Jenson Button won the Bahrain GP yesterday from the first corner, even though he only emerged from it in fourth place. The Briton came out of the initial scramble behind the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton and fighting for position with the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.
Squeezing Vettel into the next corner, the Brawn driver set off in hot pursuit of Hamilton eventually slipstreaming past the world champion at the end of the long start-finish straight on lap one. From then on, he never looked back, running down the two Toyotas of polesitter Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock to win his third race of the season and pull clear of his Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello in the drivers' standings.
"The first lap made the difference," said Button, whose car had to have extensive modifications prior to the race in an effort to keep the engine cool. "I had a bit of clutch slip off the line, so I knew when I got to Turn One that I really had to make my move to get past Sebastian otherwise I would just get stuck behind him. Lewis had come barrelling past on the right, so I went round the outside of Sebastian and made it through to fourth place.
Hamilton had qualified fifth, which came as a welcome fillip to a team fighting to come to terms with the new regulations and with Wednesday's extraordinary World Motor Sport Council meeting, in which they have been summoned to explain accusations that they lied to the Australian race stewards, hanging over them.
Button was well aware that overtaking the McLaren driver was key to success in the soaring temperatures.
"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."
Once Hamilton was behind him, he had the Toyotas in his sights and knew he was in the perfect place to await their early refuelling stops. Glock pitted first, on lap 11, followed by Trulli a lap later. Button then took the lead and had the benefit of a clear road and, crucially, clean air available to him.
"Chasing down the two Toyotas was very exciting, and I was surprised by their pace and not sure how it was going to work out, but it all worked out very well. Sebastian was stuck behind Lewis, and that certainly helped."
Button (left) only lost the lead during his pit stops. After his first on lap 15, Vettel led until lap 19 until his own, then Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, running a long opening stint, led for two laps until refuelling. Later, when Button refuelled again on lap 37 and switched from Bridgestone's supersoft tyres to the harder ones, Vettel led for another three laps, but fell behind Raikkonen after his own stop on lap 40.
Far from challenging, the young German had his hands full looking after his tyres, and as Button sped away the Red Bull driver had to contend with a strong challenge to the end from Trulli. A day that started well for Toyota ultimately yielded just the final podium finish for the Italian, and after the front row start that was a let down. The man from Pescara blamed a long middle stint on the harder Bridgestone tyre which cost him and let Vettel switch places in the final stops.
Hamilton soon faded after his KERS-assisted start, but nevertheless ran strongly to a good fourth place.
Button had only two real concerns all afternoon. "We were a little worried about reliability. 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 Four on one lap Robert Kubica shot past me with his KERS, just to unlap himself..." The worst offender was Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella who, having collided with Felipe Massa's Ferrari on the 51st lap then bumbled along blocking Button until he finally woke up.
Oh, there was one other problem. "I burned the top of my left buttock on an electrical box in the cockpit," Button smirked, before turning to Vettel and saying: "I'll let you stroke it later Sebastian, don't worry!"
The victory was, Button said, "the finest race of my career because we didn't have the competitive edge. It's so nice to be in a car in which I can show what I can do, and to be able to come away with a very special win."
Bahrain GP: Final results
1 J Button (GB) Brawn-Mercedes, 1hr 31min 48.182sec
2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:31:55.369
3 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:31:57.352
4 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:32:10.278
5 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn-Mercedes GP, 1:32:25.961
6 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:32:30.239
7 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:32:31.062
8 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:32:40.957
9 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota, 1:32:46.380; 10 N Piquet Jr (Br) Renault 1:32:53.331; 11 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:32:55.823; 12 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:33:06.006; 13 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:33:06.987; 14 F Massa (Br) Ferrari -1 Lap; 15 G Fisichella (It) Force India-Mercedes -1 Lap, 16 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes -1 Lap; 17 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso-Ferrari -1 Lap; 18 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber -1 Lap; 19 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber -1 Lap; 20 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 48 of 57 laps completed.
World Championship Standings: Drivers: 1 Button 31pt, 2 Barrichello 19, 3 Vettel 18, 4 Trulli 14.5, 5 Glock 12, 6 Webber 9.5; 7 Hamilton 9; 8 Alonso 5; 9 Heidfeld 4; 10 Kovalainen 4; 11 Rosberg 3.5; 12 Raikkonen 3; 13 Buemi 3; 14 Bourdais 1.
Constructors Standings: 1 Brawn GP 50; 2 Red Bull 27.5; 3 Toyota 26.5; 4 McLaren 13; 5 Renault 5; 6 BMW Sauber 4; 7 Toro Rosso 4; 8 Williams 3.5; 9 Ferrari 3; 10 Force India 0.
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