Button wins for Brawn in spectacular start to season (Australian Grand Prix)

Jenson Button led all 58 laps of the Australian Grand Prix

Jenson Button led all 58 laps of the Australian Grand Prix

After months of anticipation the first race of 2009 was a contest to savour and a result to remember. Jenson Button may have led every lap but Sebastian Vettel kept him honest throughout the race – before a controversial late clash with Robert Kubica.

Rubens Barrichello completed Brawn GP’s joy by taking second place, while Lewis Hamilton took a surprise third place from 18th on the grid.

Kovalainen out at the start

The Brawn cars had mixed fortunes at the start – Button motored serenely down to the first corner while Barrichello got bogged down and was swamped by the chasing field.

That included Heikki Kovalainen, who tagged the back of the Brawn GP car, setting off a chain reaction which also claimed Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld. All bar Barrichello headed for the pits, and Kovalainen’s damage proved terminal.

The Ferraris, with KERS primed and super soft tyres, made lightning starts. Felipe Massa pounced on Robert Kubica off the line, and slotted past Nico Rosberg at turn three as well. Kimi Raikkonen followed him through top take up fifth behind Kubica, with Rosberg bumped back to sixth.

Button, meanwhile, had checked out – dropping Vettel by a massive 3.9s on the first lap. But Vettel, running with several laps’ less fuel, was able to keep Button’s lead down to around five seconds.

Ferraris hit trouble

The Ferraris quickly ran into the shortcomings of the super-soft tyres: graining and the accompanying huge drop-off in performance. Rosberg launched an attack on Raikkonen on lap nine, squeezing by at turn one, allowing the chasing Barrichello to pounce. Barrichello clipped Raikkonen’s car, causing more damage to the front wing of his BGP001, but took fifth place off the 2007 champion.

Wasting no time, the red cars brought their pit stops forward. Raikkonen headed for the pits on the next lap to switch to the more durable medium compound. Massa followed on lap 11, as did Lewis Hamilton, who had also started one the super-soft tyres.

Hamilton had steered clear of the mayhem at the start to run 11th by lap three. Exploiting the brief performance of the super soft tyres and using his KERS boost he moved up to ninth by lap six, passing Nelson Piquet Jnr. But with the life gone from his tyres he had struggled to make an impression on Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams.

The other early stoppers were Jarno Trulli (lap ten) and Kubica (lap 12). Trulli, who had started from the pits along with team mate Timo Glock following their qualifying infringement, passed Hamilton for 14th shortly after his stop.

This left Button and Vettel at the front with Rosberg 27.3s behind thanks to spending so long stuck behind the struggling Massa. Behind him were Barrichello, Nakajima, Piquet, Sebastien Buemi and Giancalo Fisichella.

Nakajima triggers safety car

Vettel and Rosberg were the next to pit on lap 16, Rosberg losing time with a sticking front left wheel nut. Button responded by setting a new fastest lap of the race in anticipation of his first pit stop.

But on lap 18 Nakajima lost control of his FW31 on the kerb at the exit of turn four, and hit the barriers hard. The safety car was summoned while marshals retrieved the wrecked Williams.

Under last year’s rules this would have pole-axed Button’s chances, leaving him unable to pit for several laps. Thankfully, the ‘pit lane closure rules’ were wisely dropped over the winter, and Button was able to take his pit stop as normal before queueing up behind the safety car. This took rather a long time, however, and the interruption dragged on even longer as the lapped cars were allowed to re-take their positions.

Button led Vettel at the restart, both putting off their stints on super soft tyres until the final phase of the race. Then came the trio that had already used the green-striped tyres: Massa, Kubica and Raikkonen.

Piquet tried to pass Rosberg for sixth on the outside of turn one at the restart, but was caught out by his cold brakes and tyres, and spun into retirement. Team mate Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, took 12th place off Glock, who had also just been passed by Hamilton.

Massa made an early return to the pits on lap 31, having fuelled aggressively short at his first stop in a bid to get back to the front. After taking on enough fuel to reach the finish the Brazilian driver fell towards the back of the pack from where he struggled to mount a recovery.

On lap 45 Massa’s F60 slowed and his race was over. This was a double blow for Ferrari – two laps earlier Raikkonen had crashed into the barriers on the exit of turn 13. The constructors’ champions start their title defence with no points after one race.

Vettel and Kubica crash

Kubica’s pace late in the race suggested Ferrari’s gamble of starting on the super soft tyres might have paid off had they gone the distance. Vettel made his final pit stop on lap 45, and Button came in two laps later, losing vital time as the team had to switch between refuelling hoses.The leading pair were now both on the super soft tyres and Kubica, on mediums, was catching them rapidly.

The stage was set for a grandstand finish with the leading trio covered by just a few seconds. On lap 56 Kubica pounced on Vettel at turn three and the pair collided. Vettel was surprisingly apologetic afterwards for incident in which both drivers could have given each other a bit more space. Instead both lost their front wings, and crashed separately at turn five. Vettel tried to keep his three-wheeled car going, but eventually pulled up. He was handed a grid penalty for the next race at Malaysia for the crash, and a $50,000 fine for driving around the track on three wheels.

This remarkable turn of events robbed us of a nail-biting chase to the flag, and brought the final curtain down on the whole race. The safety car was sent out to recover the wreckage and there was no time to get the race running again.

Kubica and Vettel collide, Vettel handed penalty (Video)

Hamilton inherits third

Meanwhile, unseen by the TV cameras, Trulli went off the track, losing what was now third place to Hamilton. Trulli then re-passed Hamilton after the safety car had arrived on track, and was later handed a 25-second penalty by the stewards which demoted him from third to 12th.

Trulli’s form at Melbourne was quite atypical: out-qualified by his much heavier team mate, but in superb form on race day, he deserved much more from the weekend. He later claimed Hamilton had slowed and he had no choice but to pass the McLaren.

Hamilton inherited third place against all expectations, and was the highest-placed KERS-equipped finisher. Glock took fourth after deftly passing Alonso around the outside of turn four on lap 51, having practised the move on Buemi two laps earlier.

Rosberg was sixth, a disappointment after his qualifying form, having lost time at crucial moments with his pit stop problem, the clash with Piquet, and being passed by Massa on lap one.

Buemi took seventh place on his debut, an ominous sign for team mate Bourdais, who finished eighth. Adrian Sutil was ninth after a spirited battle with team mate Fisichella. The Italian was 11th behind Heidfeld and no doubt rued missing his pit box when he pitted during the first safety car period, losing a lot of time.

Webber was a suitably unlucky 13th after another miserable home race, and Vettel, Kubica and Raikkonen were all classified behind him despite having stopped.

But this was a Grand Prix with a feel-good result. For two long months it looked as though Honda’s feverish work on its RA109 would reap no reward. But, re-born as the Mercedes-powered BGP 001, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello scored an historic result that would have been totally unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

That said, their margin of victory was nothing like as great as the pre-race form suggested. The signs are very good that we could be in for a close, competitive and exciting championship. Roll on Malaysia next weekend!

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello lead Brawn GP in historic debut 1-2

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64 comments on Button wins for Brawn in spectacular start to season (Australian Grand Prix)

  1. Jess said on 30th March 2009, 4:54

    Great Race, Two Brits on the podium no Red in the points. Good action and drama. What more could I ask for. SPEED dose great coverage in the USA for F1. Who’s ready for round two. BTW I am not buying that the diffuser is the only reason Brawn was good. It helps but they just flat out had a better car all around. Great Race

  2. KingHamilton said on 30th March 2009, 7:28

    WHAT A RACE

    and what a result for Brawn, over the moon for them!

  3. Martin Bell said on 30th March 2009, 7:45

    “A donut with no hole is a Danish” Go,go,go, Joseph!!!!!! Must go to bed now.

  4. Oliver said on 30th March 2009, 9:14

    Frecon
    I do agree with your statement about the safety car. Had the safety car come out earlier, Button would no doubt have pitted and come out well within the pack. The safety car was released when the car was already being cleared off the road and as such was pointless.

  5. That was a good start to the season, a win for Brawn GP and Button, Hamilton making his way from the back of the grid to fourth (later third), in a car that everyone knows is bad at the moment, and Trulli confounding his critics say he is a good qualifier but poor racer by starting from the pit lane to get a podium, although he later lost it.

    The TV coverage seemed to miss Hamilton overtaking Trulli so when the commentators said Hamilton was third in final few laps behind the safety car I thought it must have been a computer error. It seems Hamilton thought his pass was illegal so let Trulli by, and unfortunately for Trulli it appears the penalties available to stewards meant that he was demoted to 12th.

    When the Toyotas were penalised after qualifying for a flexi wing what were they able to do to make the cars legal before the race, as I thought it might be something where they would need a whole new wing.

    Considering the protests about the diffusers the cars with the disputed diffusers didn’t exactly race off in the distance did they? If it is worth half a second a lap as some claim then if it could be fitted to the Red Bull Vettel would be totally dominant.

    What is worrying for F1 in general is the steward are still handing out penalties for things that even just a few years ago would have been classed as racing incidents, and some people have come to expect this as the norm.

    For the Vettal/Kubica coming together, I think that although Vettal may be more to blame overall it didn’t justify a penalty. But I have also seen people saying Barrichello should have been punished for what happened at the start, before Hamilton’s penalty at Fuji last year people would have classified this as a normal first corner incident, nothing more.

    Personally I don’t think the later start worked because of the light levels at that time of day. Button commented on it in the press conference about the glare, and on TV in some parts of the circuit it was hard to tell which car it was.

    On a final note, does anyone agree with me that the trophies for the Australian GP are the best ones around.

  6. A pretty decent race to start the season although some seriously dubious calls by the stewards and race directors.

    Its great to see Brawn GP’s success. My only wish is that it was still Honda but at least its still Rubens. I’ll be routing for him to take the title at the 17th attempt – now that would be a story!

    I have to say though, we’ve just witnessed one of the most blatant cases of the powers that be manipulating the results yet. After Nakajima crashed it was clearly a safety car situation but the call came over two laps later, literally as Button left the pitlane. Unless the FIA can come up with a credible story about why there was such a delay, then I find it hard to believe this wasn’t deliberate. In a world filled with redundancies and cutting back, how better to make the ultra-rich extravagance of Formula 1 more palatable to the public than a heartwarming story of the team that were effectively out of work coming back to win at their first attempt.

    Keith, what do you think?

    Furthermore, whats the point of introducing a medals system to ensure the drivers attack if they’re going penalised every time they battle? Somebody please explain the words ‘RACING INCIDENT’ to the FIA.

    Complaining aside, the cars seem to be an improvement. Its early to say whether they cars can follow each other more easily, but at least with slicks and lower downforce, they squirm, twitch and slide, just like racing cars should. Much more entertaining to watch. :)

  7. Obster said on 30th March 2009, 19:39

    The Kubica/Vettel crash is a hint of things to come if we get the “most wins=champion” points system.
    BMW felt Kubica was going to win.

  8. damonsmedley said on 31st March 2009, 4:22

    What an exciting race. The 2009 Australian Grand Prix will be remembered for a long time. Good action, shame it had to finsish under the pace car. It will be interesting to see if Brawn remain the team to beat throughout the rest of the season.

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