Here are the next couple of races from that roller coaster season
After some great times in all three practice sessions leading up to Saturday qualifying, Brawn were rubbish when it really mattered. Of course, to finish P3 and P5 sounds ok on paper, but when you consider the perfect hot conditions and the promise, it simply wasn’t good enough. We later learned that they had done a good job when fuel corrected, but there was still room for improvement.
The first session was tense with both Brawn men wobbling. Though Rubens finished in P8, Jenson managed to get me excited by topping the sheets in Q1.
The Brawn driver's fortunes were reversed in Q2 when Rubens finished top this time and Jenson in P6. In the final session Jenson looked good early on whilst Rubens opted to only do a couple of runs to save tyres.
This was a risky strategy but it was encouraging that Rubes had the confidence to do it. The risk gave mixed results with the Brazilian eventually taking P3, which in theory was good with spare tyres, but pole was preferable! Meanwhile his teammate seemed to go completely off the boil, eventually finishing in P5.
It took him five years, but Rubens Barrichello finally won another race after a fantastic performance from the Brazilian who truly deserved a victory.
However, the race itself was easily one of the most boring I have seen in a long time. All of the racing was done over pit stops, I didn’t see a single manoeuvre (bar the usual madness at the start), and the boring circuit gave us little other than the feeling that Valencia looks like a hot and inviting part of Spain.
Having said that, Brawn’s strategy really paid off and gave both drivers decent results. Jenson Button got off to a dismal start, had moments of excellence but was ultimately unable to break higher than P7, whilst Rubens did what he really struggled to do in 2009 and put his foot down when it really mattered.
As the lights went out the McLarens in pole pulled away, but Rubens kept them honest. Jenson made a great move on Vettel but his Red Bull rival began to push Jens off the line (perfectly legally), Jens lifted off and slipped down three places.
Just six laps in, a slower Kovalainen was backing the pack up. Jenson had fallen away from Webber (after having to gift the Australian a place for cutting a corner) and Kubica was all over the Championship leader’s rear wing.
However, after Hamilton’s stop, Rubens went up to P2 and now had to push like crazy to beat Kovalainen in the pit stops. Vettel pitted too, but a fuel rig issue cost the German crucial time and meant that he would need to come in on the very next lap!
Then on lap 17 Kovalainen pitted, and this is where Rubens really earned his win. The Brazilian put his pedal to the metal when it was most important and strung together some excellent laps. Meanwhile, with all the troubles Vettel was having, and other drivers stopping, Jenson had got up to the heady heights of P6!
Jenson’s first stop unfortunately rejoined him behind the heavy Fisichella! But Rubens rejoined in in P2 ahead of Kovalainen after his first stop.
Around lap 21, Rubens was going for Hamilton, and Jenson was struggling for pace. The only bright side for Jens was first that Vettel was in P16, and second that the German ultimately had to stop with yet another engine failure.
Whilst Rubens and Lewis Hamilton slugged it out at the front, Jenson moved right up to the back of Webber again. However, despite reducing the gap to 1.8 seconds, there was simply nowhere to pass and nothing really happened.
Hamilton pitted on lap 36 and this is where the race would be won or lost. Unfortunately for Hamilton, his team cocked up the stop! The tyres weren’t ready and needed to be unwrapped there and then before being fitted.
Hamilton eventually rejoined in P5 and Rubens went on to push it to the max again. In a turn of fortunes things went from good to fabulous when Jens pitted just a couple of laps after Rube’s second stop. The Brit took on 6 seconds of fuel, and had done such a good set of in laps that he rejoined in P9. Webber had been slowed up by traffic, but when he rejoined behind Jenson, after his second stop, it was in no small part thanks to a great job from the Brawn man.
After stops in front of him, Jens had gained P7, and Webber (the Brit's third big title threat at the time) had been slotted back in behind Kubica (which meant no points).
Basically, Rubens put in a great performance and thanks to a McLaren mistake, rightfully claimed victory. Jenson suffered a terrible start, failed to make any impression for a large portion of the race, but came good at the end. However the icing on the cake was the fact that Brawn’s closest rivals, Red Bull, finished with nothing.
Belgium 2009 Saturday Qualifying
The day belonged to one man and he set the pace from the start. Fisichella finished session one in pole, whilst Rubens finished in P3 and Jenson a very poor P14!
The second session was a Jenson disaster. Rubens comfortably made it through in P3, but Jenson was poor throughout, made several mistakes when it really mattered, and failed to qualify for Q3 by finishing P14!
In the third session Fisichella took his Force India to the teams’ first ever pole. Luckily for Jenson, the Red Bulls finished up in a terrible P8 and P9 (remember they were supposed to blitz the rest in Belgium) and Rubens managed P4.
After their respective qualifying positions both Brawns had to make great starts to finish well, but the pressure was probably more on Rubens who had a little sniff (admittedly a very unlikely sniff) of P1 if all went well!
As the lights went off Rubens went nowhere! I couldn’t believe it! His anti-stall had kicked in and the Brazilian had to simply watch as his competitors glided past. Jenson on the other hand had a fantastic start and, although he went wide into turn one, made up at least four places!
This great start was all for nothing though as, after making a move on Kovalainen into turn four, the Championship leader was knocked by a late breaking Grosjean. The Brawn and Renault were out. Unfortunately Hamilton and Alguersari also joined the early finishers when they got caught up in the crash fall out.
The safety car was out and Rubens was down in P15 (having stopped for more fuel and fresh tyres) with both Red Bulls up in the points.
When the race began again Raikkonen (who had had a fantastic start and was now second), used his magic button to full affect and passed Fisichella to take the lead. I think if it wasn’t for the safety car, Fisi would have been fast enough to keep Kimi at bay. That pesky button made a lot of difference!
Rubens quickly passed both Trulli and Badoer after a great re-start and things began to look up for the Brawn team. The Brazilian put a great manoeuvre over on Badoer at the end of lap five to take P13.
Now on a mini mission, Rubens pushed on and quickly dispatched Nakajima for P12. By lap 16 Rubens was P12, Webber was in P5 and Vettel was in P7. One lap later Raikkonen, Fisichella, Webber, and Heidfeld all pitted.
Webber was released right into the path of Heidfeld and although the German quickly re-took Webber out on track, the stewards were straight on the case and issued Webber with a drive through penalty.
Meanwhile, amongst all this drama, Vettel had gained P1 through the pit stops. Rubens managed to get passed Webber on lap 15 and all this would later be yet more little moments of luck that may well have tipped the Championship.
The only downside was Vettel’s excellent performance. The German pitted on lap 15 and re-joined in a very encouraging P8 (Rubens was P10).
At the half way point Rubens was into the points in P8 thanks to some pit stops, Vettel was P6 and Webber was in P12. However, after his second stop, Rubens rejoined in P11.
Vettel may also have had some luck with Kubica and Alonso retirements, but his super pace showed the true potential that Red Bull had in Spa. This was a key factor for the Championship as it showed that P3 (Vettel) and P9 (Webber) was actually a very significant failure.
Rubens was P10 at this stage but after stops in front of him, he got up to P7 where he would remain for the rest of the race. Rubens looked as if he might take an extra point from Kovalainen right at the end until an oil leak, (which led to a lot of smoke coming from the back of car 23) meant that the Brazilian had to back off. Rubes nursed his car to a well fought P7.
These two races were extremely significant in the 2009 title race. They gave Rubens his much needed win and well and truly stuck him in the title fight. Whilst Red Bull failed to capitalise on poor Brawn performances (though importantly, Red Bull were almost as unlucky as Brawn were lucky!).
However, when all said and done perhaps Spa was a great example of Jenson’s extraordinary luck! Vettel and Webber were on paper meant to destroy the pack, and to finish where they did was awful. As for Rubens, well he did a good job to fight back up the pack, but starting from P4 and finishing P7 wasn’t that great.
However, lucky as Jens was, he did also work hard to win his title and as we’ll re-live in Monza in my next review, he certainly pulled his finger out and proved that luck helps…..but skill is key.