Barrichello closes in on Button

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The Independent Online

The fight for this year's Formula One world title is effectively a two-man battle after Rubens Barrichello led home a Brawn GP one-two at the Italian Grand Prix.

In taking his second win of the season and 11th of his career, the 37-year-old Brazilian has now closed the gap on team-mate and championship leader Jenson Button down to 14 points.

With Mark Webber crashing out on the opening lap and Sebastian Vettel claiming a solitary point, the Red Bull duo are 26 and 28.5 points adrift of Button with four races remaining.

Lewis Hamilton should have joined Barrichello and Button on the podium, only to dramatically crash out on the final lap at Monza as the reigning world champion chased down his fellow Briton.

With Hamilton currently 53 points behind Button, it means his reign is at an end, with nothing but pride to race for in Singapore, Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton's second successive smash after his opening-lap drama in Belgium two weeks ago elevated Kimi Raikkonen into third for Ferrari.

That was naturally to the delight of the home fans, with the Finn finishing narrowly ahead of Force India's Adrian Sutil as the German collected his first points for the team.

At the start, it appeared to be an extraordinarily slow getaway from from Hamilton as he seemed to have too much wheel spin once the five red lights disappeared.

But the fact close friend Adrian Sutil was hardly like lightning out of the box either in his Force India appeared to come to the Briton's aid.

With Raikkonen directly behind him, and with only one option but to go to Hamilton's left and onto the grass, he quickly realised such a plan was never going to work.

It allowed Hamilton to control the field from the front on approach to the opening Rettifilio chicane, and from that moment the race was destined to all come down to pit-stop strategy.

For this race different tactics were being employed, with Hamilton, Sutil and Raikkonen opting for two trips into the pits, in contrast to Barrichello and Button who were running 'one-stoppers'.

McLaren's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was ultimately the big loser at the start as he was unable to keep the Brawns at bay on the opening lap.

Starting from fourth and also heavy on fuel, Kovalainen was beaten into the opening chicane by Barrichello and then overtaken on the first lap by Button, which was ideal scenario for the duo.

In his first stint Hamilton set about putting in fastest lap after fastest lap, and by the time of his initial stop after 15 laps, he was 20.4 seconds clear of Button.

It was not enough to get him ahead of his compatriot, but it was close enough to leave him in contention for a crack at the win.

It was then the turn of the Brawn duo to eke out their advantage over Hamilton, and on laps 28 and 29, it was Button and then Barrichello in for their one and only stops.

The Brazilian's team managed to turn around Barrichello half a second quicker than the man who is still searching for his seventh win of the season after emerging victorious in six of the opening seven races.

It was now a case of whether Hamilton, regaining the lead, would be able to open up enough of a gap to make his second stop and be in and out ahead of the Brawns in order to take the win.

It was not to be, though, as he came in again on lap 34, but with only a 21.4secs cushion over Button.

When he re-emerged, Hamilton was just 100 yards down on Button, and that was game over.

Although he managed to close to within a second, it was clear Hamilton was pushing until the bitter end, paying the price as he simply put his front-left wheel on the kerb at Lesmo, sending him into a spin and a heavy impact into a tyre barrier.

Ferrari's fans erupted as they realised Raikkonen would then be on the podium, and it was the usual mayhem on the start-finish straight as thousands invaded the track.

"On the chequered flag at the end, I had no words.

"But it was a tough night because I didn't know if we would have to change the gearbox (which would have led to a five-place grid penalty), but I think it's now going to last the final four races.

"The race was then great. It was really good to see all the public out there (as he sprayed the champagne) even if they were more red than white."

Remarking on tactical guru Ross Brawn's policy of a one-stop plan, Barrichello added: "It was a great decision yesterday.

"The guys with KERS had 20 litres (of fuel) on us at the start, but luckily we had a good start, and the pace was then good enough to be ahead of them by their second stop."

On the podium for the first time in six races, Button was also smiling as he said: "It's nice to be back up here with second position.

"I'd rather be where Rubens is, but he deserved it because he did a great job, and he's now my closest rival after taking another seven points out of Vettel."

Despite Hamilton's late charge, Button felt he had the edge on the 24-year-old anyway, despite his late crash.

"Lewis started pushing on the final three laps, but I think I had him pretty much covered because it's difficult to pass here, even with KERS," added Button.

"I don't know what happened to him at the end, but it's a great result for me."

Renault's Fernando Alonso, Kovalainen and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld were the other drivers to collect points for fifth, sixth and seventh.

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