spun."
"I saw a car flying into me," said Sutil. "Jarno had spun on the inside of the corner and he was just in front of me. I couldn't do anything."
"Trulli spun and I had to brake to avoid him," said Buemi. "My team-mate did not see I was slowing down and could not avoid me. His car went over mine, I saw his tyre go over my head."
"I didn't even have the time to brake before I was flying over the back of my team-mate's car," said Bourdais. "I thought I was going to roll over."
A Safety Car was necessary and that hurt both Button and Massa as Barrichello had more fuel. He handled the restart well and then he was able to pull away from Button quite quickly. Massa was next but could not keep up and Vettel was trapped behind the Ferrari, while Mark Webber in the second Red Bull was able to stay with them. There was then a big gap back to Fernando Alonso and the rest. Further back Kazuki Nakajima pitted to have (yet another) nose changed. Heikki Kovalainen's afternoon was short and he stopped with a failed gearbox not long after the Safety Car pulled off. The only overtaking was when Piquet had to swerve to avoid the slowing Kovalainen and so Lewis Hamilton was able to get ahead of Nelson. Otherwise it was typical Barcelona race. Glock summed it up well.
"I was behind Nico and I couldn't get close enough to him in the slipstream; every time I was close my tyres started to go off."
Button was an early pit caller on lap 18 and this was when the Brawn team decided to switch Jenson on to a different strategy. It was high risk because of the big fuel load he had to deal with.
"I didn't think it was a great idea," Button said. "I wasn't sure who I was actually racing. Rubens was way in front, Massa and Vettel were behind. The car was very, very heavy and was moving around quite a bit at the back and it took me a while to find my feet. My engineer was on the radio all the time, telling me I had to get the laps in, so every lap was flat out. I've never driven in that style before. I got every tenth out of that car that I could today, but it was pretty messy."
A very long middle stint took him to the front and he was able to stay ahead at the second stop. That was all it took.
Barrichello faded in his third stint because he could not get the performance out of his tyres and he found himself having to hold off Webber.
"We knew from qualifying it would be hard to get track position on the guys around us," Mark said. "I did my best to hang in as best we could. I had to go to an extremely long second stint to jump people and I got up to Rubens at the end of it. We stopped on the same lap, and then I got stuck behind him again.
His team-mate Vettel may have been seen as the danger man, but that threat never materialised, stuck behind Massa there was little he could do.
"He was impossible to pass," said Vettel. "He did a very good job, with no mistakes. It's obviously disappointing. My car was quick today, but I couldn't finish on the podium."
Massa did not have luck on his side. At his pits stop there was a problem with the refuelling and Felipe did not get enough fuel. He was forced to do a shorter than normal middle stint but then the same problem happened again and he had to back off in the closing stages and lost out to Vettel and Alonso. Kimi Raikkonen was long gone by then having retired with a hydraulic problem.
"It's a real shame to have lost two places in the final stages, " Massa said. "We knew we couldn't match the pace of the Brawns but we had managed to get ahead of the Red Bulls and, but for the fuel problem, I could have certainly stayed ahead of Vettel and Alonso. The final part of the race was a pain. I was already struggling on the harder tyres and then I had to try and save fuel as much as possible, while at the same time staying ahead of Vettel. Then the team told me that if I wanted to make it to the finish, I would have to let Vettel by and slow down a lot: if I had made another pit stop I would have finished out of the points."
Alonso ended up in fifth, ahead of Massa. He had had his adventure with Rosberg and then a short tussle with Webber but the Renault chassis was not a patch on the Red Bull and so he had to be content with fifth. His team-mate Piquet could not keep the pace and ended up 12th.
The rest had little to trumpet. Nick Heidfeld drove a solid race to seventh.
Robert Kubica's race was doomed from the start when a clutch problem cost him several places. He ended up 11th. Rosberg finished eighth ahead of Hamilton. Behind that were only stragglers.
Monaco GP - Sunday - Race Report
In the wheeltracks of giants
Lewis Hamilton became the first Englishman to win Monaco since 1969 on Sunday, when he drove a stunning race to beat all-comers and finish Ferrari's run of four consecutive victories. Robert Kubica was second in his BMW with Felipe Mass third, while World Championship leader Kimi Raikkonen had a shocking day and failed to score. This means that the four men are now all covered by just six points in the Drivers' World Championship, with Hamilton in the lead with three points more than Kimi. Massa is one behind his team-mate and Kubica two behind him.
Hamilton's race strategy might not have won him the race if things had gone to plan, but an early brush with a wall sent him into the pits for a new rear wheel and the team took the decision to fill the car to the brim. The strategy was spot on and Hamilton drove away, while Ferrari floundered.
As it turned out, it was a little bit closer than it appeared. The race ended because of the two-hour rule, but on the last lap Lewis picked up a puncture. If the race had gone to its planned length he would probably have been beaten...
The track was damp at the start but rain soon began to fall as the cars diced through the first lap. Already in trouble was Heikki Kovalainen who failed to get away from the pre-grid and had to start from the pitlane. That was a disaster.
At the start Massa had no problem staying ahead while Hamilton got away well and went down the inside of Raikkonen to take second place. Kubica was also on the move and relieved Fernando Alonso of fourth place. He was lucky to get through unscathed as Nico Rosberg ran into him at the hairpin on the first lap, a move which sent Nico into the pits for his first nose change.
As the rain increased the conditions became steadily trickier and Hamilton backed off so as to be able to see a little more. The track was by then very wet and Lewis went wide at Tabac and snagged the barriers on the outside. The blow was sufficient to puncture the right rear, but he was close enough to the pits to be able to get in and out and still remain in fifth place.
"I felt I had a good car, and that I could challenge Felipe," he said. "But I couldn't see anything so I just stayed in second place. As the rain came down there was so much spray. Through Tabac there was a river across the road and as I was beginning to catch him I hit that and oversteered into the wall. I just touched it, but I couldn't believe it."
There were soon other incidents. Raikkonen's challenge was blunted when it emerged that Ferrari had changed his tyres too late on the grid. This meant that he had to drive through the pits, which allowed Kubica to get up on to Massa's tail. And then Felipe went off at Ste Devote and suddenly there was a BMW Sauber in the lead and looking very strong.
"It is so easy to have a small loss in concentration," Massa said. "I braked beyond the line where you exit the pits and just couldn't stop the car. Then I lost the radio for 20 laps, and was looking to the boards, so it was not so easy to know what was going on in the race."
Kubica stayed ahead until the 26th lap when it emerged that he had been running with a very low fuel load. Massa went on another seven laps and by then Hamilton was closing in on him. He would go on for another 21 laps before he headed for the pits and the gap by then was nearly 40secs. Kubica's two-stop strategy put him out of the serious running. Hamilton was able to refuel, switch to soft compound dry weather tyres, and resume without even losing the lead. It looked like it was just a case of coasting for home when Nico Rosberg made a real mess of things in the Swimming Pool and crashed heavily, bringing out a Safety Car. Nico was out of contention by then having pitted for a second new nose, having lost the second in a mid-race bingle when Fernando Alonso tried a daft manouevre on Nick Heidfeld.
Rosberg's shunt was a big one and it took a while to clear it all up. This meant that all of Hamilton's challengers were lined up behind him. But he kept his cool, did a brilliant restart and that was the last anyone saw of him.
"The track was getting dry, but I managed to look after them and that was what really gave us the win. I could stay out, no problem. And I was used to the safety car so I did a good job; remember last year in Canada? It was no sweat. I just kept it nice and cool at the end, but I was counting down the laps."
Kubica and Massa were unable to do anything but the concertina-ing of the field was to wipe out the unlucky Adrian Sutil, who was running fourth in his Force India. This had been achieved by staying out of trouble and taking advantage of the mistakes of others. He had started 18th, set the 16th fastest lap of the race, but had risen through the ranks. He deserved the finish, but he found Raikkonen behind him and the Finn got into a real tank-slapper in the tunnel. He caught it twice (and they were great catches) but by the time he had done that he was going too quickly and careened into the back of Sutil.
Poor fellow. He did not deserve that.
"I can't believe it, " said Sutil. "It was so close. It feels like a pain in my heart. It is like a dream gone to a nightmare - suddenly you are in the car and it looks all fantastic, then you have to accept it is not going to happen. We had a really good strategy and it seemed to work and we were so close to the podium and the points. It was a real shock. A few tears came."
The team was bereft as well for Raikkonen's disaster had cost them millions. Not only did the team lose the points that Sutil would have scored, but Scuderia Toro Rosso was there to pick up the leftovers with Sebastian Vettel getting a good haul of points instead.
"It was the saddest moment of my motor sports career," said team boss Vijay Mallya. "To achieve a top five position in Formula 1 was a dream that ended just seven minutes and less than five laps from the chequered flag."
Kimi at least admitted that he had not had a great race with his penalty and two broken front wings. He went home with no points.
"I am sorry for Sutil," he said."I could do nothing to avoid him. It's a shame how things went today, as we had the potential to do well.
In the end fourth place went to Mark Webber, who drove a strong race with Red Bull. Toro Rosso had something to smile about as Sebastian Vettel came home fifth after a big fight with the Honda of Rubens Barrichello and the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. Earlier he had also tussled with Nelson Piquet until he spun out.
"It's great to score my first points of the season," said Vettel. "Special thanks for the pit stop which was fantastic and gained me two places.
The last point went to Kovalainen.
"I tried to push as hard as I could," he said, "but I could only go at my real pace when there was a gap. My car was good and the speed was there."
It was a bad day for Renault with Alonso running into incident after incident. He hit a wall at Massenet and damaging the right rear wheel, then he smashed into Heidfeld with a daft move on lap 12. He then had a big fight with Rosberg.
"The track was always changing; the car was sensitive and I made some mistakes,"he said. "After that, we tried to change our strategy, but it did not really pay off."
Piquet looked like making up for his poor qualifying but he switched to dry tyres too early and spun out. Button survived to the flag but the damage on the first lap ruined his afternoon. The two Toyotas failed to shine with Timo Glock spinning three times and Trulli finishing behind him for no obvious reason. Heidfeld had an awful day and finished four laps down.
Fisichella disappeared with gearbox trouble while Bourdais and Coulthard went off in the rain in separate incidents but Bourdais clonked into the Red Bull.
Hamilton said afterwards that the win had been the high point of his career and so it was.
"In the last few laps I was picturing it: Ayrton Senna won here many times, so for me to win here would be amazing. The last 20 laps were very emotional and I was just trying to keep that in and to keep the car on the track. It is an incredible feeling, really emotional."
"This is my favourite circuit, this was the race I wanted to win more than any other in the world. When I was a kid I looked at the tunnel, the swimming pool, it just looked spectacular so automatically it became my favourite race. And I was very, very close to winning last year. This is the best, even if I was to win here again, this will be the best one."
Turkish GP - Sunday - Race Report
The curious case of the unbeatable Button
Jenson Button won his sixth victory of the year in Turkey. His sixth in seven races. This is really an extraordinary achievement and one that has rarely been matched in the history of the sport. If has been done three times in the past: by the great Jim Clark in 1965 and by Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 2004. One can argue about 1952 and 1954 when Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio were both totally dominant - but everyone forgets that the Indianapolis 500 was a round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship in those days and one cannot simply ignore that, just because it is an inconvenient! The thing that makes Button's achievement so impressive is that his opposition is right with him. There are no team orders to protect him and he has to pull thousandths of a second out of his hat whenever he needs them. And yet he does it. Over and over. These are not victories that Button is cruising. His car is good - very good - but it is not like the Williams-Renaults of 1992. Button is digging deep and winning in style. The Grands Prix are tense battles which are decided with a tenth here and a tenth there. A slight mistake will destroy a dream of victory. This may not make for great TV coverage, but for those who understand what they are seeing, it is terrific.
And all of this overlooks the fact that Brawn GP is a team which had to change engines in a matter of weeks before the season began, and it did just a couple of tests. The team had to overcome the sense of disruption and fears for the future. To have done what they have done is astonishing - and brilliant.
It is the Cinderella story.
"Today the car was the best it's felt all year," he smiled after the victory. "This is the first race where the car really has been absolutely perfect for me. Definitely this was a victory for all of us at Brawn. To beat these Red Bull guys fair and square was a great victory for us."
As the cars lined up on the grid the Red Bull folk were wary of Button. Sebastian Vettel was on pole, and in theory on the cleaner side of the track, but they knew that the fuel-adjusted lap times gave Button the advantage. All he needed was a good start and a few extra laps with clear air and the job would be done. Vettel would be hunted down and beaten.
In the end he did not even have to pull the trigger. Vettel got away in the lead but then he made a mistake and the dream was over. The plan was to try to surprise with a three-stop strategy, but that did not work out.
Button made a decent start from the dirty side of the grid, but his Brawn GP colleague Rubens Barrichello suffered a clutch problem, which left him at chugging speed when what was needed was a very fast car. Rubens pushed buttons and no doubt swore like a trooper but by the time he was back up to speed, he was stuck in traffic.
At Turn 10 on that first lap Vettel ran wide. Button was on him in a flash. And that was that. From the moment Button was ahead it was no longer about containment, but rather about trying to keep up and Vettel must have known that there was not much chance for him to be able to win back what he had lost
"There was a tail wind there, and actually I nearly lost it on the second lap there too," said Vettel. "It was quite tricky.
"But," he added, "it wouldn't have made such a big difference. It was my mistake, but Jenson was just too quick today. There was no holding him after that."
Button was delighted
"It was good to get away second," he explained. "Sebastian covered the inside which surprised me because it's dirty there, and I sat behind for the first half of the lap. Then he ran wide on the exit to Turn 10 and that was my opportunity. It was good that I got him there because otherwise I wouldn't really have had a chance to pass him."
Instead he was able to look at building up a lead. And that is exactly what did did. With a heavier car...
Vettel's three-stop strategy should probably have been changed.
"I knew the win was not going to happen," said Vettel. "It turned out that a three-stop was possibly not as quick as two today.
Button said he was surprised that Red Bull did not change its plan. Vettel did not give up. He fought back running with a very light fuel load in the second stint. The Brawn was running heavier and could do little, but catching is one thing, passing quite another. In the middle of the race, Button had to soak up the pressure.
"I nearly passed him in the last corners," Vettel said.
For Button it was not a nice experience.
"It's never a nice feeling to see another car catching you at a second a lap even though you know the reason is that you have more fuel," Button explained. "I covered the lines, and as soon as Sebastian pitted I pushed hard again and got the lap times down."
And that was that. Button was gone. Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber was even able to catch and pass the German with a two-stop race. When Sebastien pitted for the third time, Webber was left to lead the charge. After that the team tactfully mentioned that it would be best for Vettel not to challenge Webber. Vettel could not stop himself
"I started from pole position, my strategy didn't work, the situation was not what I wanted it to be," he said. "I enjoy driving and would rather have continued to go quick rather than slow down and carry the car home..."
For Webber second place was another solid performance, equalling his career best.
"I knew that I had to hang on as long as possible in the first stint," he explained. "It worked out pretty well and I managed to go a lap longer and save fuel, which helped me gain some time. I knew Sebastian's strategy so there was a chance to get another position. It was just a question which of us would get second. My second stint turned out well for us."
While all this was happening Barrichello was trying to recover from his start, but he was a little too wild for his own good and ended up colliding with the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen and spun. Rubens later retired with a gearbox problem. It was Brawn's first mechanical failure of the season.
It was a frustrating day for the Brazilian.
Toyota also ended up doing well, despite the recent traumas at the Monaco GP. The result was that Jarno Trulli finished fourth and Timo Glock was eighth.
"The team deserve a lot of credit for the improvement," Trulli said. The driver too. He made up two places in the first corner, but then dropped to fourth because of a brake problem.
Behind Trulli in fifth place was Nico Rosberg, and that was a decent run for Nico.
"By the end of the first lap I'd managed to make up four positions," he said. "From there, I pushed hard to get past Trulli, and I thought I could because my pace was good, but he had a quicker car today. I hope we can keep up this momentum and score points at every race."
His team-mate Kazuki Nakajima also had a good run but his hopes of a point were ruined when a wheelnut stuck on for a few extra seconds during his second stop and he plunged down the order to 12th
"I think that was probably the best race of my career so far," he said.
Ferrari had looked quite good in practice but the race proved to be a different story. The additional heat seems to have affected the handling. Kimi Raikkonen made a poor start and never really made up for it. He finished ninth.
"Not the race we were expecting or the one we wanted," he said. "I lost valuable places and then it wasn't possible to get them back. We weren't quick enough."
Massa ended up sixth, saying that he could not have done better than that.
A painful day.
It was a rather different story down at BMW Sauber where Robert Kubica finished seventh and scored his first points of the year (a sign of the times).
"I raced well today," the Pole said. "My pace was good and I made no mistakes. The race was very hard, as nearly all the time I had someone very close behind me, and the smallest mistake would have cost a position. It was a clear step forward and we now have to keep up the speed of development."
At the end of the race he had a charging Timo Glock right with him. He had done a very impressive first stint with 30 laps of fuel on board. That took him up to fifth place. If he had been able to go the distance on the softer tyres it would have been great but he had to do a quick later-race stop in order to use the two different kinds of tyre. This netted him one point, but he deserved more. It was a good drive.
Renault had a poor day and Fernando Alonso ended up in 10th. He said that was all he could have hoped for. He started with a very light fuel load and so dropped right into the middle of the pack. Nelson Piquet ended up a disappointing 16th. Things never seem to get better for him.
Nick Heidfeld had a major handling problem on his BMW Sauber. There was little grip at the front and the car kept pulling to the left. Nick had to settle for 11th.
Things were pretty awful for McLaren as well with Lewis Hamilton 13th and team-mate Kovalainen 14th. Hamilton struggled throughout with a car that lacked grip.
"I actually enjoyed myself this afternoon, he said. "I was very heavy at the start but I just pushed and pushed. That's why I can smile - because I think I drove to my full potential. The most important thing is for us to keep our heads up and to keep pushing. I see my role from now on as helping the team to cure the problems with this year's car and to make next year's car the best it can possibly be. When the team gives me a car to win, I will win."
Kovalainen battled with Barrichello, but things were so bad that after half distance the team turned down his engine in the second half to preserve it for another event.
The Toro Rossos and Force Indias told the usual story with Sebastien Buemi beating Sebastien Bourdais as normal, while Giancarlo Fisichella disappeared early with a brake problem. Adrian Sutil had a brush with Barrichello but finished without too much drama, albeit a long way behind.
The race provided welcome relief from a stressed paddock. There was lots of talk about the politics of F1.
It is such a shame that sport is not being allowed to speak for itself.
British GP - Sunday - Race Report
There are times when one dreams, and times when one has nightmares. And sometimes they come in close succession. You think everything is fine and it all starts to go out of control. On Sunday night at Silverstone, Jenson Button must have been wondering whether his dream year really has come to an abrupt end, or whether the speed of the Red Bull Renaults was because of the nature of the circuit.
The temperatures were low - which does not suit the Brawns - and there were lots of high speed corners, which are similarly not what the car likes. There was no doubt that Red Bull did take a step forward with the latest aerodynamic upgrade, but it remains to be seen whether it will be the same story when we get back to warm days on more twiddly circuits? At those kinds of tracks the Red Bulls are more likely to cook their tyres.
But, if Silverstone proved anything, it was that there is no such thing as a dead cert. Button may have dominated thus far this year, but the tide may be turning. In any case, we may yet have a World Championship fight on our hands.
That would be good because at the moment F1 is far too concentrated on politics, rather than on the racing. Off the track, the Silverstone action was potentially ruinous for the sport. There is such a thing as bad publicity - and F1 was wallowing in it all weekend...
Given his pace in qualifying and the size of his fuel load, there was never much doubt that Vettel was going to walk it at Silverstone, but there is no such thing as a cake walk in F1. There are simply too many things that can go wrong. The key point for Vettel was the start. His start was none too special and Rubens Barrichello looked like he might have a chance, but Vettel firmly closed the door before Barrichello could use the momentum he had and that was that. The Red Bull lit up its afterburner and jetted away from the field in impressive style.
"The car was fantastic; unbelievable," Vettel said. "It shows we're going the right way with development to catch Brawn. But it was really great to win here; very emotional. This is what I was dreaming of when I saw my first Grand Prix here in the era of Nigel Mansell. The British fans are fantastic. They were standing cheering me during the final laps and I wanted to wave back. The atmosphere is great and I began to regret that I'm not an Englishman. It must be amazing to win your home race here."
He may find that out in a couple of weeks when he goes up against the Brawns again at the Nurburgring.
Button had hoped for a good start to make up for his poor qualifying but things did not go well. He went from sixth on the grid to ninth and then found himself stuck behind Jarno Trulli. That was the end of that.
"I was screwed at the start," Button explained. "Trulli has never been that special at starts and he proved it today. I tried to go on the inside because Kazuki Nakajima was on the other side, so I was stuck while everyone else flew by. It was never going to be easy from then on. I was skating all over the place on the harder tyres. I couldn't get temperature into them and the car just wasn't working. It was better on the soft tyre towards the end of the race but, by then, it was too late."
Vettel was fortunate in that Barrichello managed to keep Mark Webber behind him. If Webber had been free to go after the German we might have had more of a fight, but while the Red Bull had become a mighty machine, it was not mighty enough to pass the Brawn. One wonders whether the work of the overtaking working group achieved anything because the overtaking on Sunday depended mainly on the mistakes of others and occasional flashes of brilliance.
"The first stint was crucial," Vettel explained. "I wanted to build a gap and I pushed as hard as I could every single lap. It was fantastic to see my pit board showing the lead opening by a second a lap."
In the second part of the race Sebastian found himself in traffic a great deal.
"I was lapping a lot of cars and some of them were fighting between themselves," he said. "It's a position I know about and the last thing you want to do when in a battle is to pull over to let the leader through and lose time. My engineer came on the radio and told me to be patient."
Webber was frustrated in those early laps. He could see all hope of victory disappearing but he knew also that the damage had been done the previous day in qualifying.
"We really we needed to be on the front row at least," he said. "I just kept as close to him as I could and knew I could jump him in the first stop, but it was hard to watch Sebastian pulling away ahead of us."
Barrichello felt the same, especially as the Red Bull was leaving him at around a second a lap - despite its heavier fuel load.
Vettel made his first refuelling stop on lap 21 and such was his domination that he emerged in the lead, even at that point in the race. Later Webber would run a longer stint after passing Rubens at the first pitstop cycle and so he spent a couple of laps leading before he had to pit again. That left Vettel in a dominant place and Webber spent the rest of the race, lugging around the disadvantage he had picked up in the first stint.
"There was no chance to bridge that gap," he said. "We are so close these days that there was no way to pull that back, so it was just a question of getting the car home. I got the best I could have done today."
Barrichello ended up third, which was no surprise.
"Yesterday we said we thought third was the best we could have," he said. "The Red Bull guys were the class of the field this weekend."
Button made it home in sixth place, his worst result of the year, but he picked up three points. He lost points to Barrichello and to Vettel, but he remains 23 ahead of his team-mate.
"All points are important at this stage and to come away with three is therefore okay," he conceded, "but it's been a very frustrating home grand prix for us. We then had a long middle stint on the harder tyre and both Rubens and I struggled to get them into their working range in the cool conditions.
"On the softer rubber at the end of the race, I was able to close right up to Rosberg and Massa very easily so the pace of the car was actually pretty good, but it is so difficult to overtake that I couldn't make any improvement on sixth position with only a few laps left."
He emerged with a still-healthy points lead, 23 over Barrichello. He is still in a strong position.
Behind the two Red Bulls and the Brawn there was a big old gap and then, for much of the race, we had Nico Rosberg in his Williams. The car looked good and we even wondered at one point if he might have a chance to catch and get ahead of Barrichello, but when the second round of fuel stops came, Felipe Massa managed to get ahead. After that Nico chased, but also had to watch his mirrors as Button came charging in. So Massa finished fourth, Rosberg fifth and Button sixth.
"I almost feel as though I won the race!" Massa said. "To start 11th and finish fourth is a really great result. We weren't expecting it. We had a good strategy and I pushed to the maximum at the key moments. Today, the KERS was a great help, especially at the start, but the whole car was also working well. We have to continue down this route. Maybe it just needed those few extra degrees of track temperature to get the tyres working better."
Felipe's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was less impressed with his eighth place - as were other observers...
He had a good start and ran fifth early, despite a decent fuel load.
After the first pit stops, he found himself stuck behind Trulli and that was about it really.
"I tried to pass him getting very close sometimes, but it wasn't really on as overtaking is still very difficult," he said. He ended up fighting with Timo Glock, who was on his tail all the way to the flag.
"A single point is better than nothing," he said.
Nico Rosberg was also happy
"We still didn't get the result that we are capable of today," he said. "Barrichello was slow in the middle stint and I was stuck behind him and that cost me the place to Massa. If that hadn't happened, we would have had a solid fourth place."
Kazuki Nakajima's strategy ruined his race. He looked good in qualifying and ran fourth but he pitted on the 15th lap and when the other cars had all stopped he was down in ninth and that was the last we saw of him. The second stops dropped him two more places and he ended the day 11th, behind even Giancarlo Fisichella.
The Toyotas were seventh and ninth, a typically dull result as they started fourth and eighth.
"I had a difficult start because the car didn't pull away as fast as normal," Trulli explained, "I lost a couple of positions. I was trying to fight back all through the race but the car was sliding around quite a lot. I expected the weather today to be a little warmer than it was and I was struggling a bit with my set-up. We expected more from this race."
Glock was also less than pleased.
"I was really quick out of traffic," he said, "but I lost a few positions at the first corner and that left me in traffic and compromised my race. On the hard tyres at the end the car felt good and I very quickly caught Kimi but I had no chance to overtake. I tried into the final corner on the last lap but it didn't work out."
All this meant that Giancarlo Fisichella gave Force India its first top 10 result of the season. His performances have been pretty poor this year but on the second lap he pulled a nice move in Maggots, passing both Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso in one move. Not long after that he overtook Nick Heidfeld at Stowe. It was a decent effort.
Adrian Sutil started from pitlane in the spare Force India VJM02, which was built up overnight to replace his wrecked race car. He finished only 17th, ahead of Sebastien Buemi who seemed to be well off the pace all weekend. Sebastien Bourdais for once did not have to worry about his novice team-mate but still managed to mess things up by running into Heikki Kovalainen.
"He changed line twice," the Frenchman whinged. "At the exit to Stowe, I was on the normal line and he went to the inside, I moved to the outside, then he moved over so I moved across to the other side and he changed again. He braked early, because he'd only just left the pits on full tanks and cold tyres. I was trying to out-brake him, but he should not have changed line like that. It was frustrating."
Kovalainen had a rather different view of the incident.
"Bourdais just ran into the back of me and damaged the left-rear corner," he said. "I had to stop because the damage had made the car undriveable."
It was not McLaren's day. Not its weekend, come to that. In fact, not its season at all.
Lewis Hamilton was messing about at the back with the likes of Fernando Alonso, who seemed rather aggressive and put Lewis off at one point. This lost him a place.
He ended the afternoon in a shocking 16th.
"I gave it my all today," he said. "Despite fighting for the lower positions, I was absolutely on the limit for the whole race. I enjoyed my battle with Fernando, but we didn't have the pace to get into the points. The best thing was the fans: they really gave me some consolation by cheering me on throughout the race."
At the end he gave his fans a thrill by having a deliberate and rather smoky spin on the slowing down lap.
"I don't know what happened at the front," he said. "I was a million miles away. I was pushing and pushing but this car has no grip. It was ridiculous."
The Renaults were 12th and 14th and given that Alonso had started in the top 10 it was not a good performance. It went wrong from the start with the light-fuelled Alonso making a slow start. He was then stuck behind Nick Heidfeld's BMW. After the stops he was down in 18th, battling with Hamilton (!) and even Bourdais. By the time the second stops came around he had been overtaken by Nelson Piquet. A miserable day for him.
The BMWs were off the pace as well with Kubica 13th and Heidfeld 15th.
But Germans were rejoicing despite the poor beasts from Bavaria. Vettel had won his first race in the dry. And this was utterly convincing.
"We have to use every opportunity that we have," he said. "We have to win as much as we can, but we are up for the fight. The season is still long."
"Who knows what might happen?"
German GP - Sunday - Race Report
The Aussie Battler comes good
It has taken him a while to break through but in Germany Mark Webber drove a brilliant race to win his first F1 victory. The Red Bull Renault was so fast that he was able to deal with a drive-through penalty and was still able to win. And he did it in style. Mark is a real sportsman and he would not have wanted it any other way. It is not just about winning. It is how you win that counts...
On Sunday morning there was rain but as the morning wore on the weather improved and the temperatures rose. Mark Webber knew that the race was his to lose. It was clear that the Red Bulls were a great deal faster than the opposition and so the only real threat to Mark's hopes of victory would come from Sebastian Vettel, and the German was stuck in fourth on the grid, with the two Brawns between him and his team-mate. All Webber really needed was for Vettel to be stuck behind a slower car in the early part of the race. Once a gap was created Vettel was never going to be able to close the gap again - just as happened to Webber himself at Silverstone...
At the start Webber went away from the line slightly more slowly than Barrichello. The two cars edged towards one another but Webber seemed to be unaware of where the Brazilian was. He said later that he thought Rubens was on his left, when in fact he was on the right. The result of this was that the two cars hit and slowed one another up. Lewis Hamilton was right behind them and tried to go to the left of both and at the first corner Webber found himself sandwiched between Hamilton on his left and Barrichello on his right. The gap closed. In the end Hamilton's rear snagged Webber's front wing. It was enough to ruin Lewis's race. He had a puncture and would tour around for a lap before being able to get repairs. By then he was a lap down and the car was damaged.
At the front Rubens had Webber in his wake with Heikki Kovalainen third from Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Vettel.
We knew then that Barrichello had a light fuel load and so he needed to be leaving Webber behind right from the word go. But that did not happen. The two tore away from Kovalainen, who was clearly holding everyone up. Initially Massa was behind him but Button soon passed the Ferrari but he could not find a way past the McLaren. Behind them Vettel was stuck behind Massa. Raikkonen tagged along as best he could and then there was a fast developing gap back to the best of the rest led by Adrian Sutil, who had Nico Rosberg on his tail.
After about 10 laps Barrichello still had Webber with him when the FIA stewards decided that Webber should be punished for hitting Barrichello. The penalty was a drive through. Normally this would destroy any hopes a driver had of a win but the Red Bull strategists quickly realised that as Barrichello and Webber were 17secs ahead of the rest and Barrichello was going to pit shortly, there was a chance that Webber could build a gap in the five or six laps he had before he had to stop and could rejoin still ahead and thus be able to go into the first round of pits stops with a chance to stay second. On paper there was no way that he would have been able to make up the difference to Barrichello, but as everyone else had lost time behind Kovalainen, Webber would get second, which was not bad in the circumstances. After the penalty was announced the team kept Mark out as long as possible without incurring the wrath of Race Control. He put the hammer down. When Barrichello pitted Webber dived into the pits, drove through and popped out still in the lead, about nine seconds ahead of the Massa, as Button and Kovalainen had both pitted as well. Webber then had five laps to make the biggest gap he could. Massa was charging along too and so the Red Bull was only around 13secs up when Weber stopped on lap 19. He knew that the two Ferraris, Vettel, Sutil, Rosberg and Kubica would all have to pit and that meant that he ought to emerge in second within about 10 laps. That was exactly what happened, but what was startling was that in addition to moving up Webber was able to wipe out the entire disadvantage to Barrichello. When Rosberg went into pitlane from second place on lap 29. Webber was second 4.7secs behind Rubens. A lap later he was 2.8secs behind and a lap after that the gap was down to 1.2secs. Barrichello was then called into the pits, earlier than he had expected. After the race he ranted and raved about this, accusing the team of losing him the race. It was not very smart. Brawn has probably the most advanced strategy software in the pitlane. It is not something they talk about, but the team is absolutely confident in it. Barrichello's lap times were not good enough to hold back Webber. It was as simple as that. The strategy picked was to avoid Barrichello losing out to Vettel as well. The key is fuel adjusted lap times and while these may not be immediately obvious they are what decide races... Barrichello's second pit stop put Webber ahead again with a lead of 15secs to Vettel. The gap increased to slightly over 20secs and stayed there. Webber pitted on lap 43, Vettel followed him in a lap later. Webber was ahead again and when the final stops were completed the story was still the same. All Webber had to do was reel off the final laps and hope that the car did not break.
He did not make it easy on himself, with the drive-through penalty, but after the race he said that it had not been deliberate.
"I lost Rubens completely off the start," he said. "I thought he had gone to the left and I went to the right and I banged into him. As soon as I hit him I said 'There he is.' It was a bit of a surprise. That is not normally my style."
Webber felt the penalty was harsh. "I was shattered when I was told I have got a drive-through. I thought 'My God, I am absolutely cruising here behind Rubens. I know he is short. I know everything is under control.' And a drive-through is very harsh for anyone in any Grand Prix, so I had to recover. My engineer kept me calm and I pushed as hard as I could when I needed to. It is a great day for me."
All the more so because last winter Webber broke his leg and shoulder in a cycling accident. It kept him out of action all winter and when he returned at the start of the year he now admits that he was not 100%.
"I have had great people around me to recover from the injuries that I had," Webber said. "The team had been incredibly patient with me as well and I want to thank Dietrich (Mateschitz) and Red Bull for what they did for me. I think I was kidding myself a little bit. I thought I was ready to go for winter testing but I wasn't. It is absolutely clear that the leg was a long way from healed. It was still broken. It was just the metal holding it in place, so it has come a long way since then. Time has been a little bit on my side. I was lucky that Melbourne was put back a little bit in the calendar and a few things have gone my way, so along with having fantastic people around me, like Roger (Cleary), my physio. I always stayed positive and I knew that looking at the times Sebastian was doing in testing the car was going to be quick. That gave me incredible motivation to be ready."
There was more than a little irony in the situation in Germany because it was exactly the same story as Silverstone - but in reverse.
"I thought now I know how Sebastian felt and it is a nice way to be able to control a Grand Prix," Webber said. "The first stint I got held up a lot by Rubens at Silverstone and that makes it difficult. But all of us know that. All of us know that it is very difficult to overtake. These cars, you know, the braking is so late and they are so even, in so many areas on the track it is difficult to stay close. It is a challenge for us to jump people even when they are in trouble. You need free air, good quali, and that is when you can get the job done."
Vettel was disappointed to be second but given that he was sixth at the end of the first lap, this was a good performance.
"In the end it was a good recovery," he accepted. "It was quite a bad start and then all the KERS cars around me. I got passed by both McLarens and then even Felipe, so it was quite difficult. You start fourth and then go into the first corner maybe eighth or something. And then basically I struggled a lot in the first stint. I was in traffic and you know altogether we are four or five cars. Obviously I could have gone quite a bit quicker but there was no way to pass Felipe. I was lucky to have the right strategy and in the end that brought us back to second position but Felipe didn't stop pushing, so it was quite hard until the end of the race. Of course I wanted to win but yesterday Mark did a better job and that is why he totally deserved to win. He was quicker."
Finding a Ferrari in third place this year is quite a thing and Felipe Massa had to take the credit for that. He made a great start and went from eighth to fourth on the first lap. He then lost a place to Button but then found himself stuck behind Kovalainen and Jenson. He had a decent fuel load and that meant that as others peeled off into pitlane he moved up and between laps 20 and 25 he was leading the race. The stops helped him jump from what had been fifth to third, and there he stayed all the way to the flag.
"The car was good, the pace was reasonable," he said. "When I was on soft tyres at the beginning I was not as quick as Sebastian and Rubens and Mark but that was with a lot of fuel in the car. The second stint was pretty good. I was following Sebastian, even catching him. Sometimes at the end of the stint he started pulling away slightly but in the last stint the car was good on the hard tyres as well. I am very happy. I am very happy that everyone in the team did a great job on the strategy, on the pit stops, so I think having a good result like this, a podium will definitely motivate the people to keep working, to keep pushing hard."
Things did not go so well for Kimi Raikkonen. He was seventh early on. The first stops did not help him and on lap 28 Sutil came out of the pits and tried to stay ahead of the Ferrari. It was not a smart move.
"These things happen in racing," said Kimi. "We spoke to one another and I think that he also sees it that way, as did the Stewards."
It was the end of a dream for the Force India team. Sutil has started seventh and lost a place during the first lap. He had a lot of fuel onboard the car and so moved up the order and on lap 25 found himself in second place. Two laps later he pitted and then encountered Raikkonen.
"I saw Kimi coming on the outside of the corner and I just tried to hold my line but he went to the outside and I touched him and lost part of my front wing."
That meant another stop for a new nose and he ended up 15th. A little more patience and some commonsense and the team would have scored points...
Giancarlo Fisichella ended up 11th after quite a strong race and it was clear that the Force Indias had managed to find some good pace.
The fourth man home was Nico Rosberg, which was a major achievement from 15th on the grid.
"I honestly wasn't expecting too much but I took a few chances on the opening lap and finished it in ninth place," he said. "Although I had more fuel than anyone else, I kept pushing hard and that, together with a little luck that Heikki Kovalainen had created a bit of traffic jam behind him, helped for sure. I was also carrying a problem with the fuel system, so it was quite eventful and makes the race outcome even better. We are continually progressing with our car, our development is looking good and because of this our pace is right up there."
Things did not go as well for Kazuki Nakajima (Do they ever?). He was hit by Jarno Trulli on the first lap and dropped to the tail of the field as a result.
"My race was ruined from there," he said. He finished 12th.
The team was also delighted to see Webber winning. The Australian was a Williams man for several years and was popular with the troops at Grove.
In the end the Brawns finished fifth and sixth, which was not a great result given that they started second and third. The light fuel loads were wasted as Barrichello could not get away from Webber at the front and Button was stuck behind Kovalainen all the way to the stops.
After the race Rubens was upset at the strategies picked by the team which dropped him behind Jenson in the closing laps.
"I did all I had to do. I went first on the first corner, and then they made me lose the race," Rubens railed. "If it is really what's going on, we're going to end up losing both championships. To be very honest, I wish I could get on the plane and go home. I don't want to talk to anyone in the team. It will be all 'blah, blah, blah' and I don't want to hear that."
Rubens was not helped by a slight delay caused by a fuel rig and then his radio was not working well and so he was not able to hear what the team wanted him to do. But Barrichello's believe that he could have won the race was flawed.
"If he sits down and looks at the numbers he will realise we were too slow," said Ross Brawn. "Those are the facts. If we had been quicker then we would have won the race, but we were too slow. Mark had a drive-through and was still back in front of us after a few laps. When you are cocooned inside the car and the radio is not working you don't get a good picture of what's going on."
The numbers backed Brawn up. Barrichello's best lap was only the 11th fastest lap of the race. You cannot win races with lap times like that.
Button was less upset by the end of the race, but four points was not great.
"All points are valuable," he said, "but my race started badly and didn't get much better today. I had a poor start and fell back to fifth after the first turn. I was able to get ahead of Massa at the start of the second lap but I was stuck behind Kovalainen. His pace was way off what we could have achieved at that point of the race but there was just no way through. We struggled with graining and tyre degradation throughout with both tyres not working well for us. The problem with the fuel rig at Rubens' second stop also affected my race as we were so close on the track and he was struggling with the prime tyre. So overall it has been a tough and disappointing day for the team. In Hungary we will have new parts and hopefully warmer weather to take the fight to the Red Bulls."
Fernando Alonso finished seventh for Renault - despite a spin on the parade lap as he tried to get heat in his tyres.
"My start was very poor," he said. "We lost quite a few positions before the first corner. After that, the race was tough and we were stuck in traffic, but the car has clearly improved as I set the fastest lap and scored some points. The most important thing I take from the weekend is that we are competitive and we can be optimistic for the races to come."
Nelson Piquet finished 13th, also complaining of being unable to warm his tyres.
The final point went to Kovalainen. He held up many of the fast men early on but then dropped from third to eighth during the stops. And there he stayed.
"If you'd told me on Friday that I would score points today, I wouldn't have believed it," he said. "This weekend has been difficult - it's been hard to get the tyres working and to find grip - but we kept pushing throughout. It was a hard way to earn points but we can be satisfied about it. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Grand Prix, when I'll get my hands on the full aero upgrade package for the first time."
Hamilton's dreams of glory were ruined at the first corner after which there seemed to be little point.
"I suggested to the team that we save the engine and gearbox for the future because there's a lot more potential ahead of us than we'd anticipated before this weekend," said Lewis. "But that is racing. The best thing about this weekend was that our updates were successful. The team has done a fantastic job over the last few weeks."
It was a bad weekend for Toyota as well with Timo Glock finishing ninth and Trulli 17th. Both drivers started on heavy fuel loads and on the softer tyres. Jarno was hit by Nakajima, forcing him to pit for a new front wing on lap two. He returned to the track in 19th but set some fast laps even if he was not able to move through the traffic. Glock went for a one-stop strategy and it worked quite well but ninth brought no points.
"I am reasonably satisfied with my performance today," he said. "We had a good strategy after what happened in qualifying yesterday but unfortunately I had some traffic in the first stint which cost me time. I only had around four laps without traffic all day but when I had a clear track I was quick."
Behind Timo was Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and with Robert Kubica 14th this was another weekend to forget for the Swiss-German team.
"We had the speed to score points, which obviously hasn't always been the case this year," said Heidfeld. "Then the first stint wasn't easy with the heavy fuel load but during the middle stint I was able to catch up until I lost some time behind slower cars."
Kubica said that he had done what was possible with the equipment he had available.
It was another lacklustre day for Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Sebastien Buemi finished 16th while Sebastien Bourdais retired with an hydraulic problem early on. The word in the paddock was that we will not be seeing the Frenchman again...
France may be struggling to find a new F1 star but Australia has had to wait for 28 years since the last victory was scored by Alan Jones in Las Vegas in 1981. Webber was beside himself with joy at the end.
"I wanted to win so badly," he said. "There are not many Australian drivers who have reached Formula 1 and few have been successful. It's a real message to the Australian people. I've always tried to represent my country as best as I can. We're a very proud sporting nation. There are a few people who doubted me , so hello to them!"
Hungarian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Smoke signals end for Massa
You had to feel a little sorry for Felipe Massa on Sunday at the Hungaroring. The chirpy little Brazilian did everything that was needed to win the Hungarian GP in impressive fashion. He made a superb start and went around the outside of Lewis Hamilton in the first corner. Once ahead he was able to show the pace of the Ferrari, which had been hidden in qualifying. Hamilton fought as best he could but Massa had the pace and when Lewis suffered a slow puncture on lap 41 of 70 the challenge was over. The problem cost him six places. After that Massa had no worries. Heikki Kovalainen was to far back to make any impression and even if he had been able to close, he would not have been able to pass. After the hurly-burly of the first lap there was just one single overtaking manoeuvre not occasioned by a mistake or a mechanical problem. That was when Jenson Button slipped past his team-mate Rubens Barrichello on the third lap. Otherwise the F1 field played "Follow my leader" for the whole race, the lead changes coming during the pit stops or when there was an incident. There is always much talk about the need to change the cars but this was a story that has been seen year-in, year-out at the Hungaroring.
But Massa's moment of glory came to an end on lap 68 when a cloud of white smoke suddenly came from the back of his car and he came to a stop on the start-finish straight.
It was a bitter moment for the Brazilian.
"It happened completely without warning, without giving the slightest indication," he said. "I had a good advantage over second place and I was taking no risks whatsoever. I am very frustrated at the moment. Today we had a great car and we had done everything perfectly.
"Racing can be a cruel sport. We had given it our all, but these things can happen. Our rivals are strong but we have shown we are at their level."
Felipe's start was the high point of the afternoon. He came quickly off the line, making the most of his position on the clean side of the track. He was alongside Hamilton as they went into the first corner, but there was no room to shut the McLaren out, so he hung there on the outside and at the corner turned so Lewis had to give way. That gave Felipe the lead - and that was all that mattered. Hamilton managed to maintain a small gap throughout the first stint. He was only 3.5secs behind when Massa pitted on lap 18. Lewis pitted on lap 19 and he avoided traffic problems and when the order came back together again, he was still only three seconds in arrears.
"I felt comfortable in the second stint," he said. "But Felipe was running longer to the final pit stops."
The gap edged outwards to five seconds - and then the McLaren picked up its puncture. That left Massa more than 20secs clear of Kovalainen, who had run third from the start. Hamilton's bad luck was mitigated somewhat by the fact that the puncture happened not long before the second round of pit stops and so the damage was limited to the time lost as Lewis hobbled in to the pitlane. When all the stops were done he was sixth and he picked up fifth when Massa's engine blew.
"I scored four points and maintained my lead in the championship," he said. "This result is not too bad for me."
The two problems left Kovalainen alone at the front with a lead of about 10 seconds on the Toyota of Timo Glock, which had run fourth for the first two stints.
"There have been races this year where I've been in a position to challenge for victory but had something go wrong for me," Heikki said. "Halfway through this race, things started working for me and I started pushing Felipe hard - and it worked. I feel sorry for Felipe because he drove a great race, but my car felt good and I knew I could push for the victory. This is a great moment for me, something I've been targeting for many years. Hopefully, this victory will be the first of many."
Kovalainen has the honour of being the 100th winner of a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix. One can argue, perhaps, that 10 of the winners back in the 1950s were men who raced only at Indianapolis, but it is still an indication of how tough it is to win such races. One hundred winners in 59 years...
"Heikki drove superbly," said Ron Dennis. "He scored his first Grand Prix victory in fine style and converting his excellent qualifying pace, which has been apparent all season, into a thoroughly well deserved win. As bad days go, it could have been a lot worse for Lewis, but today was Heikki's day, and a very good day it was, and everyone at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is absolutely delighted for him."
Indeed so. A new winner is always welcome in Formula 1.
One had to feel sorry for Ferrari nonetheless and with Kimi Raikkonen's poor qualifying performance meant that he was in no position to pick up the pieces and to step in when Massa dropped out. He finished third in the end despite losing a place to Fernando Alonso at the start. He took Alonso during the second pit stops, gained from the problems that affected Hamilton and Massa, and was able to take advantage of a troubled day for Robert Kubica's BMW, which was left behind during the first pit stop sequence. It was not a great day for the lacklustre Finn - and he knew it.
"I am sorry for Felipe and for the team as it is horrible to lose a race in this way. It was tough for me because, when you spend a long time behind a slower car it becomes frustrating and boring," he said. "When I was finally able to push, the car was behaving very well, but by then it was too late. I came up behind Glock but in the end, I had to slow as I had a mechanical problem with the rear end and the team told me to be very careful to ensure I brought the car home. It's true that I'm the one who has won the most points out of the top three in the classification, which shows this championship is really unpredictable, with ups and downs for everyone, but it was a disappointing weekend for me. We must try and fix the problems we have in qualifying to start at the front, so as to exploit the potential of the car. If we can do that, then we can get back to fighting for the win."
The biggest surprise of the race weekend was Timo Glock in his Toyota and in the race the German rising star was as impressive as he had been in qualifying. He started from fifth on the grid - on the clean side of the track - and overtook Robert Kubica at the start. He then ran fourth for the first two stints and moved up when Massa and Hamilton hit trouble. It was the first time for three years that Toyota has done as well and the team was rejoicing afterwards.
"What an incredible feeling," said Glock. "I couldn't believe it when I saw Felipe's engine go and I was P2. To get such a good result in my first year is fantastic so a huge thank you to all the team, including the engineers, mechanics and everyone at the factory. I knew from qualifying that we had good speed and we've looked strong all weekend. Today I made a good start and gained a place into the first corner. I had a really good car and everything went perfectly until the last stint on the soft tyres. I was struggling a lot and soon I had Kimi behind me. When I saw him in the mirrors I knew I couldn't afford any mistakes."
Jarno Trulli also came home in the points with two for seventh place
"This is a very good result for us and to pick up 10 points is great for the Constructors' Championship. I was quick today but I couldn't push because I only had one lap that was clear of traffic in the whole afternoon. I gained one position early on but overtaking is practically impossible here. Around the second stops I was also stuck behind Lewis, holding me up further. Still, I'm delighted that we are showing such strong form."
Renault ended up looking good with Fernando Alonso finishing fourth and Nelson Piquet sixth.
"We fought hard today and we were on the pace with a car that was working well," said Alonso. "That is encouraging for the rest of the championship. We scored some important points which is satisfying. Today's result shows that we are moving in the right direction."
Piquet was delighted to score again, particularly given that he had made a mistake early on and lost two places as a result.
"At this level you cannot afford the smallest mistake," he said. "I am continuing to learn and I am determined to continue building on this progress when we go to Valencia at the end of the month."
It was not a great day for BMW Sauber with Robert Kubica going from forth on the grid to eighth, despite the failures of the leading runners.
"It was a difficult race," he said. "We were very slow and I was struggling with the overall grip of the car. I had massive oversteer and could not really push. I was trying hard to keep the car on the track. One point is better than nothing."
Team-mate Nick Heidfeld was equally unhappy as his one-stop strategy was not very effective.
"I was able to overtake three cars on the first lap," he said, "But later it became more difficult than expected to race with the heavy car. We went for a one-stop strategy, so my car was almost full of fuel at the start and I also had to take care of the tyres. I couldn't match the pace of the cars in front of me."
Red Bull was also unimpressed with itself by the end of the day with Mark Webber and David Coulthard ending up ninth and 11th.
Webber looked en route to points until the first stops when he fell back while DC started on the softer tyres and then went off at Turn Two, making his life more difficult.
Behind them, Jenson Button's Honda led home the battling Williamses of Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg, Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India, Rubens Barrichello's Honda and Sebastien Bourdais's Toro Rosso.
Button was happy with his day.
"Looking at the weekend as a whole, we have made good progress and can take a lot away from here," he said. "Unfortunately the race was frustrating. I made it tough for myself with a poor start, which dropped me down to P14 after the first couple of corners. I got boxed in at Turn One and had a lot of wheelspin out of the corner, which allowed a few people to get past on the outside. I was able to get past Rubens on lap three, which was fun, but after that I quickly came up to the back of Heidfeld. He was very strong on the last two corners so I had no chance to overtake on the track and he was on a one-stop strategy. However in clean air, our pace was good, so this weekend is a definite step forward and I am reasonably happy with the outcome."
Nakajima, Bourdais and Barrichello all experienced minor fires during their pit stops, while Rosberg had a rig problem with his car.
The three fires were odd, given that we have not seen such things for years. Even more odd was the fact that the teams did not seem to agree on the cause. Logically it should have been a question of the extreme heat but that does not seem to have been the problem.
"We think ours was caused by the heat building up back pressure in the fuel tank," Gerhard Berger said. "The heat then ignited any fuel vapour."
At Honda they had a different idea.
"We don't think our problem was specific to the heat here," said Steve Clark. "We had a problem getting the nozzle on and it squirted some fuel. It was what you might call a routine problem, rather than a heat-related one."
This was not a weekend for Williams to remember fondly.
Nor for that matter was there much to shout about at Force India. Giancarlo Fisichella came home 15th but Adrian Sutil went out after several off track adventures had ruined his brakes.
Massa ended up classified 17th,
Going into the summer break, Hamilton leads the World Championship with 62 points, Kimi has 57 and Felipe 54 respectively.
This particular race may not have been a great one, but we have had a fair share already this year - and the title race is a real scorcher.
European GP - Sunday - Race Report
A handout for Rubens
Lewis Hamilton should have won the European Grand Prix in Valencia. He had the win in his hands. He had taken care of the challenge from Rubens Barrichello. No-one else was in the picture. All that was needed was to get through the final pit stop and avoid trouble. Alas, it all went horribly wrong.
Both the McLarens had started the race on the Bridgestone super-soft tyres, and they went for more of the same in their first pit stops, Barrichello (and Jenson Button) started on softs and repeated that choice for their middle stints. Hamilton had a lead of 3.6s over Barrichello by lap 36. The team was trying to get him to go an extra lap to reduce the chance of Rubens being able to grab the lead. The decision to call him into the pits was taken at the last minute.
"I was told to come in that lap," Hamilton explained. "I had saved fuel to go longer, but maybe they were a bit unsure whether I had enough. They called me in and I was just inside the white line and already committed to coming into the pits, when they told me to do another lap."
This meant that when he arrived at the garage the crew did not have his front tyres ready. That delay proved crucial. When Barrichello pitted from the lead on lap 40 he was able to resume ahead of Hamilton. And that was it. Hamilton was obviously disappointed but he put a brave face on it
"We win and we lose together," he said. "It's been a tremendous effort to get us here, so we can't be disappointed that we didn't get the win because we had extraordinary pace for the last three races. These things happen. I've had so many races with this team and this very rarely happens, this was perhaps the second time. After all the things we've done, they deserve a pat on the back."
Barrichello has looked like a man who is capable of winning races all year but it looked in Valencia as though that was not going to happen. The World Champion led easily from his pole position, as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen slotted in behind him. Barrichello had nothing to deal with their KERS systems. Further back Kimi Raikkonen was doing much the same with Sebastian Vettel. The German was trying to deal with this and get ahead of Jenson Button. The result was that Jenson was pushed towards the wall and had to back off. In doing do he lost out to Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. After that he was in real trouble. A lively fight with Alonso in the first lap caused his tyres to grain.
There was a bit of drama in the midfield where there was a bingle between Romain Grosjean, Timo Glock, Sebastien Buemi and Luca Badoer. The result was that Badoer was spun and the other three ended up going to the pits with varying degrees of damage to their cars.
As this was being sorted out the action focussed on Button as he tried to make up for lost ground and went past Alonso. It was a neat move but Button overshot and Fernando went back ahead and then Mark Webber closed up and overtook Jenson on lap eight to take fifth.
Out front Hamilton led until his first pit stop on lap 16. That was expected and Kovalainen took the lead for a lap and then headed for the pits. Barrichello went on for three more laps and as a result was ahead of Kovalainen when the stops were done. He then had to close up on Hamilton and aim to do the same at the second stops.
"In the middle stint we pushed each other very hard," Hamilton said. "The first part of the race was very well controlled and consistent, but in the second stint I was struggling with my tyres and to keep up the pace Rubens had, especially in the high-speed corners where he was catching me."
After the positions had switched and Barrichello was ahead Hamilton pushed as hard as he could.
"I pushed and pushed beyond the limit," he said. "Like qualifying laps. I can go home happy that I gave it all. The team did a fantastic job and it wasn't a pit issue; it was just unfortunate at the time. I tried to do that extra lap to push closer to Rubens, but we didn't get it. No worries. Congratulations to Rubens, he did a fantastic job."
Hamilton kept the pressure on Barrichello all the way, but could not close the gap by more than a couple of tenths each lap until Barrichello backed off right at the end.
The victory was the cause for much celebration for the 37-year-old Brazilian, who has not won since he left Ferrari four years ago.
"All race they were telling me to push, push, push, and lots of things go through your head, for yourself, your family, your country," he said. "The car was really brilliant. For sure my tyres were very consistent and towards the end of the second stint I was able to catch Lewis a little bit and push after he stopped.
"I wish this moment could be forever."
The win had special significance as it marked the 100th Grand Prix victory for a Brazilian driver.
"I don't care so much for numbers as I do for my work," he said. "I dedicate this to Brazil, but also to a special one, for Felipe (Massa). It's been emotional for me, but I never felt that the spring coming out of my car [and hitting him in Hungary] was my fault. I never wish that had happened to him. He is such a good friend and I wish him all the best. I had two wishes, actually: That he was the same guy - and he is; and I wish he is the same driver - and I think he is going to be."
It was a wish shared by many in F1. Massa was missed - not least by Ferrari. After the Michael Schumacher idea had gone wrong, the team resorted to Luca Badoer and he was clearly a long way out of his league. It was rather embarrassing, but Badoer kept his head down and did what he could. He will be better at Spa (one hopes).
So the hopes of Ferrari rested on Kimi Raikkonen and the relationship between the Finn and the team is a little stressed these days. Raikkonen has no desire to retire but the team seems to want to move on and sign up Fernando Alonso - not that anyone will say it out loud.
Raikkonen was pushing hard and he was able to move to third place in the race by getting ahead of Kovalainen during the second pit stops. On paper that should not have happened.
But in the end Heikki had to hold off an aggressive Nico Rosberg. The word is that he will be fending off Rosberg for his drive next season as well...
"To start second and finish fourth isn't ideal," Kovalainen admitted. "But I'm more pleased with my overall performance in this race than in Hungary. We showed good performance throughout the whole weekend, and I really want to thank the whole team for helping us to achieve that - it's good to see things improving like this. We don't yet have the pace of the frontrunners, but everyone has done an incredible job to get us to where we are. We've scored more points in the last three races than any other team."
Raikkonen was certainly happy with his work.
"On Friday we saw that the car was pretty competitive over a distance and we therefore thought we could fight for a podium finish," he said. "We were also aware that, in qualifying, we might have struggled, especially on light fuel. Both these predictions proved correct and today we were once again able to get on the podium. I managed to make up a few places at the start and my first aim was to pull out a bit of a gap over Rosberg, who was going to stop after me. In the second part of the race, I realized that I could close on Kovalainen and try and make the most of the run of pit stops to get ahead of him and I managed it."
Rosberg did a decent job again for Williams and he came home fifth, the seventh consecutive race in which has scored points. It is just a shame that he did not get more in the bank at the start of the year when the double diffuser teams had such an advantage. The good news for Williams is that the FW31 now seems to suit every circuit on which it races, and that is good news. It can only be a matter of time before we see Nico on the podium.
Kazuki Nakajima had a pretty miserable race. After the problem in qualifying, he then had a puncture on lap 38 and finally he was called in to retire with two laps to go in an effort to avoid damage being done to the gearbox. He was classified 18th.
Alonso's early charge set him up for points but it was not easy. The R29 is not a simple beast and the best that Alonso could hope for was sixth place. Grosjean had no chance of a good result after his first lap adventure and ended up 15th. The only bonus for him was that he managed to set a faster lap than Alonso, although circumstances obviously played in his favour in this respect.
Jenson Button came home in seventh place and that was bad news for Jenson. In recent races Barrichello seems to have had the edge over him, and Jenson was clearly confused after a strange race.
"Rubens did a great job and he deserves the victory, it's been a long time for him," he said. "We came here to beat the Red Bulls and we did, but I didn't expect my team-mate to finish so far ahead of me."
What was really strange was that in the closing part of the race Jenson was the fastest man on the track, when his car suddenly began to behave well on the rubber. For a few laps it looked like he might even challenge Alonso but then the tyres stopped performing and he slowed down and settled for seventh, which he had taken from Mark Webber during an excellent out lap after his final pit stop on lap 42. Whatever the case the World Championship leader had a bad day and the only good news was that things were worse with Red Bull. Vettel was running fifth at the time of his first pit stop on lap 16 but then he had to make another stop on lap 17 because the team wasn't able to get fuel into the car. That ruined his race and then to add insult to injury his engine lunched itself soon afterwards.
"It's not good," he said. "In terms of the Championship, I will fight until the last breath, but it's not good to have retired when you want to get more points than your opponent. You're in a position to do it, but then you don't finish the race."
Mark Webber was in a similar situation. He ended the day ninth. He admitted that he had struggled all through the weekend. It was the first time Red Bull Racing has failed to score since Melbourne.
Robert Kubica beat Webber to the final point, which gave BMW Sauber its first score since Silverstone. Kubica lost out in the early part of he race but was able to pass Webber in the second stops, which made all the difference. In the closing stages Webber was chased by Adrian Sutil but that was a hopeless chase. Nick Heidfeld finished 11th (again) after letting Kubica go early on in the race because the Pole had a much lighter fuel load. Giancarlo Fisichella brought the second Force India home behind him but he was still well ahead of the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock. And here we had another oddity. The Toyotas were hopeless all weekend, struggling for grip. And yet Trulli did not make a first stop until lap 34. Timo had to pit after the first lap incident but then ran 32 laps without calling in again. In the closing stages, however, the tyres kicked in and Timo ended the day by setting the fastest lap of the race... No-one seemed to understand that.
Down at the back the Toro Rossos did not look much good. Buemi ran into trouble with that opening lap adventure with Glock, and after that ran at the back until a brake disc problem halted him. Jaime Alguersuari was less impressive than he had been in Hungary and found the race much tougher. It did not help that for the last 10 laps he could not get anything from his drinks bottle.
Badoer ended the day in 17th. It was not a great performance.
The second Valencia street race was about as exciting as the first one had been. The track allows very little overtaking and the crowds this year were much smaller than last year.
One wonders if we will back again...
Belgian GP - Sunday - Race Report
F1 shoots itself in the foot
Lewis Hamilton scored a wonderful win over Ferrari at Spa on Sunday, snatching victory from Kimi Raikkonen in the dying moments of the race, as rain began to fall on the Belgian circuit. It was a terrific race, with plenty of spectacular action. There was no shortage of scrambling in the final few minutes with a number of drivers stretching the rules as they did everything they could to make it to the flag. But when it came to handing out punishments, the stewards concentrated on Hamilton. In Valencia a fortnight ago Felipe Massa was investigated for "unsafe release" from his Ferrari pit. His penalty normally would have been a 10s stop and go penalty, which would have denied him victory. Instead Felipe was fined. At Spa a McLaren was in the firing line and the decision was very different. A 25secs penalty dropped Hamilton from first to third.
"I would be surprised if there was a penalty," Hamilton said before the stewards' decision. "This is motor racing and if there is a penalty something is wrong. It was fair and square, it would be absolutely wrong if that happens, but we know what they're like."
Everyone in Formula 1 knew exactly what Hamilton meant - and millions of spectators across the world as well. Whether the FIA likes it or not there is a widely-held belief that Ferrari is always favoured by the decision-makers, particularly if McLaren is involved. The FIA argues that this is not the case, but who believes it these days? There have been too many decisions like this. The actual decision is really irrelevant. Hopefully Hamilton will direct his frustrations and win the World Championship without needing the points he lost at Spa. The key question is whether the FIA can find a way to restore some faith in the sport. People are tired of such rubbish, particularly as the credibility of the FIA is at an all-time low after the Mosley Scandal.
We're not saying that there is a giant conspiracy against McLaren, but all too often it looks that way. It happens time and time again. And when the boot is on the other foot the decisions seem to be different. In F1 circles it is called "the red car rule". People just do not believe it any longer. And that is scary because if they stop believing in the sport, then we are lost. It is really not clear what Hamilton was supposed to do after the incident. He ran across the chicane and then carefully backed off and allowed Raikkonen to repass him. At the next corner Hamilton was able to scramble ahead and, after another gripping skirmish at Pouhon that lap, he went on to win as Raikkonen blew his chances of victory by first spinning and then crashing out of the race in the damp conditions.
Hamilton made no such mistakes and took what was an impressive victory.
In those wild laps Raikkonen did a number of things that might also have been punished. He appeared to use the high-friction run-off areas at Pouhon to gain advantage and close right up to Hamilton. He then clearly overtook Hamilton at a point where there was a waved yellow flag. He did not mean to do it, he was avoiding a collision with Nico Rosberg, who was rejoining the race after a spin, but it is also clear that Hamilton was doing everything he could do to avoid gaining an advantage from what he had done.
"We look at all our data and also made it available to the FIA stewards," McLaren said in a statement. "It showed that having lifted Lewis was 6kmh slower than Kimi as they crossed the start finish line. Having passed the lead back to Kimi, Lewis repositioned his car, moving across and behind Kimi to the right-hand line and then outbraked him into the hairpin. Based on this data, we have no option other than to register our intention to appeal. We are a racing team and will now focus on Monza, with a view to extending our lead in the Drivers' World Championship."
It is so sad that the day had to end as it did for it had been a super race. Hamilton led from the start but then had a quick spin at the start of the second lap that allowed Raikkonen to go ahead. Kimi had made no friends by forcing his way past team-mate Felipe Massa on the first lap, deliberately running wide on to the run-off area at La Source to gain an advantage on the run own the hill to Eau Rouge. Massa said he had been too cautious.
"It was pretty close," Massa said. "Kimi was so quick he was going to pass me easy, yet he started to close the line and we nearly touched wheel to wheel. I thought that was strange."
That looked like a falling out. Kimi has seemed asleep for much of this season but at Spa he seemed suddenly awake and ruthless. Or desperate. In any case he was ahead and there he stayed as Hamilton tried to hold on. Hamilton was the first to pit for fuel, on lap 11. Raikkonen was in a lap later and by the time the stops were completed Kimi had increased his advantage as Lewis had been caught in traffic. The plan had been to do a short stint to try to make up time and take the lead at the second stops, but it did not work. It looked as though all was lost, but in the closing laps Lewis found he could close on Raikkonen. With eight laps left Kimi was two seconds ahead and seemed to be comfortable but then spots of rain appeared at the back of the track and suddenly the story changed.
"I was just pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to close the gap," said Hamilton. "I would pull back a tenth at a time, and then he'd pull away. I was hoping that he'd catch traffic, and sometimes he got it on the straight and got a tow, and sometimes I'd get it in a corner. It was mix and match. Going through Eau Rouge I could see clouds and I was praying, 'Please, rain, rain, rain!' I knew how to deal with it. Then I saw Kimi begin to back off."
The battle got wilder as the conditions grew worse and as they went into the chicane at the end of lap 42 they were side-by-side.
"I was in a good position to dive inside him and he covered his spot, which was fair," Hamilton said. "He braked early, so I went round outside and left him enough room. He accelerated, or picked up more pace in the corner, and drove me as wide as he possibly could. I had no room left. I thought, 'If I stay where I am I can try to go over the green astroturf bit and hit him, or I go left.' The latter was the option I had to do, so I did it."
Hamilton was thus ahead. He knew that he had to give the place back and he did. The team told him as well. There was no attempt to avoid the rules.
"I was still accelerating, but not at full throttle," he said. "He was in my blind spot so I waited until I saw him come by and then got on it and back into his slipstream."
They headed into La Source with Kimi jinking about trying to keep Lewis behind but Hamilton nailed him and went down the inside. At the apex of the corner Kimi nudged him up the back, obviously frustrated at having blown it after a good afternoon of racing.
Out on the track conditions were worse and at Pouhon Raikkonen went way wide on to the high friction tarmac that is designed to slow the cars. It gave him extra grip and he came back at Lewis as they went into the next right hander. The problem was that Nico Rosberg had spun and was getting back on the track as the two leaders arrived. Yellow flags were being waved. Hamilton had to go left on to the grass to avoid the Williams. Kimi nearly ran into the back of it, but managed to scrambled through.
Raikkonen had overtaken both cars under a yellow flag. He did not mean to. It just happened. Did anyone question that? It was all irrelevant as almost immediately Raikkonen spun and Lewis was ahead again.
"It was so much fun," said Hamilton. "My heart was racing more than it ever has before!"
Raikkonen tried to give chase but then spun again and this time piled the Ferrari into the wall. His comeback was over. The Italian media started to sharpen their knives again. He had blown it.
Hamilton still had to get his car home but with Massa looking for points there was no challenge and Lewis backed right off. Behind him there was all kinds of excitement as the chasers scrambled for points. Heidfeld, Glock, Rosberg, Nakajima, Coulthard and Fisichella all dived into the pits for intermediate tyres. Alonso went too. As Spa is a long track the ploy worked and Heidfeld pulled off an amazing lap as he went past Vettel, Kubica and finally Bourdais to grab third place. Bourdais lost his momentum and was passed by Vettel and Kubica. Alonso's gamble also paid off, hustling the car around to finish fourth.
Heidfeld has had a tough time of late and this was a reward for him.
"I was convinced it would be heavier on the next lap and decided to change to wet weather tyres. The team asked me if I meant what I said. When I left the pit lane after the stop I asked on the radio how many laps to go, and my engineer said this one and another one. It was a Hero or Zero decision."
Although Bourdais lost out it was still a good day for his team with both he and Vettel bringing home points.
"On the last lap it was a lottery with the car getting away from you with every turn of the wheel," Bourdais said. "It's a horrible situation, as everything had been under control up until then. But I am not in a situation where I can risk everything and at the end of the race I didn't even know where I finished. It was so close to being a great result I felt I could almost touch it and so it was a very frustrating way to finish."
Glock's gamble also seemed to pay off but later he was docked 25s for ignoring waved yellows, so he dropped from eighth to ninth behind Mark Webber, who thus took a point for Red Bull.
Others had suffered earlier. Jarno Trulli made an astonishing start, only to get hit heavily from behind by Bourdais at La Source. The Toyota handled terribly for the rest of the day and Jarno dropped away. Bourdais was lucky. Heikki Kovalainen made an awful start and bumped into Nick Heidfeld. Later Trulli spun in the chicane at the end of the lap, while a recovering Kovalainen pushed Mark Webber into a spin there as they battled. Later he was judged at fault and got a drive-through penalty.
It was an entertaining race which lit up like a firework at the end. Sadly the stewards threw a bucket of cold water over the whole event.
We can only hope that the FIA Court of Appeal will be a little more reasonable.
But few believe that will happen.
Italian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Vettel blows them away
You have to laugh sometimes in Grand Prix racing. Pretty much everyone was delighted to see Sebastian Vettel win the Italian GP. It is always nice to have a new winner and Vettel is a popular guy. He's naturally funny and not in the least bit precious. Perhaps that will come with fame and fortune (it often does) but for the time being he is grounded, amusing and obviously very talented. And he's lucky.
The best thing a driver can be in F1 is to be lucky and there is no question that Vettel was born when the planets were all aligned correctly. The conditions at Monza were perfect for his situation and he delivered. One felt desperate for poor Sebastien Bourdais. He's had a pretty bad year with the team but when things finally went well for him and he was sitting fourth on the grid, it was a bitter blow that the car stalled on the grid. Despite that he drove a super race, with no hope at all of getting even close to the points. He ended the afternoon leaving the paddock with little fanfare, but he set the second fastest lap of the race, which compared rather well to Vettel's, who was the author of only the 14th fastest lap.
The nicest thing about Vettel's victory was that most of the crew were men who served their time in the old Minardi days. They are a passionate lot. You have to love the sport a great deal to stay in it for years when you never win - and never have a chance to win.
What has made the difference? Part of it is obviously down to the machinery but racing cars depend to a large extent on the people who engineer them. And one must say that Giorgio Ascanelli is a man who must take a fair bit of the credit for what happened at the weekend. Giorgio has been around for a very long time, starting out as Gerhard Berger's race engineer at Ferrari back in the mid-1980s. He went with Berger to McLaren was poached by Benetton to work with Nelson Piquet and then went back to McLaren to work with the great Ayrton Senna. People may have forgotten, but Giorgio was the man who was behind some of Senna's most famous wins in 1993. Shoved aside by the Schumacher regime in the late 1990s, he ended up at Maserati and would have stayed there had Berger not plucked him out of his exile and brought him back to F1. No doubt Giorgio would have enjoyed beating Scuderia Ferrari at home.
One felt almost sorry for Red Bull Racing boss Dietrich Mateschitz, who looked a little bemused at the end of the race. The Austrian drinks magnate has poured vast sums into his team and done everything possible to make it more competitive. He even dumped Ferrari engines a couple of years ago because the team wanted Renaults. And now the team he wants to sell has beaten its parent, and the ultimate irony is that it did it with the Red Bull car.
The race was great entertainment with a magnificent charge from Lewis Hamilton, which made great TV and it was the perfect result for the Italian fans. If a Ferrari cannot win what better result than a win for a Ferrari-engined crew, which used to be called Minardi.
We will have to see if the win in Italy raises money for the team or finds it a new owner, but there is no question it will help. Perhaps it will be enough to rid F1 of the curse of customer cars. How many teams are going to agree to run customer operations if they know that they may end up being humiliated by them?
Vettel was helped by not having to worry about the start. A Safety Car start is the ultimate damp squib in F1 but if those involved think that it is unsafe to unleash the beasts until things are warmed up then we must put up with that. In the early laps Vettel was the only driver that could see where he was going so had a fairly easy time building up a lead of more than 10 seconds. Vettel pitted on lap 18 and for a while the others had the chance to shine but as the strategies unfolded it was clear that Vettel had the race sewn up. When the track dried and drivers needed to switch to intermediate tyres, the timing was perfect for the team as it coincided with his second pit stop. That took care of Lewis Hamilton's challenge. After that Vettel had nothing to worry about.
I'm speechless," he said, rather overwhelmed by it all. "It's great. It's fantastic. We thought it would be dry and did not touch the set-up. The car was very fast and having no visibility problems was the key. I could make a gap straight away. I was pushing very hard and it was very difficult in the beginning but when there were was no more standing water it was better. In the last stint I was in a very good position.
"Winning is much better than you might think," he said. "It's unbelievable. We had a poor start to the season and we got better and better. This was the perfect weekend. I don't know what to say. I was thinking all the time 'There is P1 on my board. How can that be?' but I just kept it together, I was extremely focused, especially towards the end of the race when there was a dry line and it was very crucial to stick to it."
By winning Vettel became the youngest race winner in Formula 1 history. Aged just 21 years and 74 days, he took almost a year off the record, which had previously belonged to Fernando Alonso.
But what of the rest? Why did Red Bull or Ferrari not win? Why did Heikki Kovalainen not attack when Lewis Hamilton was able to carve through the field as he did? These were all key points in a very curious race. Kovalainen was really disappointing, if the truth be told. He finished 12secs behind the winner but never looked like he would mount a challenge. His two-stop strategy worked with the changing weather but he complained that he could not keep temperature in his brakes.
"I thought it would improve after a few laps, but it didn't," he said. "Only at the end was I able to match the lap times of Sebastian Vettel in front of me. In today's conditions he was just too fast for me."
He was happy to have scored eight points, but given what Hamilton achieved he should have done better.
Hamilton ended up in seventh position, which was a good effort when one starts from 15th and has to have a second unplanned pit stop.
"I felt I drove a really good race and was moving through the field very quickly when the circuit was at its wettest," he said. "If it had kept on raining, I feel pretty confident I probably could have even won but, as the circuit dried out, my tyres overcooked and I had to defend my position from Mark Webber."
Hamilton said that he was happy with two points because the weekend had been about damage control.
"I came away with some points and kept my lead in the World Championship," he said.
And he did not get any penalties.
Robert Kubica came up in third place in his BMW Sauber and with Nick Heidfeld fifth it was a good day for the team, with 10 points in the World Championship. This was largely due to the fact that when the first stops came the two drivers were able to go to intermediates without falling off.
"The only advantage of missing out on the top 10 in qualifying was that I could choose my race strategy," he said. "We decided to go for just one stop with a very long first stint. At the start the visibility was really bad. When the Safety Car went in after two laps, I overtook Nick before the first chicane without even seeing him. It was really dangerous. Then I was able to drive at my own pace. Towards the end of my first stint I was having problems with the tyres, obviously because the car had been very heavy. We were lucky with our pit stop, because it was just the right time to change to intermediate tyres. From then on I was easily able to control my position on the track."
Heidfeld reckoned that the secret of his success was to avoid mistakes and keep the car on the track and he did that well and took home more points.
Kubica is now a solid third in the Drivers' Championship, seven points clear of Kimi Raikkonen and the team is only 12 points behind McLaren in the Constructors' title.
Fernando Alonso was fourth for Renault and that was definitely a good result as the team had not been looking forward to Monza. The five points scored meant that Renault is now equal to Toyota in the World Championship.
"It is a big source of inspiration," Fernando said.
The same could not be said for his team-mate Nelson Piquet who finished 10th.
One can imagine that down at Maranello there will be a lively debriefing session on Monday - and rightly so because the team was trounced by a customer. Felipe Massa ended the day in fourth place and Kimi Raikkonen failed to score.
"We're definitely not satisfied with this result," said team boss Stefano Domenicali, "but considering the circumstances in which the race was run, it could have actually been much worse. Once again today, we had confirmation that, in certain track conditions and temperature range, our car is not quick enough. Then, it only needs a slight change for the performance to return to being very competitive."
"In normal conditions I think we could have made it to the podium," said Massa, "but I was struggling because there was not much grip."
At one point Felipe overtook Nico Rosberg but ran over the chicane and had to give back the place. After his first stop on lap 22 Massa found himself in traffic and then had to switch to intermediates.
"The drivers who opted to do just one stop definitely had the advantage," he said.
Kimi Raikkonen complained that he could not keep temperature in his tyres.
"I could do nothing but try to stay on the track and hope that the conditions would change," he said. "When they did it was too late to aim for a points finish. The car worked well but without grip, you're not going anywhere."
The final point went to Mark Webber, driving the same car as the winner, only powered by a Renault engine.
Before the first pit stops Webber looked strong, but he dropped behind Kubica and Alonso during the stops. He then lost a lot of time with the new tyres, struggling to get heat into the tyres.
"The last section wasn't too bad," he said. "We did give some points away today, but it's hard to get everything right on days like this."
David Coulthard ended up 13th, which was pretty much in keeping with his weekend. He was hit by Fisichella early on and then later by Nakajima, but he soldiered on to the finish.
Toyota looked good in the middle of the race and were going for one stop but they switched to extreme wets and so had to go back to the pits towards the end to switch to intermediates. Timo Glock came home 11th and Jarno Trulli ended up 13th
"It was not our day today," said the Italian.
It was a bad day too for Williams with Nakajima finishing 12th and Rosberg 14th. The team blamed the weather.
"In the first stint I thought I should be able to maintain a good pace, but I really struggled with tyre degradation and I lost time to those in front of me," he said. "But what was really decisive today was the tyre decision for my stop, which really destroyed the possibility of a good finish in the points. Everyone else was staying on full wets, so we thought we were in a good position to do the same and to keep risk to a minimum. In any case, at that point there wasn't a dry line to see. Ultimately it proved to be the wrong choice."
He was not helped by trouble with his refuelling.
Nakajima gained time by switching to intermediates at the right time and so was able to outrun his team-mate.
The two Hondas came in with Jenson Button 15th and Rubens Barrichello 17th, a pretty desperate state of affairs.
The team chose to make set-up changes to Button's car and so he started from the pits. Early in the race Barrichello went on to wet tyres and then drove a very long middle stint which helped him up the order. Button also switched early but Barrichello fell back when he took the risk of going to dry tyres on his second stop.
"We had nothing to lose," said Barrichello. "I tried my best but it was definitely too wet. We could have finished higher up by sticking to the wets but it was worth trying something different."
At the back was Adrian Sutil and with Giancarlo Fisichella the only retirement, going off after damaging his front wing on the back of Coulthard, it was another bad day for Force India.
And that was it. An amazing and rather odd motor race, but we certainly won't forget it.
Singapore GP - Sunday - Race Report
Lewis's starry night
Lewis Hamilton demolished the opposition in Singapore in his McLaren-Mercedes. It is too late to do anything about the World Championship, but the World Champion can show his class - and he did...
The race also saw Jenson Button improve his chances of winning the World Championship as he increased his lead over his team-mate Rubens Barrichello for the first time in nearly two months. Button did a great job to go from a lacklustre 11th to finish fifth, while Barrichello blew his hopes of closing the gap when he stalled during a pit stop.
But don't think that this was a great race. It was not. It was spectacular because F1 cars running at speed in the dark can be nothing less than that, but the action was very limited. The cars tended to be stuck in trains. This is a function of the cars, but also the result of the track design. Singapore made some changes this year. It needs to have another think.
But at least this race was a proper win, without any of the duplicity that surrounded Fernando Alonso's win a year ago. Alonso finished third and this gave him access to the world's TV audience and he made a most interesting choice by dedicating his result to Flavio Briatore, the man who has been flung out of F1 for having orchestrated the Singapore plot in 2008. By doing so, Fernando did several things. He virtually confirmed that he is not staying with the Renault team next year - and so will be off to Ferrari, as everyone has suspected for months on end. At the same time he sent out a very bad message by appearing to support Briatore. No good will come of that.
Alonso drove a decent race, as often he does, but it would have been wiser to have been loyal to his team and to the sport, rather than to a discredited friend.
The biggest challenge to Hamilton actually came from Nico Rosberg, but he blew his chances in the middle of the race - not for the first time.
At the start Hamilton got away well but Sebastian Vettel was rather slow. Rosberg was past him in a flash. In the course of the rough-and-tumble on the opening lap Mark Webber pulled off a nice move on Alonso for fourth place, going around the outside of the Renault, in part because Fernando gave him no choice. This however was ruled to have been unacceptable and so he was told by the stewards to give back the place and to allow Glock through as well.
"I had a hell of fight with Fernando in Turn 7 and we both ran wide," Webber said. "About nine laps later I had to let Fernando back through, but unfortunately Glock was in the middle by then, so I had to let them both through. My race was heavily compromised from there. I thought the incident was 50-50, but the stewards decided I had to let Fernando and Glock through so I lost the hard work I'd done during my first stint. It was a hard penalty, I think. Kimi did something similar in Spa and got away with it."
A fair point.
All this meant that at the end of lap one Hamilton led Rosberg, Vettel, Webber, Glock and Alonso, with Barrichello leading Kubica, Kovalainen, Button, Nakajima, Buemi and Raikkonen. In the laps that followed Hamilton tried to break away but Rosberg stayed with him. We soon lost Grosjean who retired with brake problems after just three laps.
The field quickly fell into place with no-one able to make any moves, even if the car ahead was a little slower. Vettel stayed with the top two.
Further back Alguersuari was slow and had a gaggle of cars in his wake, led by the impetuous Sutil. Behind them Fisichella got in Liuzzi's way. On lap 13 Tonio had a go and got alongside the Ferrari but Fisichella chopped across and the pair touched and Liuzzi had to give way.
The Red Bulls needed to make an impression early on if they were to be real challengers and this they failed to do, so we knew that they were not really in the hunt and that the race would therefore be decided between Hamilton and Rosberg. This became ever more clear when Vettel stopped after 15 laps. Rosberg surprised everyone by coming in earlier than he needed to but it really made no great difference because when the stops were coming to an end the order at the front was the same as it had been before. The bad news for Williams was that in his haste to leave the pitlane Nico had slid wide over the white line at the pit exit and that meant a penalty. This was a disaster.
The problem was exacerbated when the Safety Car was sent out because Sutil finally messed up (as we knew he would) and bumped himself into a spin while challenging Alguersuari. He then tried to restart and drove straight into the path of Heidfeld, ruining the BMW Sauber's race and earning himself a fine.
"I tried a few times to pass him but I finally saw a chance," Sutil said. "I tried and it wasn't enough - I was a little late on the brakes, spun and that's it. Then Nick came around the corner and hit my front wing as I was stuck in the corner. I didn't see him coming as I was on the move already and couldn't react to it. It was a race incident."
"I think we need to find Sutil a new brain," Nick tactfully told the German media as he stomped back to the paddock.
Sutil was able to rejoin after picking up a new nose, but he later went out with brake troubles.
The Safety Car was out between laps 21 and 25 and this skewed many of the strategies. It helped Vettel to catch up with Hamilton and for a while it seemed like the German was going to challenge for victory but then Sebastian dived into the pits again and dropped back to seventh. He was caught speeding in pitlane and so had to do a drive-through and so fell back two more places.
After that Hamilton had no challengers. Glock was there and Alonso was behind him but they were really irrelevant.
"There was no serious pressure," Hamilton said. "I was looking after my tyres and it paid dividends later."
Glock finished second after a strong drive.
"This was a timely podium for us," Timo said. "We have had a really good weekend and this is a great reward for the team. After a solid qualifying the pace was good in the race so I am really happy for the team and myself. It was important to get in front of Fernando on the first lap and I was disappointed I didn't do it at the start. I saw he was fighting with Mark and I just dived in and made the pass. It paid off because after that our strategy worked well; it was the key point in my race. I was just concentrating the whole race on my speed and we didn't make any mistakes."
Alonso finished third and was happy because Renault had taken a battering of late.
"This is a fantastic result for us, our first podium of the season," he said. "A very important one for Renault. It's been a difficult time for the team, but now we can put that behind us and concentrate on the remaining races."
Then he spoiled it with his daft dedication.
Vettel ended up in fourth place and had to be happy with that.
"We were on the limit with the brakes, so I was lifting earlier than normal and braking a little more smoothly when I was in traffic," he said. "Sometimes I had to drop off a bit to cool them too before I could push again."
This was wise given that Webber had gone spinning off earlier on when a brake failed and pitched him into the wall. That was the end of his title hopes.
The man who followed Vettel home had more to be cheerful about as Button increased his lead with fifth place. He had started the race with a load of fuel and so was able to make up places when the Safety Car came and others had to stop.
"I got stuck behind Heikki Kovalainen for quite a few laps, but when he pitted I was able to get past him," Button said "I could see Rubens pulling away because he was stopping four or five laps shorter than me and I couldn't do anything. The safety car was frustrating because I was going three or four laps longer than Heikki. When he pitted I should have had three full laps and would have done Rubens and maybe Mark Webber, but it didn't work for me then."
Button was still happy. Barrichello was not.
"I had a problem on my second pit stop when I couldn't engage neutral and the engine stalled which lost me the crucial time needed to stay ahead of Jenson," he said. "After that my brakes were struggling and I couldn't fight anymore so we came home in sixth. I only lost a point to Jenson in the championship despite everything."
Kovalainen was next to get home but he should have done better given what Hamilton achieved.
"I couldn't go quicker," he said. "I drove to the pace I could with this car. I struggle a bit to maintain the tyre's performance and the car gets out of shape if I try to increase my pace, so I can't carry more speed through the corners."
The last point went to Kubica, although he would have done better if the Safety Car had fallen differently. He was also struggling with tyres. He said later that he had never worked so hard for a point.
Towards the end Kubica had Nakajima and Raikkonen on his tail but nothing much happened.
The Ferrari result was decidedly drab.
"The car was sliding everywhere," Raikkonen said. "I had no grip. In the final part, with the softer tyres, the situation improved a bit, but by then it was too late. I closed up to Nakajima and, a few times, I tried to risk a passing move, but here it's really difficult to overtake unless the guy in front makes a mistake."
Behind them the rest were of little import. Fisichella did not look much like a Ferrari driver and spent the race in Liuzzi's way. At the end the Force India dropped away with troubles with the soft tyres.
Toro Rosso lost both cars on the 47th lap. Buemi with a gearbox problem and Alguersuari with fried brakes.
Japanese GP - Sunday - Race Report
No surprise for Vettel
Sebastian Vettel completed a highly successful weekend in Japan with a dominant victory for Red Bull racing at Suzuka. With two races left this means that the German has moved to within two points of second placed Rubens Barrichello, who has edged one point closer to championship leader Jenson Button. The Englishman remains 14 points ahead and with a maximum score of only 20 available. Button is in the driving seat, although his performances in recent races have been decidedly lacklustre. He says that the car is not competitive against the opposition but he has been overshadowed by Barrichello as well. Button's early season domination means that he does not need to take risks.
In the Constructors' Championship Brawn GP has almost completed the job but still needs half a point from the final two races. Vettel's victory means that Red Bull is 35.5 points behind Brawn, with a maximum of 36 available.
There was general agreement in Suzuka after a complex qualifying and a series of penalties that scrambled the grid, that the race would be decided between pole position man Vettel and third-placed qualifier Lewis Hamilton. It was expected that the McLaren star would use his KERS to pass second-placed Jarno Trulli and that was exactly what happened. Hamilton had hoped to get Vettel as well, but even if he did that he knew that he would almost certainly lose the lead later in the race because Vettel's Red Bull was the fastest car at Suzuka.
"We were the favourites," Vettel admitted, "but first of all you have to do the start and that was closer than I thought. The getaway was good, so I looked left and right and stayed in the middle of the road. Then all of sudden I saw a silver arrow on my left-hand side but I had the advantage. After that I just got my head down and tried to push every single lap, and was able to pull a big gap quite quickly."
Hamilton was disappointed but reckoned that Vettel had done it right and had no complaints.
As Vettel began to pull away and Hamilton held on, Trulli was third and charging with Nick Heidfeld's BMW next, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, Barrichello's Brawn and Adrian Sutil's Force India, which got ahead of the fuel-heavy Williams of Nico Rosberg. Then came Heikki Kovalainen, Kazuki Nakajima, Jaime Algersuari and Tonio Liuzzi in the second Force India, who had impressed with an outside pass on Fernando Alonso.
It was quickly clear that Hamilton and Trulli could not hack it with Vettel and they were left to trade lap times all afternoon. Trulli was down in the mouth because he had hoped to make a better start, no doubt believing that a win would convince Toyota to stay in F1. Hamilton struggled with a failed KERS system after a while and was in no position to hold on to his place. At the second pit stops Trulli moved to second.
Towards the end of what was a rather dull race for spectators, there was a Safety Car after Alguersuari had a major shunt at 130R. This gave Trulli the chance to catch up with Vettel and Hamilton.
At the restart, however, Vettel did some quick laps and left his pursuers for dead. It was over.
"I had a bit of a cushion with Grosjean's lapped Renault right behind me, and when we restarted I did three fantastic laps and pulled away again," he said.
¬† Hamilton's chances of challenging Trulli again evaporated when his KERS stopped working.
"When we were preparing for the restart I was on the radio for the last couple of Safety Car laps to see if they could get the KERS working again," Hamilton said. "I really needed that, but they weren't able to do that."
But at the end Hamilton was joyful about their fight.
¬† "Jarno and I had a great battle," he said. "Shaving tenths of a second a lap off each other, and Sebastian drove fantastically all race. Well done to him. I couldn't match these two in the first sector, but we were quite quick in the last two."
¬† Trulli warmed to the subject.
¬† "I really enjoyed qualifying-type laps with him," he said. "We were pushing all the way. I really, really enjoyed that and the car was very strong. Eventually thanks to team and strategy we got him in the last pit stop and from then on it was easy for me."
¬† For once Trulli did not lose interest in the race, as often he seems to do, and second place was good for Toyota, particularly as it came just seven days after Glock did the same in Singapore. Sadly at Suzuka Glock was out of action with a gashed leg.
Suzuka is a great racing circuit but the F1 cars of today are now so evenly matched that all overtaking is tough.
Kimi Raikkonen ended up taking fourth place for Ferrari, which was better than expected.
"We got the most out of the F60 as it stands today and, thanks to yet another great drive from Kimi, we also managed to stay third in the Constructors' classification," said team boss Stefano Domenicali.
"The car wasn't bad," said Raikkonen, "but it was not quick enough to fight for the podium. I was unable to make up places at the start, especially as the first corner is not that far from the start line and so I was unable to make the most of the KERS. In the first stint, when I was on hard tyres, the situation was a bit difficult, but then, once on the softs, things improved considerably. I managed to close on Heidfeld and pass him at the pit stop."
Giancarlo Fisichella was less convincing, although he did set the eighth fastest time of the race, albeit half a second off Raikkonen's pace. He finished 12th.
"I had a better feel for the car this weekend and I think the effect from that could be seen, although maybe not in terms of the results," he said. "Today, I could run at a good pace, especially in the middle part of the race. It's a shame I lost a place in my battle with Kovalainen. We managed to get ahead of him in the pit stop, but then he swerved across to the inside at the only point where I left the door slightly open and he leaned on me, managing to get by."
Towards the end of the race Fisichella had to fight off Sutil and his KERS came in very handy.
Williams was happy to pick up four points for Nico Rosberg's fifth place, a good effort. Rosberg was able to jump Heidfeld when his second pit stop coincided with the Safety Car. The Stewards investigated claims that Rosberg had driven too quickly but after checking all the telemetry decided that Nico had behaved in an acceptable fashion.
"That was the best I could do," Nico said. "The car wasn't as quick as we wanted it to be but we got the best out of it. I had a really good strategy which helped deliver this result. I'm pleased."
After the disaster in Singapore it was a decent return to form.
Kazuki Nakajima showed much the same form as he has all year. Fifteenth was a disappointing result.
For BMW Sauber there was a decent result with Nick Heidfeld finishing sixth and Robert Kubica just missing out on points in ninth.
Heidfeld said he was "very disappointed" with the result and reckoned that he might have finished fourth if the rear right wheel nut had not got stuck during his pit stop. It cost him a couple of important seconds. And then he felt cheated that Rosberg was able to pit when the Safety Car came out, which gave him an advantage.
Kubica said that he was again unable to show his true pace because of heavy traffic and a car that was understeering badly. When the car got lighter so Robert became faster and faster but he lost out to Raikkonen and Heidfeld and then found himself stuck behind Button after the Safety Car period.
"I was quicker than him in the corners, but was not able to overtake as we were missing some top speed on the straights." he said.
Robert set the seventh fastest lap of the race, three-tenths faster than the best lap by Heidfeld.
This mean that the Brawn-Mercedes men were scrambling for crumbs. As it turned out Rubens Barrichello finished just ahead of Jenson Button. Both had been given grid penalties for failing to slow sufficiently for yellow flags during qualifying, but it was Button who lost out more and he made a slow start. He overtook Kubica on the third lap, then got a break on the 13th when the duelling Kovalainen and Sutil ran into one another, and thereafter he was in contention for a point.
The incident was an unnecessary one. Sutil was flying along having started with very little fuel. He then made a mistake a dropped two places so his strategy was really in trouble and so he had an air of desperation when he came up to Kovalainen. We remarked that it would end in tears because this often happens with Sutil and, sure enough, it did. He went for the inside line at the chicane. Heikki refused to let him have the place and Sutil refused to back off. The result was a bump and Sutil spun.
He complained that Kovalainen had cut back across him, but Heikki said that there was nothing he could do.
"Adrian tried to make a move but only went half way," he said. "I was able to stay beside him and when he tried to turn in, I was already on the kerb and I had no more room to avoid him, so I had to lean on him."
One can blame it on whoever but the bottom line was that Sutil was about the pit and would have lost little by using a little patience. Perhaps that is not what racing drivers do, but sometimes it is wiser to lose a battle in order to win a war.
So Force India had a disappointing day again.
"It's obviously very disappointing as I thought we could have done really well today and got some points," Sutil said.
Tonio Liuzzi said that starting at the back made it very tough for him to make any impression. However he did his fair share of overtaking, passing both Renaults on the first lap but then lost his place to Alonso, although he got the double World Champion back again on lap 13. Later in the race he overtook Satoru Nakajima on two separate occasions, having lost ground between the moves with a pit stop. The pace was there and he never gave up, but he had been screwed in qualifying.
The same was true of the Brawn duo.
"Today was really about picking up points," said Button. "Starting from tenth on the grid was always going to make for a tough race but my pace was really good in the race and I was very happy with the performance of the car. I was pulling massive amounts of time out of the guys in front me but they were on heavier fuel loads which held me up as it's difficult to overtake here. I did the best that I could in the car that we had this weekend and we got the maximum performance out of it with a points-scoring finish. I only lost one point to Rubens today, which is my main priority. Obviously we lost a few points to Sebastian but we were expecting them to be strong here."
¬† Alonso was also in trouble after his qualifying penalty and the Renault was not on the pace. He did what he could. His one-stop strategy took him from 16th on the grid to 10th, a decent effort.
"We have to make sure that we qualify well because if we do that I am sure we can score some strong points and have a good end to the season," he said.
Romain Grosjean started 17th and finished 16th.
"The car was very heavy on fuel and was difficult to drive," he said. "The Suzuka circuit was also a new experience for me this weekend, but I did my best to complete the race without any problems. I'm now looking forward to the next race in Brazil."
Here's hoping he doesn't get ditched before that happens...
Kovalainen ended up 11th after sorting out Fisichella when they made their final pit stops on lap 39. The right front wheel on the McLaren stuck momentarily, so the Ferrari was ahead as they exited the pits. But he left a huge gap as they went out of the pits, being careful to avoid the white exit line. Kovalainen saw a gift horse with its mouth open and grabbed it.
"I was able to release the pitlane speed-limiter earlier and immediately got on the KERS," Heikki said. "He gave me some room, so it was quite an easy move - nothing too dramatic."
Fisichella had some excuse but no-one was listening.
Behind the recalcitrant Nakajima and Grosjean came Mark Webber who started from the pits after his crash on Saturday morning and went back several times trying to get his car sorted out. His head rest came lose and then he had a puncture. It was just a horrible weekend for the usually chirpy Australian.
"We tested some things after that, for future races," he said. "That's all we could really do from there."
In the closing laps he decided to go for fastest lap, if only to cheer himself up. He pipped Vettel by a tiny margin, the pair four-tenths faster than Raikkonen and the rest.
The only retirements were the two Toro Rossos. The weekend had been a bodywork-bash fest and in the race the team was hoping that the two youngsters would try not to bend any more bits. Sadly, it was not to be. Buemi avoided damaging his car, but the team would probably have hoped for rather more than a DNF resulting from a clutch problem, which left him on the grid at the start.
"The car was quick enough to get me into Q3 before the accident, so maybe I could have scored points today," said the Swiss driver.
Jaime Alguersuari's demise was rather more dramatic. On lap 44 the Spanish driver was out on new soft tyres and they obviously caught him out in 130R. He spun through 180 degrees, went sideways through an advertising hoarding and then had a sizeable impact with the wall. It was a very big hit and it was a relief to see the Spanish driver emerging unscathed, although he looked decidedly dodgy on his pins and was then shipped off on a stetcher for a bit of a lie down.
"I know this is a very expensive country," team boss Franz Tost. "That was certainly the case for us this weekend!"
Brazilian GP - Sunday - Race Report
Jenson intercepts the title
After a miserable qualifying on Saturday, it did not seem very likely that the World Championship would be decided in Brazil. The folk in Abu Dhabi were no doubt happy. Bernie Ecclestone was no doubt pondering astronomical TV viewing figures. It all looked as though Rubens Barrichello would win at home and close the gap to Jenson Button... Ah, but that was on paper...
The moment the lights went out at the start, it was clear that there is no such thing as a script in Formula 1 racing. Barrichello and Mark Webber set off at the first corner in a relatively orderly fashion, but behind them things started to get lively. Adrian Sutil tried to insert his Force India between Webber and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari's, which was on the outside line. All seemed well. But then the attention was diverted by another bingle as title hopeful Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull found itself in a McLaren sandwich. Heikki Kovalainen spun, forcing Giancarlo Fisichella to swerve on to the grass.
As they were getting this one sorted out, further down the road Raikkonen tried to go down the inside of Webber at turn four, his KERS giving him a slight edge. Webber defended his line, Kimi ran out of space and had a wheel in the dirt and a right front wing in pieces. This slowed him as they went through the corner. Sutil tried to taker advantage of the situation and went for the inside line, only to have the door slammed firmly in his face, whereupon he was somewhat shocked to find that Jarno Trulli was trying to go around the outside in turn five. The Toyota ran out of room, got on to the kerbs and spun, taking out the Force India as it did so. Trulli smashed into the wall on the left while Sutil went for a twirl on the right and came back on to the circuit just in time to be walloped by Fernando Alonso's Renault, which had nowhere to go. All three were out. The Safety Car was deployed and the TV viewers of the world were given live pictures of an irate Trulli berating Sutil - never a great idea when both men were wearing helmets. It was clear, however, that they had different opinions about the incident.
"Sutil was very slow through Turn Four because he was fighting with Raikkonen," Jarno explained. "He was on the inside so I took the outside line but he kept pushing me wider and wider. In the end I was on the grass and had no control of the car."
Oddly enough, Sutil saw it differently.
"Kimi hit Webber and lost his front wing," he explained. "I was following him through the corner but then suddenly I got hit in the rear and lost control of the car. Trulli was there on the outside trying to go round. It was a really stupid maneouvre as there was no space and I couldn't see him at all. At that point it wasn't worth it and it ended my race far too early.
"Jarno was furious and said it was my mistake but I just told him what had happened to me. But it's over and now he's just got to deal with it."
But the action was not over yet. Up in the pits there were various callers. Kimi needed a new nose and new tyres. Lewis Hamilton popped in too, as did Tonio Liuzzi. As everyone was trying to work out who had hit whom, it became clear that these were strategic pit stops: Hamilton changing his strategy to take advantage of the situation - which would bring great rewards later on - and Liuzzi switching to soft rubber for a lap before returning to the medium tyres during a second stop. This lost him minimal time, gave him a full fuel tank and the tyres he wanted and by mid-race he too had risen up the order although his mid-race stop would drop him back into traffic and he would end the day 12th on the road. It was, nonetheless, worth a try.
There was more excitement going on in the pits as both Raikkonen and Kovalainen stopped for repairs. Kimi got a new nose section and new tyres and was off, but McLaren released Heikki a little too quickly, the result being that he took the fuel hose with him and came out just in front of Raikkonen, spraying fuel all over the place. And "whoompf!" Kimi found himself in the middle of a flash fire. He was cool enough to jink to the left and having ascertained that all was well rejoined the fray. Heikki stopped at the Brawn garage where they were kind enough to remove the flailing hose and he then rejoined as well. Up in Race Control fingers were soon busy typing reports and in the minutes that followed McLaren was notified of no fewer than four infractions which Heikki would have to answer for when the race was over. He had a relatively quiet race after that and finished ninth but then the FIA did its investigation and fined him $50,000 for trying to set fire to Raikkonen and gave him a 25-sec penalty, which pushed him back down the order. It did not much matter as he had not scored.
The Trulli-Sutil incident was studied by the FIA Stewards, with Jarno being fined $10,000 for shouting and gesticulating at the German.
Body language can be expensive in Formula 1...
All this was for later, however, as the the racing was soon underway again and Button was the man to watch. No longer hedging his bets, Jenson turned the full force of his talent on Romain Grosjean, who soon gave way after a few lively moves. Having dealt with the oddly-coiffed, border-jumping, Franco-Swiss Renault driver, Button had Oxford-based Japanese Kazuki Nakajima in the gun sight. Not for long. On the seventh lap Button was up to seventh place and homing in on Kamui Kobayashi, who was making his F1 debut (very well) with Toyota. Having qualified 11th Kamui impressed onlookers by being completely unimpressed at having the World Championship leader snapping at his exhaust pipes. He held his ground; made Button work for it.
"He was crazy!" Jenson said later. "I suppose he's just inexperienced, but he moves about a lot in the braking zones, as Nakajima found out. Everyone else was tough but fair but he had to be put in his place."
Stuck behind Kobayashi, Button found his mirrors filled with Nakajima and Vettel.
While this was going on, Barrichello was leading Webber but not making enough of an impression to look like a winner, given their relative fuel loads. Rubens stopped on lap 21 and so the Australian took the lead. Early on Nico Rosberg had been third but at the restart Robert Kubica lined him up nicely and took the position. Robert then chased after Barrichello and Webber and found them slower than he would have thought. He pitted two laps after Barrichello and came out ahead of the Brawn. Webber was still out and Rosberg was then second and Buemi third for a lap before they both stopped. At the same time Button finally nailed Kobayashi with a nice move into Turn 1. This put Jenson into second place and when Webber pitted on lap 26 but was by then so far ahead that he retained his lead while Button pressed on until lap 29 before his stop. That dropped him back to ninth, but as those with more exotic two-stop strategies and even the odd one-stoppers did their thing so Button climbed back to third before his second stop on lap 55. By then he was behind only Webber and Kubica. He dropped back to seventh on that occasion but moved up to sixth when Kovalainen did a late stop and to fifth when Barrichello had a puncture. And that was that. Rubens had been running third but that was not enough to stop Button taking the title and although Vettel was fifth he too was out of the running. The title was Button's to lose. And that is how it stayed all the way to the flag - waved by Felipe Massa.
By an odd turn of events car number 22, powered by a Mercedes engine, finished fifth and made a British driver World Champion - for the second year running. Lewis Hamilton having done exactly that in the mind-boggling finale at Interlagos last year.
Brawn won the World Championship for Constructors at its first attempt, a spectacular achievement.
"The second half of the year has been tough after such a successful start," Ross Brawn said. "Getting the results in the difficult times is what counts in a Championship season. It's really going to take a while for what we have achieved today to sink in. Jenson is a fantastic racer and he had a great race today, particularly after such a difficult qualifying yesterday. He knew what he had to do and did just that and is a very deserving World Champion. I hope that everyone at the factory in Brackley and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brackley, is very proud of what we have achieved today."
Button crossed the line and after much whooping and hollering broke into a truly bad rendition of the Queen song "We are the champions", but you could not fault him on the claim.
He was the World Champion and he spent the rest of the afternoon saying that to himself and to everyone who cared to listen until the sun went down. He is probably still saying it now, although by Monday morning he probably had quite a headache...
One had to feel a little sorry for Webber who drove a great race and won his second victory. When he arrived in the press conference room he found it half-empty as most of the European journalists were battling with instant deadlines or were chasing Button around the paddock.
"I'm happy with that," Webber said, "I knew Rubens and Robert were a bit shorter than me. I was matching Robert's pace to start with and when they made their pit stops, I knew I had a clear run to make a gap to start my second stint. I just cleared Jenson on my outlap, which was good too. I was just making sure the tyres were comfortable for the whole stint. I was a little bit panicky in the second stint as Robert started closing, although my pace was not too bad and I knew he was quite short in the middle stint. I was then able to control the gap to Robert and he backed off towards the end, which gave me a nice run home.
"It's fantastic feeling to win again. As a team we've had quite a few victories this year off the back of some tough seasons, but today has confirmed second place for us in the Constructors' Championship."
His team-mate Vettel ended the race in fourth place.
"It was a good race - starting from the back and finishing fourth," he said. "We were helped by some people crashing, but I think fourth was the maximum we could do today. Without the problems in yesterday's qualifying, we could have won the race, but we didn't so there's not much more to say."
The result moved Sebastian to second in the Drivers' Championship, two points ahead of Barrichello. They will fight it out for the position in Abu Dhabi.
You had to feel a little sorry for Rubens, particularly with the late-race puncture.
"We really have a great car and a great team and it has truly been an amazing year when you consider the situation that we were in just before the start of the season," he said, with much grace. "I'm truly pleased for Jenson as a friend and he is a great champion. We have a fantastic relationship working together and that has really shown through this year. Well done to him. It was a true fight and I fought really hard but he really won it in the first half of the season."
Kubica drove a super race to finish second.
"The basis for today¬¨√≠s result was laid yesterday when we decided to take a gamble and drive the wet qualifying with a low-downforce set-up," he explained. "This went well in Q1, but was difficult in Q3. Although some people were disappointed with eighth place yesterday, I was quite pleased. Today we had a good and consistent pace. I was surprised at the beginning that it was quite easy to follow Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber. But I had to reduce the engine revs after about 15 laps because the water temperature was too high, and I had to avoid the tow of the guys in front of me. After my first pit stop I was unlucky because I got stuck behind four cars. At that stage Mark was able to increase the gap. This is a great result in a difficult season, and I really hope that I will see this team on the grid next year."
Nick Heidfeld did a decent job early on, avoiding fights and bingles and getting into a strong position. At the pit stop the refuelling failed and although the team tried to warn Nick to drive slowly round to the pits, he ran out of fuel.
Hamilton was delighted with an unexpected third place, after passing Barrichello on lap 61.
"I didn't expect to finish on the podium, but I fought so hard and kept pushing like crazy throughout the whole race," he said. "It feels like a win when you come through fighting for positions all the time with good overtaking manoeuvres at the end. I just kept pushing and did one qualifying lap after another, which was very hard."
Behind Button, Raikkonen was a singed sixth, but rued what might have been.
"What happened on the first lap ruined my race," he said. "First I was hit at the first corner, then when trying to pass Webber, I was hit and lost the front wing. At the pit stop, I ended up with some drops of petrol in my eye, from the fuel line stuck on Kovalainen's car and then I was engulfed in flames and blinded: I was going to stop, but luckily the flames soon went out. Even now, my eyes are still burning, but I'm all right. At least I brought home a few points."
Fisichella brought his Ferrari home 10th, struggling with a KERS malfunction.
Sebastien Buemi was pleased with seventh.
"It was a very difficult race for me, as I had to push hard every lap, but in the end to come away with points for the first time since China is a good result, for me and for the team, who did a good job today. My start was difficult, as I was sandwiched between Kubica and Rosberg at the first corner, so they got past me, which was a shame. However, we did not have a particularly strong race pace, so we must look at the data to try and understand why."
Initially Kovalainen was classified ninth but was dropped to 12th by the stewards which elevated Kobayashi, despite a rather rude assault from the rear by Kazuki Nakajima, who was fortunate not to cause himself serious injury when he had a high-speed wheel-over-wheel accident with his fellow countryman.
"Physically it felt like a really long race and it was quite tough," he said. "My first target was to finish the race and I am pleased to achieve that, but after the start I was in a decent position to score points so I am a little disappointed I didn't. The car felt good in the first stint but when I changed tyres the balance felt a different and I was struggling a bit; probably this was just down to experience."
It was a bad day for Team Willy with Rosberg retiring from fourth place with a gearbox problem and Nakajima' accident, which came just after Kobayashi came out of the pits. The Toyota moved to block the passage of the Williams. The result was that Kazuki was none too happy with his countryman.
Romain Grosjean managed to get through the race without hitting anything which was an achievement after his torrid time in qualifying. He finished 13th, six seconds ahead of Alguersuari.
It was a great race, a great result and great TV, which was good news for Mr E.
In Abu Dhabi there may not be a title to be decided but no doubt F1 will come up with some excitements!
Abu Dhabi GP - Sunday - Race Report
Vettel in the twilight zone
Sebastian Vettel gave Red Bull Racing a hat-trick of wins to finish off the 2009 season with a dominant victory in the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Although Lewis Hamilton qualified well and led from the start, it was clear early on that the McLaren driver was not able to pull away from Vettel and at the pit stops was overtaken by Vettel just before he went out with a rear brake problem. After that Vettel was untouchable. It was not a great race, overtaking clearly being very hard, but there was some excitement in the last laps as Webber struggled to hold off a charging Jenson Button.
Vettel's brilliant win cemented second place for him in the Drivers' World Championship behind Button and ahead of Rubens Barrichello, who was never able to challenge and had to make do with fourth place.
Hamilton led away at the start, but was already beginning to experience braking problems before he refuelled on lap 17. He had twice run wide in the sweeping corners and when Vettel ran three laps longer before stopping he was able to exit the pits comfortably in the lead. Soon afterwards Hamilton's challenge ended when McLaren had to withdraw his car after the telemetry revealed a problem with the right rear brake pads which were suffering from excessive wear.
"It was a fantastic race," Vettel smirked. "I had a very good launch at the start even if it was not good enough to out-accelerate Lewis. But down the long back straight he pushed the magic KERS button that we don't have and disappeared into the distance. But I was soon able to stay close enough. The car was a dream today, and I was always catching him quite a lot. That was the secret. There was a lot of pressure on me when I was going into pit lane and I went wide, then there was the scary exit, but I was fast enough to go past him."
McLaren's engineers tried to get Hamilton into a brake-conservation mode, but when the unusually high wear-rate refused to respond they had no alternative but to withdraw him after 20 laps rather than risk possible failure.
"I had a good start, but I realised early on that something wasn't right with the brakes," the outgoing world champion said. "After three or four laps, it became clear that there was a problem with my right-rear brake pads, so I couldn't open up the gap back to Sebastian and Mark."
"When the problem got worse, the team radioed me and told me to stop at the end of the lap. It's a shame that we couldn't show the performance we'd had throughout the weekend - but sometimes that's racing. But I think we can be really proud of our efforts: who'd have thought we'd finish third in the constructors' championship at the start of this season? It's been an incredible year, and now I can't wait for next season to start so I can fight for the world championship again."
Hamilton was the race's second retirement, for Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso had ground to a halt out on the circuit the previous lap. The Spaniard had come flying into the pits on lap 18, seemingly to refuel, but had frantically been waved out after mistakenly calling at the Red Bull pit! When he then stopped everybody assumed he'd run out of fuel; it transpired that he'd actually come in for attention to a gearbox problem, had caught his own pit crew on the hop and thus assumed that the Red Bull guys were his, and had then retired when the gearbox broke. Interesting...
Hamilton's demise moved Webber up to second, with Button at that stage a distant third ahead of Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian had run ahead of the Englishman on the opening lap but clipped Webber's left rear wheel with the right-hand endplate of his front wing, causing understeer. Button overtook, and chased after Webber though just after his first pit stop he again had to give best to impressive rookie Kamui Kobayashi, until the Toyota driver finally made his sole refuelling stop after 30 laps.
"It was a fun race," Button said. "For me the harder, prime Bridgestone tyre was not my favourite tyre. In hindsight two stints on the softer compound option tyre would have been better and might have let me get closer to the Red Bulls, but we didn't expect it to be that way. The prime had been better up until today and it was the better tyre for qualifying, but I had a lot of understeer on the primes in the first two stints and as the temperature dropped the darker it got it became difficult to get heat into the front tyres. In the second stint Rubens was behind me, sitting on my tail. But then the soft tyre transformed the car in the final stint and suddenly I was able to pull Mark in. Suddenly I had this great front end, with lots of grip on initial turn in, and I could then carry more speed into the corners."
That switch coincided with Webber struggling on his option tyres, which he said did not give him much feel or confidence, and suddenly what had been a seven second gap began shrinking at an alarming rate.
On the final lap Button actually drew alongside Webber at the end of the 1.2 km back straight, but the Australian handled the situation beautifully, hogging the inside line and forcing Button to go to the outside. They ran side by side for a while, but Webber was able to keep his second place by 0.6s.
"When you're getting caught you really have to make sure you don't make any mistakes and give the guy something," Webber said, "so I just had to make sure he had to work for it."
"It was a good tussle, a fair fight," Button said, "but though I got alongside I just couldn't quite make the move stick. I thought I might pull it off but Mark is always difficult to overtake. It was clean but the on the edge. And it was great to end my championship year with a podium finish."
Barrichello stayed third in the championship with his fourth place, while Nick Heidfeld saw BMW out in style with a decent fifth.
"I am very happy," Nick said. "It was a good race in which I was able to get the maximum out of the car and score four points, which was enough to reach our target for the end of the season to overtake Williams in the constructors' championship. After I have been a little unlucky in recent races, this time I was really able to exploit the car's potential. For quite a long period I was able to go at the same speed as the World Champion's car, the Brawn. The strategy to go for a rather long middle stint paid off and the track was even more fun when it had more rubber on it. It is a pleasing end to our last season together. It now becomes very emotional. During the last laps I had to pull myself together in order to keep my concentration."
The revelation of the race, once again, was Kamui Kobayashi, who drove his Toyota like a demon and, when he was running at his lightest in a one-stop run and Button had just refuelled, gave the World Champ another seeing to as he sped by the Brawn and forced Jenson into overshooting Turn 8.
"The first big stop after the pit stop was Turn 8 where it's very difficult to judge the braking point when you have lots of fuel onboard," Jenson admitted. "I just outbraked myself, but in reality it made no difference to my race because he was quicker at that point."
"It was a really good race for me. At the start I overtook (Kimi) Raikkonen and that was important in the end because it would have been difficult to finish in the top six if I had been behind him during the first stint. When I got past I was confident I had the race pace to fight for the points and my target was to be consistently fast. The team did a great job with the strategy and the pit stop which played a big part in helping me finish in the points. I certainly wasn't expecting to be racing in Formula 1 this season."
Jarno Trulli was seventh after a two-stop run in what may transpire to have been Toyota's last race, while Sebastien Buemi survived a tough fight and a brush with Robert Kubica, which left the Pole spinning, to take the final point.
"Getting another point today, after also scoring in Brazil, is a nice way to end the season," Buemi said. "I lost a bit of time behind Nakajima, but overall I think I did the best I could and it was a great race. My fight with Robert was quite fair, and I think I left him enough space."
Nico Rosberg was ninth in his last race for Williams, yet again believing that he'd got the best from his machinery, and a recovered Kubica was 10th. He did not agree with Buemi's assessment of their fight.
"I lost the race in the second stint when I was very slow, while in the first stint I was able to go at quite a good pace, similar to Rubens," Kubica said of his final outing for BMW Sauber. "The car was working very well. After changing tyres I had no grip at all. The track was getting quicker and I just could not go at the pace of the other drivers. This was very strange. My fight with Buemi was quite tough and a bit dangerous. We nearly touched when braking into the chicane. He first moved to the left and blocked the inside of the left hander. When I moved to the right he pushed me over the high inside kerb of the right hander section of the chicane and I spun. He did not leave any space at all."
Heikki Kovalainen fought up from his 18th place start to 13th initially, and went on to finish 11th in a one-stop run, but for the latter half his KERS was awol so he had his work cut out for him. He headed home fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen's uncompetitive Ferrari, Kazuki Nakajima's Williams, Fernando Alonso who took his Renault until the 34th lap before his sole refuelling stop, and similarly single-stopping Tonio Liuzzi whose Force India was the last unlapped runner.
"We knew we did not have a car that was competitive here," Kimi said. "It's a shame to end my time at Ferrari with this result, but this year we have never been in a position to fight for the win at every race, as I would have wished."
Alonso could have echoed those sentiments. "The result today is disappointing," said the plucky Spaniard. "I'd like to thank the team for everything we've achieved over the years. We had some great victories and won championships together. It has been the most amazing seven years of my career and something I will never forget."
"Overall I thought we got the maximum from the car today, but unfortunately we had a problem with the brakes more or less from the beginning so we couldn't really fight for positions," said Liuzzi, who will definitely stay on a two-year contract starting in 2010.
Giancarlo Fisichella had a final feeble run chez Ferrari, and after a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding was later able to jump Romain Grosjean's Renault in the closing laps to take 16th. The Franco Swiss driver was so unsettled that Adrian Sutil also sneaked by in his Force India.
So, it was far from a great race, even if this is a great place. But with his fourth victory of the year Vettel clearly signalled his potential for the future. "This evening it was a pleasure to sit in the car," he beamed. "The second half of the season has been very strong for us, so congratulations to the team, they have been pushing a lot back in the factory. It's a shame the season ends now, to be honest, but a perfect way to finish the season on a high.