Jenson Button dominated the Bahrain Grand Prix claiming Brawn GP’s third win of the season thanks to a clever race strategy and a searing desert pace.
The Briton started behind both the Toyota drivers and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, but a slightly longer first stint and two blistering laps in clean air catapulted him into the lead and enabled him to control the race.
Vettel took third for Red Bull after leap-frogging Jarno Trulli at the final round of pit stops, while Lewis Hamilton claimed fourth place for McLaren as the Woking team continue to improve.
Button has now won three out of four races with Brawn GP. The 29-year-old says his latest victory is the sweetest because of the way he had to fight from behind.
“This win was the best of the lot,” he said. “We didn’t have that competitive edge. It is the fourth flyaway, we have a lot of bits that need to be changed and getting a bit aged, so to come away from this race is great and we are now looking at improving the car.”
Kimi Raikkonen just about prevented Ferrari from self-destructing in Bahrain by taking sixth place, but Felipe Massa’s torrid season continued after he was squeezed into his teammate at the first corner and had to stop for repairs.
With torrential rain mixing up the order in the last two grand prix and perhaps masking Brawn GP’s true pace, sunshine and searing heat in Bahrain enabled the Brackley-based outfit to reassert their dominance and consolidate their position at the top of the constructors’ championship.
At the start though, Button found himself at the mercy of Lewis Hamilton’s KERS device as the McLaren driver vaulted passed him up into third place behind Jarno Trulli who lost the lead to the lighter Timo Glock.
But Button quickly despatched Hamilton into the first corner, a crucial pass that enabled him to hunt down the Toyotas.
“Hamilton is very difficult to overtake, but on the first lap he made a few mistakes I dived down the inside and on the straight I thought I could get alongside him,” Button recounted.
“I did but he pushed his button and got ahead, but I got him into first corner. That move made the race for us.”
“Jenson was just so fast through the corners so he was on my tail all the time,” confirmed Hamilton.
As expected, both Glock and Trulli were lightly fuelled for a short first stint. Glock stopped on Lap 12 rejoining behind Nico Rosberg in eighth place. He spent several laps tucked up behind the Williams driver struggling on the harder tyres which crippled his race.
“When I went out on the prime tyres I don’t know how many seconds I lost on the first two laps because I was really struggling for grip,” said Glock afterwards.
“I couldn’t get any heat into the tyres and I really lost the race in the second stint. I was sliding around and it was clear that the speed was better on the options.”
Trulli was predicted to run at least two laps longer than his teammate, so when the Italian peeled off into the pit lane only one lap later, it was game over for the Toyota driver as he fed back onto the track in front of Fernando Alonso. Alonso compounded the situation for Trulli with an audacious pass around the outside at Turn 3.
Button, sensing his moment, put the hammer down and delivered two blistering laps around the Bahrain circuit before pitting on Lap 16. He rejoined in front of Alonso, taking the provisional lead.
Sebastian Vettel, fresh from his sensational victory in the rain-hit Chinese Grand Prix a week ago posed the only real threat to Button having out-qualified the Brawn GP driver despite carrying more fuel.
The German, promoted into the lead by Button’s stop, confirmed Red Bull’s dry weather pace with a string of fastest laps, pacing over a second quicker than Jarno Trulli was managing at the same point in the race.
Vettel had built up a cushion of over twenty seconds by the time he made his first pit stop on Lap 20, but it wasn’t enough to keep him ahead of Trulli.
The Toyota driver proved to be Vettel’s undoing. He strugged for grip on the harder tyres and backed Vettel into the chasing drivers of Lewis Hamilton and Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello switched to a three-stop to try and leapfrog the Trulli-Vettel-Hamilton pack.
As Button continued to pulled clear, Vettel had only a face full of Toyota gearbox to contend with and his lap times slumped to Trulli’s pace for several laps.
Button had a fifteen second cushion over Trulli when he made his second and final stop. “We went for a very long second stint on the hard tyres,” recounts Trulli.
Vettel was given one last shot in clean air when Trulli and Hamilton made their final stops, but the gap was too big to make an impression on Button. He did however, manage to rejoin ahead of Trulli to take second place at the chequred flag.
“A good result and good points, but it was a difficult race,” said Vettel. “It’s hard braking here so you need the tyres and rear stability. In the second stint I was just behind Jarno (Trulli), which was a shame as I was on soft tyres and could have gone a bit quicker.
“In the third stint, it was the other way round and I had to defend against Jarno who was then on the soft tryes.”
Lewis Hamilton settled for fourth, while Rubens Barrichello needed a few more laps to make his three stop strategy work. He dropped to fifth place after his third and final stop.
Kimi Raikkonen just about prevented Ferrari from self-destructing in front of team president Luca Di Montezemolo in Bahrain. The Finn took sixth place thanks to a long second stint and an aggressive defence of his position in the closing laps that kept a charging Timo Glock at bay.
Failure to score points in Bahrain would have marked Ferrari’s worst start to a Formula One season in their illustrious history. For a moment it looked as though this nightmare was about to become a reality as Rubens Barrichello squeezed Felipe Massa into the back of teammate Raikkonen at the first corner.
Massa was forced to pit for a new nose cone which ruined his race for the fourth consecutive time this season. The Brazilian ran as high as twelfth place before dropping to fourteenth at the chequered flag, behind Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Beumi.
Ferrari’s race could not have been worse than BMW Sauber’s though, another stalwart in last year’s championship campaign, with both their drivers involved in accidents.
Robert Kubica tangled with McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen at the start and was forced to stop with repairs. Given BMW Sauber’s lacklustre pace the Pole had no chance of recovering and hobbled home to take eighteenth place ahead of Heidfeld.
“My race was destroyed after corner one,” said Kubica. “I was between Nick and another car, we touched each other and I destroyed my front wing.”
“Then after the crash there was a miscommunication with the pit crew. I asked to come in straight away, but was only able to pit after the second lap.”
“Then the race was very difficult, as for a long time I was in a heavy car on prime tyres. We were really nowhere with our pace. I hope we make a big step forward in Barcelona.”
Renault’s Fernando Alonso finished eighth place ahead of Williams’ Nico Rosberg.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber started at the back of the grid after he was knocked out-out qualifying by Force India’s Arian Sutil who scuppered his flying lap.
The Aussie found himself at the centre of an epic scrap with the BMW Sauber, Force India, and Toro Rosso drivers, at the start of the race.
Emerging unscathed, he climbed up up to twelfth place after passing McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen, taking eleventh when Giancarlo Fissichella, who had run impressively throughout the race, made a mistake in the closing stages. Adrian Sutil in the sister Force India was sixteenth.
“My start was okay, we had a reasonable first few laps, but then I got stuck behind Piquet,” Webber reflected. “It’s very difficult to overtake a car with KERS, he was too quick on the straights and that really wrecked the first stint for me. We then converted to a two-stop strategy, but the grip was quite low on the prime tyres, although it was the same for everyone.”
“If you don’t start near the front in these races we know the score, but I did my best. It was a good day for Sebastian, which shows the performance of the car. My mechanics worked like hell and the car was reliable, so we’ll have our day.”
Although eventful, the Bahrain Grand Prix proved to be a race of strong reliability, with Kazuki Nakajima the only driver to stop with a mechanical problem.
P. Driver Team Time 1 Jenson Button Brawn 1:35.679 2 Nico Rosberg Williams 0:00.025 3 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 0:00.202 4 Mark Webber Red Bull 0:00.426 5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 0:00.488 6 Jarno Trulli Toyota 0:00.538 7 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 0:00.698 8 Timo Glock Toyota 0:00.869 9 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 0:00.995 10 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso 0:01.121 11 Adrian Sutil Force India 0:01.150 12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 0:01.168 13 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 0:01.262 14 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 0:01.375 15 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 0:01.540 16 Nelson Piquet Renault 0:01.594 17 Robert Kubica BMW 0:01.812 18 Nick Heidfeld BMW 0:01.865 19 Fernando Alonso Renault 0:01.959 20 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 0:02.071