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Brawn GP Season Review, Pt. 2: Red Bull Throw Down the Gauntlet

Patrick AllenAnalyst INovember 14, 2009

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 19:  Race winner Sebastian Vettel (C) of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates with second placed team mate Mark Webber (L) of Australia and Red Bull Racing and 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)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Before launching into my second instalment of Brawn GP’s 2009 season review, I would like to have a quick rant about the situation in the team at the moment.

I have to say when it comes to BGP vs. Jenson Button, I’m actually on Brawn’s side. There are those who argue that as World Champ Jens deserves more cash, but last year the young Brit probably "earned" more money than I will ever have in my life.

He’s my hero, but he is a complete fool not signing a deal with Brawn. I mean, what are his other choices? Ferrari and Red Bull are closed, which only leaves McLaren if he wants to carry out a realistic defence away from Brawn.

The Brit has actually visited McLaren HQ recently with his manager, but Lewis Hamilton is the No. 1 driver at McLaren and probably always will be. I don’t want to get into a discussion over who is better out of the two world champions because I don’t know who would win. The fact is Hamilton would be No. 1, and this wouldn’t be good for Jens.

His only real option is Brawn GP; he owes Brawn an awful lot, and frankly I expect he can probably cope without a big shiny yacht to park in Monaco near his big shiny house! Sorry, Jenson, but if you go to McLaren, I think that’ll be it. I’ll either switch to Nando in the Ferrari, or simply switch F1 off.

 

CHINA 2009

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Let’s forget about all that for now and launch into the next two races of 2009. Before the third race of the season in China, Brawn GP’s controversial diffuser was declared legal. They celebrated this news with strong performances in Practice One and Two, but were very disappointing in P3. Did this mean anything for qualifying?

Saturday Qualifying

It all began well with Button finishing Q1 in pole and Rubens Barrichello 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 frontrunning Renaults were lighter than the Brawns, but I was nevertheless apprehensive about race day.

If Jens and Barrichello had qualified where they did in China 2009 in 2008 (Barrichello P4, Jens, P5) I would have been jumping for joy. However, Red Bull’s dominance, coupled with Brawn’s strange U-turn, left me feeling a little miffed.

Sunday Race

Wet conditions led to a slow and rather dull start, but 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 into 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 both Button and Barrichello up a place.

On lap eight the race was finally started properly. Sebastien Vettel immediately pulled away and was driving very well. After an unfortunate mistake on the last corner, Button was able to overtake Barrichello and gain third place.

After a Mark Webber pit stop, Button gained second (Barrichello third). It was now up to the Brawns to charge and open a gap between themselves and the rest of the pack.

Button did all he could, putting in personal best times, he was also helped by a safety car thanks to an incident between Kubica and Trulli. The Brawns thankfully had to pit around this time anyway.

Button pitted on lap 19, Barrichello one lap later. This strategy seemed to have worked for the Brawn drivers, who rejoined in positive positions. Button joined the pack in second (having put in fast laps before coming in) and Barrichello was seventh with many cars in front needing to come in soon.

Straight from the restart, Button 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.

By this stage Barrichello 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.

Meanwhile, an unlucky mistake from Button saw the Red Bull take P2. Then, just three exciting laps later, Webber made a mistake and Button 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!

With five laps left, after their second stops, Button was in third and Barrichello had managed to make it to fourth.

Button finished two places up on his start. Barrichello 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.

 

BAHRAIN 2009

Saturday Qualifying

Brawn were never really strong, but comfortably made it through the qualifying stages. Though both drivers put in times that gave them pole positions, the Toyotas and the Red Bull of Vettel were all too often faster.

As Button stated after qualifying, the car simply wasn’t fast over single hot laps. This was a trend that would unfortunately develop into a rather huge monkey on Jenson’s back for the rest of the season. Jens finished a largely disappointing day in P4 and Barrichello P6. Reading back my old articles, I had forgotten how early Brawn’s qualifying pace dropped off.

Sunday Race

Into turn one, Hamilton overtook Button with excellent use of his KERS launch. Barrichello was a little slow off the start and after the second corner Jens was fourth with Barrichello in seventh. Then came perhaps the most important manoeuvre of the race. On lap two Jens put an absolutely perfect move on his British rival and out broke the McLaren into turn one.

In these early stages there were many exciting overtaking attempts; Barrichello overtook Kimi and the midfield battle was edge of the seat stuff! The two leading Toyotas began to pull away from Jens, but the determined Briton pushed on. Luckily for Button, Hamilton was now backing up the field, which included a dangerous Vettel (though this was also bad news for Barrichello).

Around lap eleven Glock pulled into the pits, promoting Jens to P2 and Barrichello to P5. Just one lap later, Trulli too pitted from the front. It was now down to Jens to push.

The Briton was initially not fast enough, but a fantastic manoeuvre from Alonso on Trulli gave Jens some breathing space.

By lap 15 after their first stops, Button was up to P3 (thanks to an Alonso stop) and Barrichello was in P9 struggling with a determined Piquet. Barrichello was beginning to get frustrated as he was faster, but the KERS in the Renault proved problematic. After Vettel stopped on lap 18, Barrichello finally found a way past Piquet which promoted Brawn’s number two to P8; (Jens was now P2). Now on a mission, Barrichello took Glock on lap 20 for a well-earnt P7.

After Raikkonen’s stop on lap 21, Jens was once again in front and once again had to prove himself. He drove perfectly, and thanks to Trulli struggling on medium compound tyres, Vettel and Hamilton were being held up.

After a storming performance Barrichello pitted on lap 26 (to rejoin in clear air), and the Brazilian charger rejoined in eighth.

There were questions about tyre management and at times the race looked tight, but in the end, Button had done enough to comfortably win it. An outstanding performance from Button saw him take his third out of four victories. Whilst Barrichello had been consistently fast, his strategy had not been quite right and P5 was the best he could do.

These two races were interesting. In both cases the Brawns qualified relatively poorly, but were able to come back and finish well. Red Bull were able to stake their claim with a phenomenal one two in China, but no body could beat Button in Bahrain.

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