Jenson Button makes it four wins out of five as Brawn GP dominate the Spanish Grand Prix and claim their second 1-2 finish of the season.
The Briton, who started the race from pole, lost the lead to his teammate Rubens Barrichello at the start, but a switch to a two-stop strategy and a long second stint on soft tyres enabled him to leapfrog the Brazilian and dominate the race.
The victory sees Button extend his lead in the world championship to 14 points over Barrichello, while Brawn GP demonstrated that they are still the team to beat as the European season begins.
“It is a dream come true so far this season, even when times are tough we seem to be able to get the wins,” said Button. “When it goes well it goes well, last year when it went bad it went bad.
“I feel on top of the world at the moment. The team have done a great job and with this package you could see we have got our advantage back again, and thanks to Mercedes as we couldn’t do it without them.”
Red Bull Racing, who will benefit from a double-diffuser at the Monaco Grand Prix in a fortnight, confirmed themselves as Brawn’s closest rivals with Mark Webber clinching his second podium of the season ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Felipe Massa looked set to claim Ferrari’s first podium of the season but a fuel problem in the closing stages of the race forced him to yield to both Vettel and local favourite Fernando Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton was forced to settle for ninth place while McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen retired with a gearbox problem.
“Today was a difficult race for me because we lack the downforce of the top cars,â€ said Hamilton. “I was a bit worried about my tyres after driving over so much debris at the first corner but I came out of it okay. It was a tough, long race and it was incredibly hard to keep the car on the road it felt like driving on ice at times, especially at the end of the second stint, when the tyres were finished, and in the final stint, when there was very little grip on the prime.
“I gave it 100 per cent for the entire race so ninth place doesn t feel like the proper reward for the team, who worked hard all weekend. Still, we re all hopeful that Monaco will be a better race for us because the absence of fast corners shouldn t hurt us as much as it did here. In fact, I m already looking forward to it.â€
Ferrari also suffered reliability problems with Kimi Raikkonen’s race ending prematurely on Lap 16 due to a mechanical problem.
At the start though, all eyes were on Felipe Massa in the sister Ferrari, his KERS-fitted F60 posing a major threat to the Brawn drivers, not to mention Jenson Button’s hopes of leading in clean air on his light fuel load.
But it was Rubens Barrichello in the sister Brawn car who got the jump off the start line. The Brazilian, the heavier of the two Brawn cars, passed Button into the first corner scuppering the Briton’s race strategy.
There was carnage behind the leaders as Jarno Trulli triggered a multi-car collision which resulted in the safety car being deployed. The Toyota driver ran wide at Turn 2, and, on rejoining the circuit, collected Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Sebastian Bourdais then ploughed into the back of his Toro Rosso teammate Sebastian Buemi who had backed off to avoid Trulli and Sutil. All four drivers retired.
“I became aware everything was slowing down in front and I didn t even have the time to brake before I was flying over the back of my team mate s car and I thought I was going to roll over,” exclaimed Bourdais afterwards. “I m not sure how it happened although I saw that Trulli had spun and came back on the track. It s very frustrating.â€
The safety car came in Lap 6 allowing Button to lead from Barrichello, Massa, Vettel and Webber.
Button was the first of the frontrunners to pit for fuel on Lap 17. With his three-stop strategy ruined by a poor start, the Briton switched to a two-stop strategy in a bid to outfox his teammate. Brawn fuelled their man for a long second stint.
The Brackley-based outfit went the other way with Barrichello and short-filled him for a short middle stint when he stopped one lap later. It gave him track position and a sizeable cushion when he rejoined, but he was unable to produce the laps he needed to stay ahead at his second pit stop.
Felipe Massa meanwhile continued to keep Sebastian Vettel at bay, the Brazilian confirming a significant step forward in performance for Ferrari. For a brief moment it looked as though the pair would be able to challenge for the win. Button’s advantage over the chasing Ferrari driver was just four seconds on Lap 43.
But it was game over the moment they made their final pit stops and switched to the undesirable, but mandatory, hard tyres.
That played into the hands of the Brawn drivers, as well as Mark Webber who all stayed out longer on the soft tyres.
Rubens Barrichello was given one last shot at the race win when Button made his final pit stop and switched to the hard tyres. But the Brazilian did not have enough laps in hand and was forced to settle for second place after his final stop.
Webber lost out at the first round of stops due to a poor in-lap, but as he was the last of the front-runners to stop, he was able to vault ahead of both Massa and Vettel courtesy of a searing few laps behind the wheel of his Red Bull.
The Aussie would not have been in contention at all had it not been for an audacious passing manoeuvre on Fernando Alonso when the race restarted on Lap 6. Alonso passed the Red Bull driver down the start/finish straight using his KERS device, not to mention the run-off alongside the pit wall. But Webber quickly dived back
It was not the only drama fans were treated to at an event which is traditionally processional. It was a nail-biting conclusion to the race as it became clear that Felipe Massa had not been given sufficient fuel at his final pit stop. The Brazilian was forced to turn the wick down on his Ferrari and that let both Vettel and local favourite Fernando Alonso past.
Nick Heidfeld was seventh for BMW Sauber ahead of Williams’ Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton was unable to make use of a long first stint and was forced to settle for ninth place.
1 Jenson Button Brawn 1:37:19.202 2 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 13.056 3 Mark Webber Red Bull 13.924 4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 18.941 5 Fernando Alonso Renault 46.166 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 50.827 7 Nick Heidfeld BMW 52.312 8 Nico Rosberg Williams 1:05.211 9 Lewis Hamilton McLaren at 1 lap 10 Timo Glock Toyota at 1 lap 11 Robert Kubica BMW at 1 lap 12 Nelson Piquet Renault at 1 lap 13 Kazuki Nakajima Williams at 1 lap 14 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India at 1 lap 15 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari out 16 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren out 17 Jarno Trulli Toyota out 18 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso out 19 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso out 20 Adrian Sutil Force India out