Surprise, surprise – the Spanish Grand Prix pole sitter went on to win the race.
But there was rather more to it than that – Jenson Button had to wrest the lead from team mate Rubens Barrichello in a strategic switch that’s got everyone talking.
And it was another frustrating race for Sebastian Vettel, who rolled in fourth after spending much of the afternoon bottled up behind Felipe Massa.
Trulli triggers shunt
All eyes were on Felipe Massa at the start to see if the Ferrari driver could use his KERS power to get in among the leaders. He did, making a bold lunge down the inside of Sebastian Vettel for third.
But his second row companion Rubens Barrichello made an equally good getaway – not only passing Vettel but also drawing alongside team mate Button and sweeping by into the lead.
Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg also went into the first corner side-by-side, but with a rather different result. Alonso squeezed Rosberg who, faced with a choice between colliding and diving off the track, opted for the latter.
As the Williams driver rejoined Jarno Trulli took evasive action and spun into the path of Adrian Sutil. Sebastien Bourdais stood on the brakes to avoid the wreckage and was collected by team mate Sebastien Buemi. The safety car was summoned and the next time around the cars carefully picked their way through a track littered with debris.
Webber takes on Alonso
At the restart the Brawns got away cleanly, untroubled by Massa and his KERS button. Fifth-placed Mark Webber, however, had his hands full repelling an attack from Fernando Alonso boosted not by KERS (Renault having dropped it for this race) but by his home crowd.
Despite being squeezed by Webber, Alonso got past using the pit lane entrance and part of the grass on the run towards turn one. But an inspired Webber dived back to the inside, somehow got his RB5 slowed down for the corner, and took the place back.
Unfortunately that was to be pretty much all the racing action we saw. Lewis Hamilton picked Nelson Piquet Jnr off for 12th place (KERS-assisted) shortly after the pair of them dodged past the other McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen.
Soon the other Finn joined him in retirement, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari grinding to a halt on the strip of tarmac that used to be the La Caixa corner. He had made it up to tenth from 16th on the grid and was trying to pas Nick Heidfeld at the time.
Strategy fails Barrichello
Barrichello had a slender 1.3s lead over Button by the time the Briton came into the pits on lap 18. Having originally planned a three-stop strategy the team now moved him one a two-stopper, having noticed Nico Rosberg’s Williams was 18.6s behind and due to stop much later.
Barrichello remained on a three-stop strategy and this decided the outcome of the race. He came out of the pits ahead of Rosberg, and quickly pulled away from the fuel-heavy Button. Barrichello return to the pits on lap 30, with Button 13.5s behind.
Had he continued that rate of progress in his third stint he would have had enough time in hand to complete his extra stop and stay in front of Button. But Button’s lighter BGP001 was now lapping quicker, and Barrichello found his third set of tyres were off the pace. After his final pit stop on lap 50, he ended up 7.1s behind Button.
Massa’s fuel problem
The rest of race was largely processional and dictated by strategy. Webber’s pit stop on lap 19 may have been team mate Vettel’s undoing. The Red Bulls started with identical fuel loads, so Ferrari could assume that Vettel would pit on the lap after Webber. He did – and Ferrari brought Massa in too (probably earlier than he was able to run as he started with more fuel than Vettel) allowing them to keep Vettel behind for another stint.
Webber took on more fuel in his first pit stop but Vettel, bottled up behind Massa, was unable to escape his team mate. Webber made his final stop seven laps after Vettel’s, neatly jumping ahead of his team mate and Massa.
To Vettel’s frustration his final pit stop on lap 43 coincided with Massa’s once again. But it soon emerged the Ferrari was in trouble – too little fuel had got into its tanks and Massa would have to slow down and save fuel.
He did this quite dramatically in the final laps, letting Vettel and Alonso by. Massa rolled across the line in sixth, then ground to a halt with no fuel, much like turbo F1 cars used to do in the early ’80s.
Heidfeld and Rosberg took the final points places, with Hamilton ninth after a fruitless race. Timo Glock and Robert Kubica finished outside the top ten having made it to Q3.
Nelson Piquet had an anonymous run to 12th ahead of Kazuki Nakajima and Giancarlo Fisichella, the latter making four visits to the pits after an early stop under the safety car.
Button’s fourth win of the year means he now has a 14-point lead over Barrichello in the drivers’ championship. Perhaps more significantly, Vettel is now 18 points adrift after finishing fourth.
Red Bull are expected to bring their development of the ‘double diffuser’ at the next race in Monte-Carlo. But even if it doesn’t appear the car still looks strong and Vettel remains a threat for victories – if he can break this habit of ending up stuck behind slower cars.
Button may have four wins from five but this championship’s not over yet.
Man of the race
I pick Mark Webber as my man of the race for the Spanish Grand Prix because of his smart re-pass on Alonso that kept him in the running for a podium – which he delivered on.
Here’s some of your nominations posted via Twitter:
cholle2001 – driver of the race would be alonso. we saw some pretty brave moves from him today.
moitio – Has to be Jense, not a great start but he made up for it in consistency and he dominated here today.
brodyberg – driver of the race: Brawn, clearly :-/
andrew_rickmann – Button
chlorinekid – gotta agree with DC and say Mark Webber. He did well to come out ahead of massa / vettel and hold 3rd.
gselmer – webber, great drive, awesome resolve, stunning move on FA
MarkF1 – Webber for that awesome re-pass on Alonso after the safety car.
smboyce – Mark Webber? So close to second, really didn’t think he’d beat Vettel or Massa today
noelinho – Definitely Webber. Solid drive from Button, but Webber jumped Massa and Vettel, and wasn’t far off 2nd. Great drive.
pcambra – the best has been without a doubt Webber, and the worst, again Massa
40_thieves – Webber for me. Quiet, but beat Vettel
pastamaster39 – JB – adapted well to the change of race strategies and basically nailed it today – champion form!
adam_macdonald – I want to say MAS, just for finishing. lol.
therealtopper – jensen button!
pieman40 – Driver of the day Button, then Webber
kayels – Webber for surprising and getting 3rd
Share your picks for man of the race below.
Read more: Championship standings after Spanish GP