2009 flashback: Button’s strategy angers Barrichello

By this time last year, the entire paddock was well aware that the Brawn car was miles ahead of anyone else in every possible area. Jenson Button had won all of the dry races so far (3 out of 4 total), and was aiming for his fourth in Barcelona, Spain. However, he surprised many by saying after Bahrain that the car hadn’t the same pace, and that the others may have caught up to them. Rubens Barrichello had already falled 12 points behind his team-mate, so he was out on a mission to beat him this weekend.

There were plenty of technical changes before the weekend as well. Ferrari had designed a new double-decker diffuser, and reduced the weight of their cars, and decided to use KERS again, despite known reliabiliy issues with overheating of the unit. BMW Sauber had completely redone their car in an attempt to kick-start their season, with new nose, front wing, sidepods, rear wing, and lightened chassis.  They also ditched KERS, and did not implement their new double-decker diffuser just yet. Force India did not use KERS, but indicated that they may use it later in the season.

Rubens Barrichello takes the lead into the first corner

Rubens Barrichello takes the lead into the first corner

Jenson Button claimed another pole position, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Barrichello. But, by the first corner, Rubens had made a great start and took the lead from Button. However, there was carnage behing. Nico Rosberg forced Jarno Trulli wide, who spun, and Adrian Sutil slammed into the Toyota, which quickly took out both Toro Rosso cars as well. Lewis Hamilton avoided the incident, but had to slow, and fell to the back of the grid.

Buemi and Sutil are some of the casualties from the first lap pile-up

Buemi and Sutil are some of the casualties from the first lap pile-up

After 4 laps under the safety car, the racing got underway. Soon enough though, Heikki Kovalainen was forced to retire due to a gearbox failure. Fernando Alonso attempted an overtake on Mark Webber on the main straight, giving the spectators a close-up thrill while he was at it, but Webber made a fantastic switchback move to rip the position out of the Spaniard’s hands. Kimi Raikkonen joined fellow Finn Kovalainen on the sidelines, as he retired with a hydraulic problem on Lap 17.

Very soon, it became apparent that Barrichello and Button were running 3-stop strategies, as they were running away with their 1-2 lead. Button, who was behind Barrichello, was following the Brazilian for the first stint, but felt he could go faster, saying: “Come on Rubens, you can go quicker than this.” The Brawn team decided to switch Jenson to a 2-stop strategy, to make sure he avoided traffic. They did not, however, apply the same tactic to Rubens, and after his first stop, became slightly held up, while Jenson was able to put his foot down. Since Barrichello was unable to put his strategy to the max, he lost the lead to Button at his second of 3 stops.

A change in strategy left Button free while Barrichello fell behind

A change in strategy left Button free while Barrichello fell behind

Further back, Sebastian Vettel was following Felipe Massa for the entire race, and was unable to pass thanks to the Ferrari’s KERS system. But, near the end of the race, he got a surprise gift. There had been a problem at Massa’s final pit stop, and he was one lap short of fuel. He was instructed to back off to save fuel instead of pitting again, and Vettel finally took the opportunity to move into 4th. However, even though Fernando Alonso was 16 seconds behind Massa with 4 laps to go, he was told to push. He gradually burnt out Felipe’s lead over him, and took fifth place on the final lap, to the delight of the crowd.

Button takes his fourth victory of the year

Button takes his fourth victory of the year

At the front of the pack, Button took his fourth victory of the year, with an incenced Barrichello 13 seconds behind in 2nd. Mark Webber took the final podium spot, with Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Heidfeld and Rosberg filling out the top 8. Heidfeld had now finished 25 races in a row, breaking Michael Schumacher’s previous record of 24. After this result, Button extended his lead at the top, while Red Bull overtook Toyota for 2nd place in the constructors championship. But, it wasn’t over yet.

Rubens Barrichello was annoyed that Jenson and he were given different strategies, and felt that Button was given the advantage because of it. While he was happy enough after being given an explanation from Ross Brawn, this argument would heat up later in the season.

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