Button wins again but rain stops play at Sepang

2009 Malaysian Grand Prix review

Jenson Button coped with a late rain storm to win the Malaysian Grand Prix

Jenson Button coped with a late rain storm to win the Malaysian Grand Prix

Jenson Button made it two wins in a row for Brawn GP with another victory from pole position in Sepang.

But although the Malaysian Grand Prix was an action-packed affair it failed go the distance after a huge rain storm halfway through the race.

Rain had threatened the Malaysian round of the 2009 world championship all weekend long. In between the F1 sessions it fell in enormous bursts, flooding the circuits and making any competition impossible. But so far the cars had managed to stay dry.

When the F1 cars lined up on the grid on Sunday it was a virtual certainty that they would finally see some rain during the course of the race. The question was, when would it arrive?

Alonso’s awesome start

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Sepang, 2009

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Sepang, 2009

The cars took to the grid on dry rubber, with Jenson Button on pole position ahead of Jarno Trulli. But – most unusually – neither of the front-row starters led into the first corner. Nico Rosberg’s Williams mugged the pair of them from fourth on the grid, and disappeared off into the lead.

Fernando Alonso, despite a very heavy fuel load, made an incredible start in his KERS-powered Renault. The R29 scythed through the pack from ninth to briefly take third behind Trulli. But Button wasted no time and pounced on the Renault at turn 13 to take the place back.

Rubens Barrichello took up third behind Alonso, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber and Timo Glock – the latter losing out badly from fourth on the grid. Lewis Hamilton was tenth behind Nick Heidfeld, but was quickly passed by Sebastian Vettel on lap three in his lightly-fuelled Red Bull.

As in Australia, McLaren were down to a single driver after just one lap – Heikki Kovalainen lost control of his MP4/24 while on the outside of Hamilton at turn five. BMW were in similar trouble, Robert Kubica’s race ending early with engine failure.

The lead trio began to break away quickly while a train of cars formed behind Alonso. Barrichello was first to get stuck in, diving down the inside of the R29 at the last corner, but running wide and allowing Alonso back through. Barrichello hit back at the next corner and this time he made the pass stick – but Button was now 6.5s up the road.

Next up was Raikkonen, who spent several laps looking for a way through and finally found one on lap ten. Two laps later Alonso ran wide at turn 13 allowing Webber to make a bid for sixth. the pair spent over a lap swapping positions until Alonso ran fractionally wide at turn one, allowing Webber to seal the deal. Now Glock set about trying to overhaul Alonso, but his task was made more difficult by the front wing damage he had incurred in contact with Webber.

Behind Glock was Vettel, the German having pounced on Nick Heidfeld when the BMW driver ran wide at turn four on lap eight. Hamilton also grabbed the opportunity to move up to tenth. That became ninth on lap 13 when Vettel became the first driver to make a scheduled pit stop – Sebastien Buemi having already been in after lap one for a new front wing.

The rain arrives

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Sepang, 2009

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Sepang, 2009

Many teams had been expecting rain within a few laps of the start and it was a nervous time for the lightly-fuelled leaders as they made their pit stops under dark clouds but on a dry track. Rosberg had eked out a three second lead over Trulli by the time of his first stop on lap 15, and stayed ahead of the Toyota driver when Trulli pitted two laps later.

That released Button into clean air and he seized the opportunity a magnificent fashion, setting a fastest lap of 1’36.641 and, against expectations, staying on track two laps longer than Trulli did. That put the race in his hands as he returned to the track on lap 19 ahead of Rosberg and, after Barrichello’s stop on lap 20, leading the race.

With mischievous timing the rain now finally began to fall – three laps too late for Raikkonen, who’d made the bold gamble of switching to full wet-weather tyres on lap 18. The rain did not come soon enough or hard enough for the Ferrari driver.

Glock’s gamble

Timo Glock, Toyota, Sepang, 2009

Timo Glock, Toyota, Sepang, 2009

Over half the field dashed into the pits on lap 22 – all of them for full wet tyres with one exception: Timo Glock. This proved a smart move, as the rain fell lightly at first. Glock coolly picked off one by one of his rivals as they nursed their wet weather tyres.

The varying performances of the cars at this stage made for great racing, particularly between Hamilton and Webber, who swapped positions for lap after lap. Hamilton used his KERS to great effect to pass Webber, but the Red Bull was vastly superior under braking into corners.

Webber briefly ran off the track at turn six, allowing Hamilton through again, but soon the Australian was back ahead once more and finally made the move work. Next he drove around the outside of Heidfeld at the final bend, taking fifth with total ease.

Barrichello was also making rapid progress, passing Trulli and Rosberg on lap 26, but spun on the next lap, dropping back down the order.

At around the same time Glock passed Trulli for second, and was now 28 seconds behind Button and lapping in the order of five to ten seconds quicker.

Button reacted quickly, darting into the pits for intermediates on lap 29. Several other drivers had already done likewise including Hamilton (taking on fuel to last until the end of the race) and Rosberg.

Button emerged from the pits just behind Glock but now came another twist in the weather – fresh, heavy rainfall. Button caught Glock by the end of his out lap, but as the Brawn car dived past at the final turn to take the lead, Glock calmly peeled off into the pits where full wet tyres awaited him – once again, the right tyres at the right time.

Rain stops play

Sepang, 2009

Sepang, 2009

With the rain falling heavily now everyone who wasn’t already in the pits headed straight for them. Some, like Vettel, didn’t get there quickly enough and spun into retirement.

The safety car was sent out on lap 32 but it quickly became obvious that conditions were impossible, and the race was red-flagged. Even when the rain began to ease the huge areas of standing water on the circuit and low light made re-starting the race impossible.

The results were eventually given based on the finishing order on lap 31 – the lap before the red flag came out. That was especially unlucky for Glock, who had taken second from Heidfeld on the ‘phantom’ 32nd lap.

For the first time in 18 years, an F1 race had failed to complete at least 75% of its intended distance, and so half points were awarded.

The 2009 Malaysian Grand Prix will probably be remembered more for the unusual circumstances of its ending – and the fact that it could have all been avoided – rather than the fascinating race it was developing into in the early stages.

Two things won the race for Button – his remarkable pace ahead of his first pit stop, and that crucial pass on Alonso on lap one. But will he enjoy that kind of performance advantage at the next race in China, after the World Motor Sports Council have met to discuss whether his BGP001′s diffuser is legal or not?

If there was a touch of luck about Heidfeld’s second place he at least earned it by not throwing his car off the track late in the race. Glock’s race had the touch of the clairvoyant about it, and had the rain not been excessively hard at the end he was in a very solid position to challenge for a win.

Can Brawn keep up their winning streak? We’ll find out when the teams make an early return to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Malaysian Grand Prix

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46 comments on Button wins again but rain stops play at Sepang

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  1. Internet said on 5th April 2009, 17:01

    Kova needs to go. Ferrari are hopeless. Buttons flying laps to overtake Rosberg in the pits were a stuff of legend.

    • David said on 5th April 2009, 19:26

      Just what McLaren didn’t need, Kova out of his own accord on the first lap – and with it a (half)race-load of extra data for developing the car, never mind a point or two. Trouble is can they even afford to think of ditching him with Hamilton already with itchy feet? Then again, like last year, the latter clearly needs some team-mate help too. Another dilemma.

  2. Oliver said on 5th April 2009, 17:31

    I feel like I’ve been robbed. Not that the final classification is disappointing, but the way it was arrived at. Too much of an anticlimax.
    If it was raining this hard early afternoon of the race, chances are the drivers would still have a clear view of where there are ponds on the track, or even the race could have been delayed and continued later. But starting so late, had it rained this heavily at the start of the race, we probably would have seen a canceled event.

    Malaysia is paying FOM big money to host this event. We don’t even know the true cost they expend just to stage a round, as there are other commitments outside of the fees. The least that can be given them is the opportunity to stage a worthy event, not force their hands into a bad compromise.
    Button’s victory though deserved ended up arriving with a whimper.

  3. Toro said on 5th April 2009, 18:00

    Does anybody know what kind of engine failure Kubica’s BMW suffored from. He said it didn’t have power but I’am wondering if it was mechanical or maybe hydraulic problems.

  4. SimonRS said on 5th April 2009, 18:24

    Toro – in the warm up lap, he said it was making funny noises.

    Something no-one’s commented on yet – Hamilton made it obvious again McLaren have by far the best KERS system. And if Brawn get their hands on it, they’re going to be absolutely unstoppable.

  5. Oliver said on 5th April 2009, 18:25

    Pneumatic valve failure for Kubica.

  6. Oliver said on 5th April 2009, 18:28

    Did KERS work for Hamilton this race? I don’t think it was much help for him. Race strategy was what took him forward. In his battle with Webber, I think he only used KERS once if at all, and even then it was too dangerous as in the wet its hard to brake when you have too much momentum.

  7. Fer no.65 said on 5th April 2009, 18:35

    im starting to like Timo a lot…

    i like the way he gets up there so quietly. He’s right there, but the TV sometimes doesn’t show him…

    Wonderfully for me tho, I predicted Button for pole and win, Trulli for 2nd, and Timo for 3rd. So i got 3 from 4 :) Not bad Nick xD Thanks :D

  8. Fer no.65 said on 5th April 2009, 18:40

    One more thing tho.

    KERS seems to be much of a trouble than an advantage. It might be a good boost for the start, but they don’t seem to have that much clear advantage.

    It did made Rubens job worse. Maybe Button overtook Alonso on lap 1 because he already had used all this KERS charge.

    But then when the conditions were starting to get worse, KERS was a big fail.

    No one seems to talk about the movable wings, as you pointed out recently. I’d like to know if their are using it or no.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th April 2009, 20:50

      No one seems to talk about the movable wings, as you pointed out recently. I’d like to know if their are using it or no.

      I heard Rob Smedley telling Massa to use them more (might’ve been in qualifying).

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 5th April 2009, 21:41

      The BBC has a quote of Button saying he used it extensively in qualifying.

  9. dmw said on 5th April 2009, 18:54

    Starting the race at that hour, with the obvious risks of darkness and downpours was foolish. Europeans got to see the start at a reasonable hour, but they didn’t get to see a full race.

    Another strategic disaster from the Scudiera. and Another cool and responsible and points scoring drive from Hamilton. Had it gone the distance, his tires and fuel load would have made him again a threat for the podium.

  10. Mig.Golf said on 5th April 2009, 19:28

    Alonso’s awesome start ???

    His car looked like an heavy truck, nobody could overtake.. It ruin a lot of races and for what, not even… half a point… Shame on the spaniard (and on FIA for spending half an hout trying to understand it’s own rules…. BuHHH)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th April 2009, 20:51

      It ruin a lot of races and for what, not even… half a point… Shame on the spaniard

      So Alonso shouldn’t have overtaken people just because his car was slow and he knew he couldn’t keep them behind?

      Nonsense – had that rain come a few laps earlier he could have had a big result here.

    • lehonard_e said on 5th April 2009, 22:44

      Maybe it’s too early to say, but the overtaking-aided measures didn’t seem to work when Alonso was holding back all those cars… I hope to see more wheel-to-wheel racing, and not these old known situations.

    • Paddy said on 6th April 2009, 0:15

      The reason why alonso could hold back the opposition seemed to be due to the KERS system. the cars seemed to get close on the corners but alonso would kick the KERS in on the straights. If more teams were running the KERS then we prob would have seen Alonso overtaken a lot quicker.
      Also I dont think we should criticise alonso for playing a different fuel strategy, having an excellent start off the grid and then defending excellently with that renault running at glacier speed!

    • Filipe said on 6th April 2009, 0:46

      Well, Alonso was overtaked by Button, Barrichello, Kimi and Webber, despite Kers. Fisi had a much easier time last year at Brazil with an even slower and no Kers to aid him. So yes in previous years the Alonso train might had been much worse.

  11. Romeo said on 5th April 2009, 19:38

    yes .. Jenson button

    Go for the Championchip

  12. I’ve got an idea for Bernie: no more twilight/night races. As most TVs broadcast the same race again at normal hour, just make them pay twice as much for each race in Asia.

    This way he could get what he wants: money, and we could get no stupid farces like today. I loved the way they postponed the decision to stop the race: it semt to me just an excuse to give TV 2 hours of show, despite there was no race in the last 40 minutes.

  13. verasaki said on 5th April 2009, 20:17

    better idea for bernie-RETIRE!

  14. iBlaze said on 5th April 2009, 20:53

    Just some random stats and facts…

    > This was the first time there has been a red flag in a race since the European GP 2007 at the Nurburgring. This was due to torrential rain, as several cars aquaplaned off at Turn 1. That race was eventually restarted and Alonso went on to win for McLaren.

    > This was the first time that a race has finished with a red flag since the Brazilian GP 2003 at Interlagos, when Webber had a big crash and Alonso hit the debris and had his own big crash, leaving debris strewn across the track. Fisichella won, but wasn’t declared the winner until a week later due to the confusion. That was also the Jordan teams last win.

    > This was the first time that a race has been stopped and not resumed before the 75% distance (therefore only awarding half points) since the Australian GP 1991 at Adelaide. That race was also stopped due to torrential rain, and Senna took the victory for McLaren.

    > It was also the first time that the race time has been under an hour since that Australian GP in 1991. Today, Button won after 55mins 30.622secs, however Senna clocked up just 24mins 34.899secs at Adelaide in what still remains as F1′s shortest-ever race.

    > Button’s second consecutive victory means that it is the best start to a season by a Brit since Damon Hill’s 1996 hat-trick. Of course, Button can equal this at Shanghai in two week’s time, but he’ll have a job equalling Nigel Mansell’s FIVE consecutive victories from the first five races in 1992.

    > The second Brawn GP victory also meant that it is the first time a new team has won its first two races since the sport began in 1950!

  15. Loki said on 5th April 2009, 20:54

    Nil points for me in my predictions (didn’t really help that I punted Vettel for pole AND the win!).

    But I was looking forward to seeing how Glock would’ve ended up. I wish Rosberg had a better finish, but that’s the way it goes.

    Actually, if I were wishing for anything I wish the Ferrari’s would at least pick up some decent points!

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