As far as Jenson Button was concerned, it was the wrong Brawn which won here yesterday. The world championship leader had another traumatic race as team-mate Rubens Barrichello snatched victory from Lewis Hamilton and McLaren, but with neither Red Bull challenger scoring, Button was at least able to leave Spain with his advantage virtually undiminished.
Barrichello has promised a victory all year, but for much of yesterday's race he was chasing Hamilton. The world champion led easily from pole position, as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen slotted in behind him to ride shotgun. Barrichello was overpowered by their KERS energy storage systems, and further back Kimi Raikkonen used his Ferrari's similar system to vault past Sebastian Vettel, who squeezed Button out as the prelude to a tough opening stint for the Englishman. Tyre issues kept him down the lower half of the top eight, as the spotlight focused firmly on the Hamilton-Barrichello duel.
Hamilton led until his first pit-stop on lap 16, then Kovalainen for a lap. Barrichello ran another three laps before refuelling, and that jumped his Brawn ahead of the Finn for the middle stint.
Hamilton had a lead of 3.6 seconds over Barrichello by lap 36, but when he pitted again a lap later McLaren did not have his front tyres ready. The delay proved crucial. When Barrichello pitted from the lead on lap 40 he was able to resume ahead of Hamilton.
"I was told to come in that lap," Hamilton said. "I had saved fuel to go longer, but maybe they were a bit unsure whether I had enough. They called me in and I was just inside the white line and already committed to coming into the pits, when they told me to do another lap.
"We win and we lose together. It's been a tremendous effort to get us here, so we can't be disappointed that we didn't get the win because we had extraordinary pace for the last three races. These things happen. I've had so many races with this team and this very rarely happens, this was perhaps the second time. After all the things we've done, they deserve a pat on the back."
Hamilton kept the pressure on Barrichello all the way, but could not close the gap by more than a couple of 10ths each lap. "It's been fantastic all weekend," said the Brazilian, who hadn't won since he left Ferrari in 2004. "All race they were telling me to push and lots of things go through your head, for yourself, your family, your country. The car was really brilliant. I wish this moment could be forever." His success was the 100th for a Brazilian driver.
"I dedicate this to a special one," he said, "for Felipe [Massa]. It's been emotional for me, but I never felt that the spring coming out of my car [and hitting him in Hungary] was my fault like some nasty people said. He is such a good friend and I wish him all the best. I had two wishes, actually: That he was the same guy [afterwards] and he is; and I wish he is the same driver – and I think he is going to be."
Hamilton took his misfortune well, and was dignified. "In the middle stint we pushed each other very hard," Hamilton said. "The first part of the race was very well controlled and consistent, but in the second stint I was struggling with my tyres and to keep up the pace Rubens had, especially in the high-speed corners where he was catching me. The last stint on the prime tyres was better for me, so I pushed and pushed beyond the limit, like qualifying laps. I can go home happy that I gave it all.
"The team did a fantastic job and it wasn't a pit issue; it was just unfortunate. I tried to do that extra lap to push closer to Rubens, but we didn't get it. No worries. Congratulations to Rubens, he did a fantastic job."
Raikkonen jumped Kovalainen on the second stop, and the McLaren driver had his hands full holding off an aggressive Nico Rosberg in the final laps.
With Vettel retiring early with mechanical failure and Webber unable to do better than ninth, Red Bull went home empty handed as Brawn increased their constructors' points tally to 126. Button moved to 72, as Barrichello vaulted back to second place on 54, still firmly believing that a title run is possible.
"It's been a tough weekend," Button said, a trifle bemused by the way things had turned out. "Rubens did a great job and he deserves the victory, it's been a long time for him. We came to beat the Red Bulls and we did, but I didn't expect my team-mate to finish so far ahead of me."
European Grand Prix: Results and standings
*Finishing positions in Valencia
1 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn-Mercedes 1hr 35min 51.289sec
2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:35:53.647
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:36:07.283
4 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:36:11.321
5 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:36:12.159
6 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:36:19.033
7 J Button (GB) Brawn GP 1:36:26.202
8 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:36:27.956
9 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:36:36.199, 10 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:36:39.224, 11 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:36:40.111, 12 Go Fisichella (It) Force India 1:36:54.903, 13 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:36:55.816, 14 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:37:17.808, 15 R Grosjean (Fr) Renault 1:37:23.033, 16 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 Lap, 17 L Badoer (It) Ferrari at 1 Lap, 18 K Nakajima (Jpn) Williams at 3 Laps, 19 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 41 laps completed, 20 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 23 laps completed
1 Button (GB) Brawn-Mercedes GP 72 points, 2 Barrichello (Br) Brawn-Mercedes 54, 3 Webber (Aus) Red Bull 51.5, 4 Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 47, 5 Rosberg (Ger) Williams 29.5, 6 Hamilton (GB) McLaren 27, 7 Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 24, 8 Trulli (It) Toyota 22.5, 9 Massa (Br) Ferrari 22, 10 Glock (Ger) Toyota 16, 11 Alonso (Sp) Renault 16, 12 Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 14, 13 Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 6, 14 Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 3, 15 Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso 3, 16 Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso 2, 17 Fisichella (It) Force India 0, 18 Sutil (Ger) Force India 0, 19 Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 0, 20 Piquet (Br) Renault 0, 21 Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso 0, 22 Grosjean (Fr) Renault 0, 23 Badoer (It) Ferrari 0.
1 Brawn-Mercedes 126 points, 2 RedBull-Renault 98.5, 3 Ferrari 46, 4 McLaren-Mercedes 41, 5 Toyota 38.5, 6 Williams-Toyota 29.5, 7 Renault 16, 8 BMW Sauber 9, 9 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 5, 10 Force India-Mercedes 0.