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

  1. Tom M said on 6th April 2009, 9:59

    I had Felipe Baby for the pole, what a prediction that turned out to be! Got Jenson for 1st though. Credit to Nico for a great first stint, I love seeing Williams back up the sharp end.

  2. Philip said on 6th April 2009, 13:10

    A very Schumacher-esque win by Jenson the way he kept some life in the tyres, bided his time, and set blisteringly fastest laps once the others pitted. Well done to him!

    Williams pleasantly surprised me as I half expected Melbourne to be a bit of a one-off for them, even with the diffuser advantage.

  3. kallan said on 6th April 2009, 13:38

    I was disappointed Roseberg didn’t end up with a result he deserved (yet again), hopefully his day will come.
    And full credit to Alonso for getting the ronald mcdonald mobil into position for some good racing.

  4. PJA said on 6th April 2009, 13:38

    It was a good race, though it was a pity it rained too hard for it to go the distance, but FOM can’t say they weren’t warned about moving the start time later in the day.

    While Ferrari made a massive mistake putting Kimi on wets too early Glock called it just right by going on to inters first. The front runners couldn’t take that risk as previously when it rained it poured down straight away so I suppose the sensible thing to do was to go on to wets as soon as it started raining.

    In pre season when most teams except BMW wanted KERS delayed for a year, people were saying that BMW must have the best system yet now opinion is that the McLaren KERS is best.

    As mentioned in previous articles the cars can be divided into three categories at the moment, those with the special diffuser those with KERS and those with neither. Even with these differences the cars and the different looks of all the cars they are still quite close overall.

    A couple of non racing moments that me laugh were, on Brundle’s grid walk when he tried to get a look the Toyota diffuser and the mechanics kept moving about so the camera couldn’t get a look. Also when Massa was panicking about the team getting him the proper visor after the race was red flagged when Rob Smedley said “Felipe baby you need to stay cool, were trying to get to you”.

    • Kallan said on 7th April 2009, 4:12

      ^ another funny (perhaps painful) moment was Legard ‘and he’s gone off again!’ Brundle: ‘no thats a replay’

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