Strategy the key as Button strides on

strategyForumula1.com’s Hugh Podmore on the tactics that helped Button secure Brawn’s second 1-2 finish of the season.

Jenson Button today took his fourth race of the season as he swept to victory at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

The Englishman was followed home by his team-mate Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber. In a race where fuel and tyre usage were of fundamental importance, strategy was key to the outcome.

The most obvious manifestation of the importance of strategy was between the Brawn GP cars. Because of the early Safety Car, Button was changed onto a two-stop strategy and made the most of that, whereas Barrichello was on a three-stopper. Despite maneouvring himself expertly into the lead at the first corner, the Brazilian simply could not pull away from Button far enough to negate the time he would later lose because of the extra stop. It would have been a big ask for any driver.

Third-placed Webber also benefited from wise strategy. He ran a very long second stint, using the prime tyre for longer to maximise his race-long pace. As such the Australian jumped his team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa and even threatened Barrichello at one point. Webber’s consistency throughout the race was worthy of merit into the bargain, but he will know full well that it was his side of the garage’s tactics that won him the battle with his team-mate and little else.

Felipe Massa’s coasting to the line on fumes made for a spectacular end to the race. Locked in a close fight with Sebastian Vettel for most of the race, the Ferrari man had the advantage on the straights with his Kers while the Red Bull looked better-balanced on the remainder of the track. Pitstops were always going to be where the podium was won or lost for Ferrari. Massa was perhaps released a second or two too early from his final stop, meaning he was short on fuel. He eventually ended up sixth, behind a charging Fernando Alonso, who caught him on the last lap. The inquest into what is rapidly turning into an annus horribilis for Ferrari will surely continue.

All in all, the winners from Barcelona were those who were well-advised and well-directed by their race engineers and strategists. The losers have only their team to blame for a race that was essentially a purely tactical exercise.