Hugh Podmore reflects on Jenson Button’s fourth consecutive romp to victory – and Vettel’s howler on the opening lap.
Jenson Button won the Turkish Grand Prix today in further statement of his intent to take this season’s world championship. The Englishman produced another masterful performance, comfortably outdoing the rest of the runners as has become his wont in 2009.
The race was nevertheless characterised by some costly errors from Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, which ruined any chance the young German might have had of challenging Button for the win. First among these was polesitter Vettel’s first lap error at Turn 10, which saw him run wide and a grateful Button sweep past.
Vettel was on a three-stop strategy from the word go, but after the mistake dropped him behind Button, Red Bull could have changed him to a two-stopper. They failed to do so, and Vettel was left with the nearly impossible task of staying with Button, passing him when lighter on fuel and then building a substantial lead. It proved too much to ask of Vettel.
Red Bull might have thought Vettel would profit from less time spent on the slow super-soft tyres, but any advantage he gained was not enough to rein Button in. More damagingly for Vettel, his team-mate Mark Webber found himself in second and the team effectively asked the German not to challenge the Australian. Vettel radiated disappointment at the end and one wonders if the team’s decision to issue that edict will have further repercussions for inter-team relations, already thought to be cold.
The race was lit up by a few interesting duels, notably featuring Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian had a disastrous start but despite a malfunctioning gearbox showed the pace of the Brawn car by fighting and passing everyone with typical chutzpah. He was eventually foiled by the gearbox, but provided sterling entertainment.
Another feature was Lewis Hamilton’s lack of pace. The McLaren man remained at the back for large portions of the race, jumping up the field at the end thanks to a clever one-stop strategy. But he was fighting with the likes of Nelson Piquet and the Toro Rossos at times, a dispiriting experience for the world champion.
Button’s dominance represents a significant step towards the world championship, especially because Istanbul was one of the circuits at which Ferrari and Red Bull were thought to be most competitive. But Silverstone, the next race, is another one – another psychological last chance saloon for the others to make a serious case for the championship. Vettel will have to improve his finesse, and have a word or two with Mark Webber, if he wants to be in contention in the latter half of the season.