The Burning Question: Strange Calls From Brawn GP

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The Burning Question: Strange Calls From Brawn GP
(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

As Rubens Barrichello mounted the second step on the podium for the 28th time in his Formula One career, the feeling of having been here before must have been running through his mind in more ways than one.

The body language of the Brazilian, F1's most experienced driver ever, said it all as he congratulated teammate Jenson Button on another astonishing victory in Barcelona.

From the very start of the weekend, Barrichello looked more comfortable than his championship-leading teammate...outpacing him in practice and coming close to pole in qualifying, when Rubens got past Button at the first corner the race looked like being his to lose.

And lose it he did. Both Brawns were scheduled to run three-stop strategies, but at his first pit stop, Jenson Button's crew elected to switch him to a two-stopper.

Barrichello stuck to the original plan of three stops, and Button took advantage of his teammate's extra pit lane time to take the lead and win the race.

Surprise, surprise—Brawn GP's claim that a three-stop strategy was fastest at Barcelona, which was contentious to begin with, was proven wrong.

No other driver save for Kazuki Nakajima, who was forced into an extra pit stop after an early accident, stopped more than twice, and Barrichello found himself very much on the back foot.

The mathematics may say that three stops is fastest around the Circuit de Catalunya, but as anyone will tell you, the mathematics mean little when compared to the importance of track position and the need to avoid traffic, especially on a track where overtaking is so difficult.

Button's crew obviously realised this and fuelled their man accordingly. Barrichello's, for whatever reason, did not.

The conclusion, for those who enjoy jumping to conclusions and do so habitually, is that Button was given the preferable strategy at the expense of his teammate.

It is easy to understand their reasoning. Button's first pit stop was before Barrichello's, and having seen that the British driver was switching to a two-stop strategy, surely Rubens' crew should have done the same thing?

They may have still felt that three stops were faster, but they were hardly likely to lose out to anyone other than Button. To be completely safe, they should have switched Barrichello's strategy to shadow Button's, thereby ensuring that the Briton could not get past.

So we are left with either accusing Barrichello's engineers of a fundamental oversight, or something more sinister: A deliberate ploy by Brawn to hinder one of their drivers.

If we are to believe the official version of events, as conveyed to us by Nick Fry of Brawn GP, Barrichello was simply not fast enough to make up the time saved by Button in not pitting again. In short, Rubens did not take sufficient advantage of having less fuel for most of the time.

There is at least a grain of truth to this. That Button drove a flawless race cannot be disputed; he was quick at all times and once in the lead never looked like relinquishing it.

But then, Barrichello's final stop was only two laps after Button's: If one of the advantages of a three-stop strategy, as Brawn contend, was to allow Barrichello to spend less time on the less competitive harder tyre, why was he brought in so early?

Why not give him extra laps on softer tyres to allow him to make up ground over Button, who was by then on harder rubber?

It is clear from the way the race played out that the three-stop strategy was certainly not faster than stopping just twice: Ability alone cannot account for the gap between Button and Barrichello by the end of the race, especially taking into account how Barrichello had been quicker than his teammate for most of the weekend.

Alternatively, Button may have just pulled something out of the bag when it mattered, made the most of a less competitive strategy and gone on to win the race in style.

But the explanation given by Brawn for the counter-intuitive result of today's race has not been accepted by a considerable number of people. Was Barrichello's strategy a genuine mistake, or something less palatable?

I genuinely can't decide.

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