Red Bull Triumph in China, Brawn Still Lead the Championship.

Patrick AllenAnalyst IApril 19, 2009

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 19:  Race winner Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates with third placed Jenson Button (R) of Great Britain and Brawn GP on the podium after the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 19, 2009 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Well, what a race we witnessed today!  Wet conditions led to a sedate start, but after that I had not seen so much overtaking for a long time!  Better still it was ‘old-school’ overtaking like the 1990s, when drivers would battle it out for laps on end.  The tussles in the midfield were the most exciting but Jenson saw some action too.  Overall it was, I suppose, disappointing as a Brawn fanatic—the Red Bulls were simply faster and a conservative strategy from Brawn may well have cost them victory.  Still, Jenson drove very well to finish two places higher than he started; he secured third place and still leads the Championship.

Friday Practice, 17th April 2009

Practice One belonged to McLaren, who shocked everyone by finishing first (Hamilton) and fourth (Kovalainen).  The good news for the Brawn fans amongst us was that the two cars splitting the McLarens were white and florescent yellow!  Jenson ended the first session in second place with Rubens just 0.232s behind in third.

It took a while for Brawn to climb up the time sheets at the start of Practice two.  Both Rubens and Jenson were lapping around the P10 to P15 mark, by no means a disaster as it was still very early.  With just over thirty minutes left, Rubens emerged from the pits on soft tyres and shot up the grid to first!  The Brawn drivers soon began to dominate.  Both Rubens and Jens flew around the Shanghai circuit and finished up in first (Jenson) and third (Rubens).  With eight minutes left, I thought the ‘Friday specialist’ Nico Rosberg might spoil Jenson’s fun, but the German was only able to split the Brawn cars. 

Friday was a fresh start after all of the hardships and worries of Paris.  For the first time this season, Brawn was strong in both practice sessions.  Of course I couldn’t wait for Saturday and Sunday, but there was something special about Friday.  On Wednesday Brawn GP proved that they deserved to be in front, and Friday was their first opportunity to perform without the uncertainties of a forthcoming hearing.  

Saturday Practice, 18th April 2009

Rosberg ended up on top (of course) whilst Brawn looked to be struggling.  Many believed that Brawn had something up their sleeves, but it was nevertheless slightly worrying. 

Saturday Qualifying, 18th April 2009 

A strange one to comment on.  As a die-hard Honda fan, having the ex-Japanese team line up fourth and fifth was astonishing.  However, as a Brawn fanatic seeing my team where they finished was a sign that other teams were catching up—fast!

It all began well with Jenson finishing Q1 in pole and Rubens in Second.  However, the Red Bulls looked a threat and, sure enough, they dominated Q2 and Q3 despite only putting in minimal runs.  My driver of the day was Alonso, who, thanks to the extremely hard work of his team the night before, managed an astonishing qualification of Q2!

Post qualifying many people believed that the three front-running Renaults were lighter than the Brawns, but I was nevertheless apprehensive about race day.  Of course that apprehension was very much mixed with joy and excitement! 

Sunday Race, 19th April 2009

As I said, at the beginning the race was really quite dull.  The wet weather was deemed too dangerous for a race start so for the first eight or so laps we had to watch a procession race whilst listening to team radio debates as to whether the track was safe or not.

This slow period, however, was the calm before the storm; when the race did eventually start it was a corker!  Just before the safety car came in Renault decided to risk a potentially very beneficial strategy and pulled Alonso in to the pits.  (As the safety car was coming in on that lap, Alonso theoretically would be in a strong position with new tyres and fuel, even if he was at the back).  Unfortunately for Alonso the strategy ultimately failed, but Renault's early decision boosted Jenson up to fourth and Rubens to fourth.

On lap eight the race was finally started properly.  Vettel immediately pulled away and was driving very well.  By lap 10 the young German ace was seven seconds faster than Rubens and eight faster than Jenson.

After an unfortunate mistake on the last corner, Jenson was able to overtake Rubens and gain third place.  Rubens had overcooked his entry and went wide; after this error he was now five seconds down on his team-mate, let alone the Red Bulls in front.

Mark Webber was the first of the Red Bull drivers to pit on lap 14.  The Australian had been driving excellently, but on his last few laps before pitting, he had lost a lot of time.  This proved advantageous for Jenson who gained second (Rubens too benefited, in third).   

It was now up to the Brawns to charge and open a gap between themselves and the rest of the pack.  Vettel flew into the pits just one lap after Webber and the pressure was now really on Jens and Rubens!

Jenson managed to pull out a ten second lead ahead of his team-mate (who was off pace all race really), but Vettel was extremely fast and only down five seconds on Rubens having made a stop!  Jenson did all he could, putting in personal best times, but when a safety car had to be released thanks to an incident between Kubica and Trulli I feared the worst.

The safety car actually played into the hands of Brawn, who had to stop around that time anyway.  Jenson pitted on lap 19, Rubens, one lap later.  This strategy seemed to have worked for the Brawn drivers, who rejoined in positive positions.  Jenson joined the pack in second (having put in fast laps before coming in) and Rubens was seventh with many cars in front needing to come in soon.

More good luck came for Brawn GP when Massa stopped out on track, giving Rubens another place and perhaps extending the length of the safety car period (which would eat into Vettel’s lead).

In actual fact the safety car didn’t stay out any longer and returned to the pits on lap 22.  Rubens again made a last corner mistake before the restart, though, and was again in seventh (not a great Sunday for the Brazilian).

Straight from the restart Jenson was under immense pressure from third placed Mark Webber.  And so began an exciting battle for second.  Vettel was pulling away, and largely out of the picture, but Jens was closing occasionally whilst fending off a determined Australian.  On lap 26 Vettel had pulled out a 7.684s lead on Jens, but as we heard over the radio, this pace was apparently only fuel effect (the Red Bull being lighter).

By this stage Rubens was going very slowly, which led many to believe he was on a one stop strategy; he wasn’t, he just couldn’t find the speed.  By lap 28, Webber was faster than Jens in sectors one and three but the Brit was holding on.  An unlucky mistake from Jenson though saw the Red Bull take P2.  Then, just three exciting laps later, Webber made a mistake and Jenson was once again second!……But then on the same lap into corners seven and eight Mark Webber was victorious with a nice manoeuvre!

It was brilliant driving from both men and very exciting to watch!  Jenson was then the faster of the two in the first and last sectors.  However, Webber was supreme in Sector two (faster than anybody else).  Thanks to Hamilton pitting on lap 33, Rubens gained fifth place, but the Brazilian was now 36 seconds off the lead pace.

The Red Bulls were flying and the Brawns simply had no answer.  With just 19 laps left Vettel pitted for the final time and rejoined behind Jenson (who was now second, but not for long).  Vettel flew around the track, and a pass on the Brawn man in second seemed inevitable.

Webber pitted at the end of lap 39 giving Jens the lead, but for how long?  Webber successfully re-joined in front of Rubens, and soon after Vettel took first place.  For me now, it was very much Red Bull’s to lose (though in the back of my mind I had known that for a while!).

With 14 laps left Jenson pitted and re-joined in P4.  Rubens suddenly pushed, which shocked everyone, but the Brazilian pitted just one lap after his team-mate (game, set and match Red Bull).  Rubens re-joined in P5 and started lapping pretty slowly again!

With five laps left Jenson was in third and Rubens had managed to make it to fourth.  That is how the race eventually finished.  A great result for Red Bull and not exactly a disaster for Brawn.

Jenson finished two places up on his start. Rubens finished where he began and strangely, despite his apparent slowness, had set the fastest lap of the race at some point!  China was a fantastic race as an ex-Honda fan.  The Brawns both drove competitively, but simply couldn’t match the Red Bulls.  Was this representative of a change in the order of F1? I think we will have to see the next dry race to find out.  Well done Red Bull, but Jenson and Rubens still lead the Drivers' title and Brawn still lead the Constructors’.   

Drivers' title top three

Button: 21 points

Barrichello: 15 points

Vettel: 10

Constructors top three

Brawn-Mercedes: 36 points

RBR-Renault: 19.5 points

Toyota: 18.5 points