Rubens Barrichello stormed to his first win in five years in Valencia as McLaren blew Lewis Hamilton’s chances of victory with a mistake in the pit lane.
The 37-year-old Brazilian, a veteran of 278 grand prix, started behind an all McLaren front row in Sunday’s European Grand Prix, but a searing pace from his Brawn GP car, allied to a costly mistake from the McLaren mechanics in the pitlane, saw him leapfrog Lewis Hamilton at the second round of pit stops and charge to his tenth career victory – his first since China 2004.
“Its been a fantastic weekend that I will never forget,” revelled Barrichello after the race “After five years you don’t forget how to do it, but it’s tough. They were telling me in the race ‘push, push, push’, and although I pushed like hell there are still things going through your mind: trying not to make any mistakes, winning for my country, winning for my family. So there was a lot going through my mind, but it was a perfect result.”
Lewis Hamilton was on course to follow up his win in Hungary with a second consecutive victory, but a miscall by his McLaren mechanics at the second round of pits stops saw the the team gift the victory to Barrichello.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted that the team had made an “operational error” by failing to have Hamilton’s tyres ready when he came in.
“These things happen, it very rarely happens, and it may even only be the second time it has happened. Regardless, we need to carry on pushing,” Hamilton said.
“We win and lose together, you know. It has been a tremendous effort to get us here, so we can’t take second place for granted. It’s disappointing not to win because we have had an extraordinary pace in the last few races, and I still believe it was a tremendous effort.”
The result sees Barrichello bring himself into play in the drivers championship as he closes the gap to Button to within twenty points.
In the first half of the season Barrichello was consistently out performed by teammate and championship leader Jenson Button, but the last few races have seen something of a role reversal with Button struggling for pace as his championship lead continues to shrink. The Briton finished in seventh place in Valencia after a poor start dropped him down the pecking order.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen inflicted further damage on McLaren by stealing third place from Heikki Kovalainen after a long second stint.
“I was pushing 100 per cent all the time,” said the Finn. “I knew on Friday that we had a good car, it was working well on the longer stints and I was hoping it would be ok in the race – and it turned out to be. We are no longer bringing any new parts to the car so we are a little bit behind the leaders. But when we get the car tuned in we can maybe fight for a podium. A really good weekend for me and I’m happy to score a podium.”
However, questions will be asked about whether Luca Badoer is a suitable stand-in for Felipe Massa in the sister Ferrari at the next few races. The Italian veteran failed to make an impression in the race.
The Ferrari driver had a good initial start making up six places, but a scrap with Renault rookie Sebastian Grosjean came to nothing when he crossed the notorious pitlane exit “white line” after his first stop and picked up a drive through penalty. He finished where he qualified, in last place.
Williams’ Nico Rosberg matched the pace of Raikkonen and Kovalainen to take fifth place, and he did well to keep local favourite Fernando Alonso at bay in sixth place.
Jenson Button was forced to settle for seventh place. The Brawn driver was on the back-foot from the word go after being squeezed onto the run-off at Turn 1 by Sebastian Vettel and then cutting the chicane at Turn 5. That dropped him to eighth place and despite showing strong pace in the closing stages on the super soft tyres, Button generally struggled for pace.
Button’s saving grace was that his main championship rivals at Red Bull endured a similarly miserable race. Sebastian Vettel’s championship hopes went up in smoke with an engine failure on Lap 25. His race had already been written off by a fuel rig problem in his first pit stop. No fuel went into the Red Bull car and he was forced to come back in again on the very next lap.
Mark Webber meanwhile had to settle for ninth place after losing out to Jenson Button and Robert Kubica at the second round of pit stops.
European Grand Prix – How it happened:
McLaren had a perfect start as Hamilton led Kovalainen and Barrichello into the first corner. But it all went wrong for championship leader Jenson Button. The Brawn driver made a good initial start, but was squeezed onto the run-off at Turn 1 by Sebastian Vettel, dropping to eighth place. Then he cut across the Turn 5 chicane while defending his position to Mark Webber and was forced to hand eighth place back to the Red Bull driver.
Raikkonen meanwhile vaulted up to fourth place ahead of both Vettel and Button after using his super soft tyres and KERS combination to good effect off the start line.
With clear air ahead of him Hamilton, the lightest of the frontrunners, set a string of fastest laps to pull out a gap of 7.5 seconds over Kovalainen, and 8.5 seconds over Barrichello, by the time of his first pit stop on Lap 17. The McLaren driver rejoined in sixth place ahead of the scrap between Button and Webber.
Kovalainen, who was beginning to hold up Barrichello, much to the annoyance of Brawn, stopped one lap later, allowing the Brazilian to get the hammer down.
A blistering in-lap not only catapulted Barrichello ahead of Kovalainen after his pitstop, but also put him right on the gearbox of Lewis Hamilton going into the second half of the race.
While Barrichello homed in the leader, Jenson Button in the sister Brawn was struggling for pace. Rejoining from his first stop behind Force India’s Adrian Sutil didn’t help matters and that enabled Mark Webber to retain track position when the Red Bull stopped a couple of laps later.
At the front, the gap between Hamilton and Barrichello yo-yoed around the four second mark as the two drivers traded fastest laps.
Then disaster for Hamilton at the scene of his second pit stop on Lap 37. His McLaren mechanics made a late call to bring him in and were not ready with his tyres. The longer than planned pitstop gifted the lead to Rubens Barrichello who set a searing pace in clean air before pitting to capitalise on the mistake from the Woking squad.
With Barrichello on the super soft tyres for the shorter final stint, Hamilton had little choice but to settle for second place, despite his best efforts to close the gap to the Brawn driver.
That left Barrichello free to take his first victory with Brawn and climb on to the top step of the podium for the first time since China 2004 when he was racing for Ferrari.
Further down the field, Adrian Sutil drove an impressive race for Force India, keeping the BMW Saubers in touch to finish in tenth place, ahead of Nick Heidfeld and teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.
And it was another solid performance from F1 newboy Jaime Alguersuari. The Toro Rosso rookie kept his nose clean during the opening laps – unlike fellow rookies Sebastian Grosjean, Luca Badoer and Sebastian Beumi – and kept the Toyota drivers honest in the race to take sixteenth place.
Renault rookie Sebastian Grosjean impressed on his debut finishing ahead of Alguersuari in fifteenth, despite being forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on the opening lap after tangling with Toyota’s Timo Glock. The Frenchman set a series of quick laps midway through the race to keep Ferrari’s Luca Badoer at bay.
Williams Kazuki Nakajima retired in the pits in the last couple of laps and classified in 18th position. Sebastien Buemi spun out of the race when his brakes failed just after the midway point.
1 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 1:35:51.289 2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 2.358 3 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari 15.994 4 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 20.032 5 Nico Rosberg Williams 20.870 6 Fernando Alonso Renault 27.744 7 Jenson Button Brawn 34.913 8 Robert Kubica BMW 36.667 9 Mark Webber Red Bull 44.910 10 Adrian Sutil Force India 47.935 11 Nick Heidfeld BMW 48.822 12 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 1:03.614 13 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:04.527 14 Timo Glock Toyota 1:26.519 15 Romain Grosjean Renault 1:31.774 16 Alguersuari Jaime Toro Rosso at 1 lap 17 Luca Badoer Ferrari at 1 lap 18 Kazuki Nakajima Williams at 3 laps 19 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso out 20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull out