Button reborn as Brawn flex muscles
Briton's stunning triumph confirms rivals' fears over new car as world champion Lewis Hamilton is third
Monday 30 March 2009
Just before the start of yesterday's Australian Grand Prix, as Sir Richard Branson gazed skyward, a Boeing 747 flew a demonstration run over Melbourne's Albert Park. It was a Qantas plane rather than a Virgin, but that was the last time that afternoon that anything rained on the Brawn team sponsor's parade.
Just over 90 minutes later, after a spectacular season opener, they were celebrating a one-two victory for Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello that confirmed all the fears rivals had harboured about their pace ever since the cars began testing at the beginning of the month.
Button's second grand prix triumph – the 200th for a British driver – came the hard way as he had to fight out front in the lead all the way while withstanding pressure from Germany's Sebastien Vettel in a Red Bull and, late on, the increasing threat of Poland's Robert Kubica in a BMW Sauber.
"It's not just for me but for the whole team, a fairy-tale ending really to the first race of our career together, and I hope we can continue this way," Button said, his words almost distorted by the ear-to-ear grin of a man who, three months ago, appeared to have no future as Honda withdrew their team from Formula One. "We are going to fight every way we can to keep this car competitive and at the front. This has got to continue and this is where we want to be. Bring on Malaysia!"
It was fighting talk to back up a fighting drive in a race of two halves. Button led away from pole as the car of his team-mate, Barrichello, was bogged down when its anti-stall device activated. The Brazilian was quickly engulfed and became embroiled in a first-corner encounter with Nick Heidfeld, Mark Webber, Adrian Sutil and Heikki Kovalainen. As Button streaked away from Vettel, the fast-starting Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, Kubica, Massa's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, and Nico Rosberg's Williams, Barrichello faced a recovery drive in a car he initially thought had been too badly damaged to continue.
The face of the race changed on lap 19 when Rosberg's team-mate, Kazuki Nakajima, crashed his Williams heavily, bringing out the safety car until the end of the 24th lap. Button had to watch a 47.7 second lead slashed to nothing – some felt that the safety car stayed out an unnecessarily long time, perhaps to spice things up – and then began to struggle to generate heat in his tyres. But he got his head down and pulled away from Vettel again.
Meanwhile, the fancied Ferraris were fading as they ate their tyres, and Lewis Hamilton was working his way back up the order after some fantastic opening laps prior to his first pit stop.
Crucially, Kubica had used his softer compound tyres in his first stint; Button and Vettel had opted to use theirs in their last. They were not as durable as the harder tyres that teams must also use at some stage in the race. Now things were coming Kubica's way, as he pushed his BMW Sauber ever closer to Vettel. By lap 55 the German was in all sorts of trouble with grip, and Kubica drew alongside in Turn Three. In what seemed a typical racing accident, for which Vettel later admitted liability, they hooked up and collided.
Each got going again, only to have separate crashes further down the road in their damaged cars. Out came the safety car for the second time. Kubica was out, Vettel tried to carry on before yielding to the inevitable.
Incredibly, that mêlée promoted Barrichello back to second place, despite his first-lap incident and a later touch with Raikkonen which damaged his front wing. It was changed during his first pit stop on the 18th lap, but damage elsewhere had taken away his car's edge. As the race finished under the safety car, he said that he had never expected a one-two after all his dramas.
Jarno Trulli had started from the pit lane after a rear wing infringement the previous day had seen both Toyotas relegated to the back of the grid. He hauled through to take the final podium, until the stewards ruled he had passed Hamilton under that final safety car and dropped him to 12th. Thus, after a very determined run, Hamilton took a hugely valuable third place ahead of Timo Glock, Fernando Alonso and Rosberg.
While Button and Ross Brawn might have expected to win, this was a tremendous fillip for McLaren. "We scored way more points than we could have realistically expected," Hamilton said. "I was looking to try and get one point, so to get six is a great achievement. We've definitely not forgotten how to win: our strategy was perfect and the team did a fantastic job. Considering the package we've got, I wrung every last ounce of pace out of the car, drove one of my best ever races and absolutely raced my heart out – I'm so satisfied. Also, my heartfelt congratulations to Jenson – he's driven brilliantly all weekend and both he and his team really deserve this success." Indeed they did.
"It always looks easier than it is," Button beamed after the fairy tale. "The first few laps were great, and I settled into my pace. Then I struggled massively to heat my tyres after the first safety car, and flat-spotted the left front really badly. So after that I was struggling with vibrations and, towards the end, with bad light.
"Then I made a mistake in my second pit stop. I was in the wrong gear because I was confused with Massa in front of me. I overshot the box and they couldn't get the fuel hose on. It was not my best race I have to say, but I won so I'm chuffed to bits.
"This win is for me and the team, that's what I care about. I don't need to poke anyone in the eye about what they've said about me – there've been many positive comments in the past. I'm just happy to be here. I've worked bloody hard to be here."
Melbourne Race details
1 J Button (GB) Brawn GP 1hr 34min 15.784sec
2 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn GP 1:34:16.591
3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:34:18.698
4 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:34:20.219
5 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:34:20.663
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:34:21.506
7 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:34:21.788
8 S Bourdais (Fr) Scu Toro Rosso 1:34:22.082
9 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:34:22.119
10 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:34:22.869; 11 G Fisichella (It) Force India 1:34:23.158; 12 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:34:42.388; 13 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull at 1 lap; 14 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull at 2 laps; 15 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber at 3 laps; 16 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari at 3 laps Not Classified: 17 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 45 laps; 18 N Piquet Jr. (Br) Renault 24 laps; 19 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams 17 laps; 20 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 0 laps.
1 Button 10pts; 2 Barrichello 8; 3 Hamilton 6; 4 Glock 5; 5 Alonso 4; 6 Rosberg 3; 7 Buemi 2; 8 Bourdais 1n RACE schedule
Sunday Malaysian, Kuala Lumpur; 19 April Chinese, Shanghai; 26 April Bahrain, Sakhir; 10 May Spanish, Barcelona; 24 May Monaco, Monte Carlo; 7 June Turkish, Istanbul; 21 June British, Silverstone; 12 July German, Nurburgring; 26 July Hungarian, Budapest; 23 August European Valencia; 30 August Belgian, Spa; 13 September Italian, Monza; 27 September Singapore, Singapore; 4 October Japanese, Suzuka; 18 October Brazilian Sao Paulo; 1 November Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi.
Buttoned up: Jenson highs and lows
2004 San Marino
Button built an early lead from pole over Michael Schumacher before the German reeled him in. The Brit eased home in second ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya en route to third place in the championship.
Button achieved his first GP win despite starting in 14th. Taking advantage of a safety-car stop and a Fernando Alonso crash, he became the first English driver to win a race in seven years.
Button spent race-day in hospital after clipping a barrier at 180mph and crashing heavily in warm-up for qualifying. His team, BAR-Honda, subsequently withdrew him from the main race.
2008 Great Britain
As team-mate Rubens Barrichello rose through the field in the Silverstone rain Button struggled, aquaplaning into gravel on lap 38 after hitting standing water
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