Wide-open F1 season returns to Europe
Thursday 07 May 2009
Formula One returns to Europe with a wide-open championship, a surprise leader and perennial heavyweight Ferrari trying to get off the back of the grid.
British driver Jenson Button holds a 12-point lead over his Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello going into this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.
Button has won three of the first four races of the season. The Brawn team leads the constructors' championship over Red Bull, whose young German driver Sebastian Vettel earned the team's first win at Shanghai.
With both teams expected to keep their pace advantage thanks to a series of upgrades, a change of results at the Circuit de Catalunya is not expected.
The circuit, on the outskirts of Barcelona, holds the record for the longest run of successive winners from pole position — eight — dating back to 2001. Of the 18 races held here since 1991, 14 have been won by the driver on pole, including Kimi Raikkonen last year.
Raikkonen earned Ferrari's first points of this season at the preceding Bahrain GP, but the Italian team is still off to its worst-ever start.
One trend that has carried over from last season has been Raikkonen's form. The Finn hasn't won a race since taking last year's Spanish GP, a stretch of over one year.
"Definitely we should be in a better shape than the previous races and let's hope that the gains we make is more than the others and we can be more fighting in the front where we should be and not fighting for six or seventh places," Raikkonen said. "It is an important race for us but it's not like all or nothing."
Ferrari is sticking with its KERS system despite reliability being an issue at both China and Bahrain and the Spanish circuit's limited overtaking possibilities.
Raikkonen is staying positive at a track that drivers know well from offseason testing.
"We will come back and I am pretty sure we will win races, so definitely we are going to be in the top four I would say but there is a long way to go and anything can happen," Raikkonen added.
Button is weary of proclaiming Brawn GP a sure-thing with 14 races remaining. The 29-year-old leads the standings with 31 points. Barrichello has 19, followed by Vettel at 18 and Toyota teammates Jarno Trulli (14.5) and Timo Glock (12).
"We know that we have a real fight on our hands from here to maintain our lead in the championships but I am confident that we are well prepared for the challenges ahead," Button said ahead of the 66-lap race.
On the 17 occasions a driver has won three of the first four races, 14 of them have gone on to win the championship.
History doesn't bode so well for defending champion Lewis Hamilton, who escaped further punishment for misleading stewards earlier this season but cannot escape the fact that his McLaren car trails the pace of Brawn, Red Bull and Toyota.
Hamilton is seventh with nine points - 21 behind Button.
Teammate Heikki Kovalainen will be looking to add to his four-point total at the circuit where a crash last season put him in hospital.
The Finnish driver still doesn't remember flying into the tire wall at a speed of 130 kph (80 mph).
"Since then I've already done some testing there, and I've had no flashbacks. I've no bad memories from there, no trauma at all," Kovalainen said. "So I'm looking forward to going there."
Teams will also arrive at Barcelona in another dispute with governing body FIA, unhappy over a proposed budget cap for 2010 that would allow teams to operate on a budget of $60 million (€45 million).
FIA president Max Mosley canceled his plans to attend the race after one of his sons was found dead in his London home after a suspected drug overdose.
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