Barrichello deserves victory, but McLaren will rue error

bar4“In all truth, Hamilton would have struggled to contain Barrichello even without McLaren’s pitlane mistake.”

The European Grand Prix saw Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello shave off the years and establish himself as a world championship contender. Forumula1.net’s Hugh Podmore offers his verdict.

Rubens Barrichello today took a deserved victory in the European Grand Prix at Valencia. The Brawn man was at the sharp end of the pace all day, and thanks to hard-charging stints managed to jump both the McLarens of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton and take the win.

The Brazilian, wearing a helmet with a tribute to his injured compatriot Felipe Massa, drove fast and competently in the heat of the marina track. His occasional tendency to become anonymous in the middle of races was not evident this afternoon, as he kept piling on the pressure with blistering lap times. After the race he paid tribute to his mechanics and the car, which seems to have recovered some of its early season pace. The heat and the nature of the track was always going to suit the BGP 001, but the return to winning ways bodes well for his and his team-mate’s championship aspirations.

McLaren, however, will rue the pitlane error that saw the leading Lewis Hamilton enter the pits, only to discover his new tyres were not ready. McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh gave a rather rambling and complicated explanation of why it had happened to the BBC after the race, but eventually conceded that it was an error. In all truth, Hamilton probably would have struggled to contain Barrichello even if he had not had that misfortune. But McLaren did not give their man the best chance of winning the race today.

Other stars included Kimi Raikkonen, who took on the mantle of default team leader with a mature third place. The Finn appears to be proving a point of late, with performances that show a tantalising glimpse of his old speed. Sadly, he may not get the chance to show his true potential again, as Ferrari have suspended development on this F60, and speculation mounts that he will be moving to pastures new for next season.

Nico Rosberg, as ever, shone. He ended up fifth, an ever-present thorn in the side of the fallen front runners scrabbling for points. Fernando Alonso also drove a dogged race in front of his home crowd, wrestling what still appears to be an unwieldy Renault between the walls. Other performances of note came from the Force Indias, with a raft of developments putting Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella firmly in the lower midfield as opposed to the back. Down there was also debutant Romain Grosjean, who should be pleased with his first race. More will be expected from the Frenchman in the near future, though.

First of the losers was obviously Lewis Hamilton, but Jenson Button will be feeling his own pain more acutely. The Briton was perhaps overly cautious at the start as he was elbowed out by Sebastian Vettel, which plonked him quite a way back from where he ought to have been. From there the Frome man could only do his best, but never looked like having the outright pace to move up the field. However, the two points he eventually did gain will be a definite consolation, in the light of the performance of his two main rivals, Vettel and Webber.

The Red Bulls were not on the pace this weekend at all. Mark Webber had appeared all weekend to be struggling with the balance of his car, and could only manage a pointless ninth. His team-mate fared little better; a promising start was ruined by a fuel-rig mishap and then what looked like an engine failure from his Renault powerplant. If it turns out to be so it would be the German’s second failure of the weekend, and the second retirement in succession. Luck does not appear to be with the likeable charger this season.

A notable and rather sad failure was that of Luca Badoer, who was obviously not anywhere near competitive pace. He did manage to keep out of everyone’s way, including Grosjean in the pits when he didn’t really need to, but Ferrari surely must replace him for next week to avoid further embarrassment. The Italian kept saying that this weekend was just a test, but with a best qualifying lap a second and a half off the Toro Rossos in a car that is manifestly capable of scoring points, he surely will not be retained.

The last loser was the track. Virtually no overtaking for the entire race made a mockery of the claim that this season’s rule changes would provide limitless entertainment. Something must be done to that track to make it more interesting, because otherwise people won’t watch it. Motor racing in Spain deserves better than Catalunya and this anodyne car park, and we must all thank our lucky stars that next week the great Spa is on the agenda.