There were two reasons why the 2009 British Grand Prix was memorable in many people’s minds. First of all, Donington Park had been selected to host the 2010 British Grand Prix, so this could well be the last race in Silverstone for years. Secondly, and more importantly, it marked the point where Red Bull finally put the pressure on Brawn GP for the rest of the season.
Jenson Button had just finished his 6th win in 7 races, and held a massive 26 points lead to Rubens Barrichello, who was another 8 points behind the two Red Bulls. However, before the race even began, there was a problem. The FOTA-FIA-FOM war had boiled over, and several teams were now threatening to drop out of the 2010 season because of the infamous budget cap suggestion. The main leaders of FOTA, as well as Max Mosley, remained tight-lipped over the weekend as to the outcome of this argument, but the worst-case scenario was that a breakaway series would be formed. This was the peak of the troubled times in F1 2009, and the British Grand Prix helped everyone be reminded why they were there in the first place: the racing.
With Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button practically switching grid positions from 2008 to 2009, the home crowd were happy to support both over the weekend. However, qualifying proved troublesome for both British drivers. In Q1, Adrian Sutil had a massive crash near the end of the sesssion, thanks to a brake failure, and brought out the red flag. Because of the bad timing of the red flag, many drivers had to abort their finals Q1 runs, leaving Hamilton 19th on the grid.
For the rest of the session, Vettel and Webber were completely unchallenged at the front, as their new raft of aerodynamic updates were working a treat in the cool conditions. Button, on the other hand, finally found the weak spot of the Brawn car: it couldn’t heat its tyres in cooler temperatures. This lack of grid left him 6th, his worst grid spot of the season so far. Vettel had more fuel on board than his rivals, but still got the pole position time. Webber would have been alongside him, but he was held up by Kimi Raikkonen, and fell to 3rd behind Barrichello. After yet another poor qualifying session, BMW Sauber meanwhile announced that they were ditching their KERS programme for good.
Sebastian Vettel leads away at the start
The second the lights went out, Red Bull were on fire. While Webber was unable to get past Barrichello, Button was held up by Jarno Trulli, and dropped down to 9th place. Sebastian began to pull away from Rubens at a rate of a second per lap, although Mark was struggling to get past the Brawn. Further back, Button finally made progress at Massa’s expense to move up to 8th. Hamilton made some progress as well, jumping 4 positions in the first 2 laps.
While the new fastest team streaked away at the front, it was an incredible sight at the back. From 13th to 16th, there was a huge list of top-level drivers: Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica. Despite their awful cars, they still fought like always, with Kubica initially getting the upper hand on Hamilton, after Lewis ran onto the grass trying to pass Alonso.
Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton battle, with Robert Kubica watching closely behind
At the first round of stops, Rubens pitted one lap earlier than Webber, and lost 2nd place in the process. This left the Red Bulls completely unchallenged at the front, although the battles at the back were still ongoing. When Hamilton got past Alonso on the pit straight, the crowd went wild, despite it being a pass for 15th place. Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa benefited from the stops, getting up to 4th and 5th respectively.
Lewis, despite trying as hard as he could, was unable to keep his McLaren on track, going off track several times. He finally passed team-mate Heikki Kovalainen for 14th, but when Sebastien Bourdais tried the same move on Heikki, they collided, with Bourdais needing a new front wing, and giving Kovalainen a puncture. Later on, Hamilton spun again, falling behind Alonso yet again.
Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastien Bourdais collide
At the second round of stops, Button took advantage of a longer middle stint to get past Raikkonen and Trulli to get up to 6th position. Massa, meanwhile, used the same tactic to take 4th off Rosberg. When Button caught up to Rosberg and Massa, he decided not to make a move, since he couldn’t risk colliding and losing more points, despite being on the faster tyre compound.
Eventually, after a dominant performance, Vettel crossed the line 1st, and 15 seconds ahead of Webber. Rubens Barrichello was another 25 seconds behind. While he was disappointed not to have challenged for the win, Mark was reasonably happy with 2nd place. Further back, Hamilton finished 16th, but still did some burnouts, to thank the crowd for still supporting him. Having said that, there were better celebrations at Red Bull, where Adrian Newey proceeded to take his Ferrari and do donuts on his own front lawn.
The updated RB5 was unstoppable at the moment, and Brawn had to work hard to sort out the tyre temperature problems. Despite this, Button was still 23 points ahead of Barrichello, who was only 2 ahead of Vettel. The British Grand Prix ended with a statement from Bernie Ecclestone, saying that of construction for Donington Park wasn’t finished in time, the British GP would return to this venue in 2010. A glimmer of hope for Silverstone?