Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button took a significant step closer to winning both world championship titles for Brawn, as they dominated an Italian Grand Prix that was rendered dramatic on the last lap when Lewis Hamilton crashed heavily while pushing hard in third place after Button.
As expected it was Hamilton who led from the start, using his McLaren's KERS energy storage system to sprint ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari and Adrian Sutil's Force India as Barrichello and Button crucially slipped into fourth and fifth places ahead of Heikki Kovalainen's fuel-heavy McLaren. Tonio Liuzzi in the second Force India also overtook the second McLaren for sixth place with an aggressive move at the Parabolica corner.
"I had a great start," Barrichello said. "Kovalainen was coming quite fast with that power button and I had to defend myself and went wide in the second chicane, but it was a great first lap and it made my race."
"It was a messy first lap," Button admitted, "but I made up a position, which was fantastic. Alonso didn't get the jump with his KERS, which was good, and Kovalainen struggled. I sat behind him through the second chicane, then managed to put the nose up the inside in Lesmo One and got through in Lesmo Two, so that was a much-needed move. Without that I might only have been third today."
Hamilton, running a two-stop refuelling strategy, stretched his lead after setting a series of fastest laps, until his first stop on the 15th lap. Sutil stopped on the 17th, Raikkonen the 19th, leaving the Brawns one-two from lap 20 until their much later pit stops, on the 28th lap for Button and the 29th for Barrichello.
That was where the race was won for the Brazilian and lost for the Englishman.
"Our single-stop strategy was a great decision yesterday," Barrichello said. "The guys with the KERS had 20 metres on us today at the start, so we had to think of that and luckily we had that good start and I could run my pace and be ahead by the last pit stop."
Button was 2.1 seconds adrift of Barrichello before his stop, 4.2sec after it. They were on different tyre strategies, with Button now switching to the softer Bridgestone tyre and Barrichello vice versa, and the Brazilian proceeded to pull away initially as they set after Hamilton, Raikkonen and Sutil, who had repassed them. Each of the three had another stop to make, however. When Hamilton made his on lap 34 and emerged behind the Brawns, the writing was on the wall.
The champion refused to give in, and as Button responded to his mounting pressure they ate into Barrichello's 5.4sec lead. Rubens had things under full control, however, and so did Button. But Hamilton did not.
Going into the second Lesmo corner on the last lap he lost control of his McLaren, spun and thumped the inner wall before spinning again and strewing the track with debris. Out went the safety car, as Barrichello crossed the line to score his second victory of the year.
"Every lap I was pushing like a qualifying lap so it's to be expected," Hamilton said. "We didn't have the pace and I was pushing as hard as I could. I can only say I'm sorry to the team. They did a great job and we weren't quick enough this weekend but I did all I could to catch the Brawns and to win it for them."
McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh said he understood Hamilton's refusal to give up. "He was fighting with the Brawns and just pushing like hell. You can see he set the fastest first sector on that last lap. He knew it was one lap to go, just lost it coming out of Lesmo and I think it was just pushing so hard. He wants to win, and he was homing in on Jenson."
Brawn's emphatic victory came on a day when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull took a mere point, gifted to them courtesy of Hamilton's shunt. To make matters worse, Mark Webber was shunted out of the race by Robert Kubica at the second chicane, on the opening lap. Brawn thus have 146 points to Red Bull's 105.5.
Raikkonen hung on to the final podium place, but Sutil was only 0.5sec adrift at the finish as he scored his first points of the season and set the fastest lap. Liuzzi might have had a shot at the podium with his single-stop strategy, but retired after 22 laps with a driveshaft failure.
While Red Bull will bounce back, the title chase is now beginning to look more and more like an in-house Brawn duel. Barrichello reduced Button's championship points advantage over him to 14, and they have respective cushions over Vettel of 26 and 12.
"Obviously I'd like to be where Rubens is but he did a better job this weekend," Button conceded cheerfully. "I lost two points to him but gained seven on Vettel, so congratulations to him. We are both very competitive and it'll go down to the wire."
He was asked whether they could remain friends in the circumstances, and his grin widened. "I've put on a brave face recently but I hate this guy, and he doesn't know his arse from his elbow when it comes to racing cars..." he began. "Actually, we have a great relationship and have worked together for years, and we'll still be sharing information. It's always possible Red Bull will be strong, you can never rule them out, so you never know. On the circuit we are obviously fierce rivals and Rubens is gonna be very tough, for sure. He's very skilled behind the wheel so it's gonna be a tough few races, but it's an exciting challenge. I've got to stay as close to him as possible, but really I want to win races too."
And how about that pressure that so many speculated he must be feeling?
"Talk of pressure never came out of my mouth," he countered. "I know I'm in a very good situation and I'm driving the best car on the grid, so why shouldn't I be positive? I've got a 14-point lead with four races to go."
Monza Race details
1 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn-Mercedes 1hr 16mins 21.706secs
2 J Button (gb) Brawn-Mercedes +00:02.866
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 00:30.664
4 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 00:31.131
5 F Alonso (S) Renault 00:59.182
6 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 01:00.693
7 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 01:22.412
8. S Vettel (Ger) RedBull - Renault 01:25.407
9 G Fisichella (It) Ferrari 01:26.856
10 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams - Toyota 02:42.163
11 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 02:43.925; 12 ret L Hamilton (GB) McLaren - Mercedes 1 lap; 13 ret S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1 lap; 14 J Trulli (Italy) Toyota 1 lap; 15 R Grosjean (France) Renault 1 lap; 16 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams - Toyota 2 laps
Retired: VLiuzzi (It) Force India-Mercedes 31 laps; J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 34 laps; R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 37 laps; M Webber (Aus) RedBull - Renault 53 laps.
1 Button 80 points
2 Barrichello 66
3 Vettel 54
4 Webber 51.5
5 Raikkonen 40
6 Rosberg 30.5
7 Hamilton 27
8 Trulli 22.5
9 Massa 22
10 Heikki Kovalainen 20
11 Alonso 20; 12 Glock 16; 13 Heidfeld 12; 14 Fisichella 8; 15 Kubica 8; 16 Sutil 5; 17 Buemi 3.
1 Brawn - Mercedes 146
2 RedBull - Renault 105.5
3 Ferrari 62
4 McLaren - Mercedes 47
5 Toyota 38.5
6 Williams - Toyota 30.5
7 BMW Sauber 20
8 Renault 20
9 Force India - Mercedes 13
10 Toro Rosso - Ferrari 5
Singapore Grand Prix
Singapore, 27 September. Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, 4 October. Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, 18 October. Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi, 1 November.Reuse content