Did Brawn deliberately give Barrichello a poor strategy to let Button win?

Barrichello leads at the start - but he lost it on strategy later on

Barrichello leads at the start - but he lost it on strategy later on

Rubens Barrichello made an excellent start to take the lead of the Spanish Grand Prix from third on the grid.

With more fuel on board than second-placed Jenson Button, and overtaking very difficult at the Circuit de Catalunya, he should have been very hard to beat.

But a strange strategy call left Barrichello second behind Button at the chequered flag. Did his team call it wrong – or was he put on an inferior strategy because Brawn has decided to back Button for the championship?

After the first round of pit stops we heard a clip of Brawn’s radio broadcast where Barrichello was told that Button had switched “to plan A.” It soon became clear Barrichello was running a three-stop strategy, while Button would only be stopping twice.

After the race Ross Brawn said: “three stops was always going to be the quickest strategy particularly with [the hard tyres] being so slow”

Brawn also said that Barrichello had problems on his third set of tyres. Barrichello said the same in the press conference (although he referred to his second set of tyres, it’s likely he meant the third). The lap times support this explanation:

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello lap times, Spanish Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello lap times, Spanish Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

After the race, Barrichello said: “Before the race the agreement was that both the cars would be doing three stops.”

According to Brawn, Button was switched onto a two-stop strategy “to avoid leaving him behind Rosberg”. This also makes sense: Rosberg was 18.646s behind Button when Button made his first pit stop on lap 17, so whatever happened Button was going to come out behind the Williams. Putting him on a two-stop strategy ensured Rosberg did not hold him up.

Barrichello stuck to his three-stop strategy and came out narrowly ahead of Rosberg. But Button was able to stay close enough to Barrichello during his second stint to move ahead of his team mate after the final pit stops.

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello time gaps, Spanish GP (click to enlarge)

Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello time gaps, Spanish GP (click to enlarge)

What I don’t understand about Brawn’s version of events is this: Having seen Button change onto a different strategy, why did Barrichello’s crew not change his strategy to cover Button’s, when that was the only car likely to take the win off them?

A strategy with fewer stops is always the safest options. It makes the car less vulnerable to a safety car period. It is highly unusual to see a driver leading a race gamble it on a strategy that involves relinquishing track position.

Also, few other teams reached the conclusion that the three stop-strategy was superior. The only other driver to stop three times was Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima – and he had made an early pit stop during the first safety car period.

And if the purpose of the three-stop strategy was to reduce the amount of time spent on the unfavourable hard tyre, why did Barrichello make his final pit stop only two laps after Button?

Going into today’s race Barrichello was 12 points behind Button with 130 still to be won. Would Brawn really decide to sacrifice Barrichello’s season to Button’s at this early stage? Many people would suspect that they would – and point to Brawn’s treatment of Barrichello at Ferrari in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix as a perfect example.

A poll during the live blog showed 69% of people believed Brawn had deliberately put Barrichello on an inferior strategy. I’m not convinced yet – after all the called Barrichello’s strategy wrong at Bahrain with no obvious ulterior motive. What do you think?

How do you explain Barrichello's strategy?

  • The team made a mistake / Barrichello was slow (47%)
  • The team wanted Button to win (53%)

Total Voters: 1,409

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212 comments on Did Brawn deliberately give Barrichello a poor strategy to let Button win?

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  1. Patrickl said on 10th May 2009, 16:40

    Ross Brawn claimed that they wanted Barrichello to win. Button changed strategy during the race because they were worried he’d end up stuck behind Rosberg.

    Guess Button was simply lucky and skilled enough that he managed to pull of his strategy where Barrichello failed at his (or vice versa, the strategy failed him)

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 18:04

      button could have easily overtook rosberg if he really wanted to.
      he forcefully deceived barrichello. its a real pity the race was snatched from rubens.

    • Patrickl said on 10th May 2009, 20:40

      Rosberg was at reasonably a similar pace during his first stint. I doubt they could have overtaken him.

      Still, the whole discussion is moot. There is no way Barrichello could have pulled off the same strategy as Button did. Barrichello could not have done 30 laps on a single set of tyres.

    • Kovy said on 11th May 2009, 0:42

      I’m pretty sure they wanted Button to win. There was just no point on switching Barrichello to 2 stops.

    • Senor Paz said on 11th May 2009, 1:15

      “Barrichello could not have done 30 laps on a single set of tyres.”

      What? He was ahead of Jenson! Why didn’t his team match Button’s strategy if he was, at that stage, the only concern for Rubens? Had they matched the strategy – and they had plenty of time to think about it – it wouldn’t even have mattered whether Rubens was slower or not. Button would never have gotten past, just look at Vettel’s race. And if Rubens was so slow that it would’ve undermined both their races, then it’d have been a fair call for the team to order the switch.

      I can only understand this from Brawn’s perspective, wanting to cover all their bases. But Rubens really did not deserve this, it was so painful to watch. It was surely a defining moment in the championship.

      Another huge question is: if Rubens’ team stuck with the 3-stop to avoid the hard tyres, why the hell was the second stint so short? The last stint with the hard tyres was as long as any other! Any thoughts?

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 9:23

      It really doesn’t make any sense to assume some conspiracy. They put both drivers on a 3 stop strategy. How would they do that if they did not think that was the best option?

      They gambled with Button to cover their bases and to prevent him getting stuck behind Rosberg. Indeed Button did end up behind Rosberg. If he was on a 3 stop he would have needed to win a lot of time and being stuck behind Rosberg was going to make that impossible. Button would have lost time and perhaps the position if Vettel would have overtaken Massa.

      1) It makes no sense to assume they tricked Barrichello in a 3 stop strategy
      2) What Ross Brawn said makes a whole lot of sense.

    • Senor Paz said on 12th May 2009, 0:12


      Read my post again, I never said there was any conspiracy. I’m not that dumb. I even stated that what happened is perfectly understandable from Brawn GP’s perspective.

      What I’m criticising is not Button’s race – it was superb – but Barrichello’s. And in my view, Rubens lost that race through absolutely no fault of his own. A more selfish strategy seemed perfectly understandable, but Rubens’ team didn’t even let him know about Button’s switch until after his stop.

      No wonder he was furious, anybody would have liked to at least have some say on that strategic decision!

  2. Fer no.65 said on 10th May 2009, 16:40

    im with you there…

    why changing either Button or Rubens strategies if they were the only two able to win the race?

    i mean, we knew before the first pit stops that Vettel was more likely to fell behind Massa, like at Bahrain with Hamilton/Trulli. So the possibility for Rubens to win the race and Button to finish second was as high as Vettel chance of trailing Massa for the whole race.

    But somehow they managed to open the whole main straight as a gap between Button and Barrichello at the end of the race. It’s clear Jenson’s race was faultless, but so was Barrichello’s. So why? Why it ended up being like that?

    I think Barrichello’s winning would have been much better not only for him, but for his team too. Both drivers, with a magnificient car winning races and leaving the pack behind at the championship. It makes perfect sense for the team itself. But i think they think different.

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 18:07

      because ross brawn want a brit to win the championship. i’m sorry if i’m angering britons here. but the fact is rubens is just as talented as button if not better. so lets not question rubens’ ability as a racer. he’s already proved it.

    • Jay Menon said on 11th May 2009, 16:38

      Funny how Ross Brawn didn’t back Irvine to win championships when he was at Ferrari…since he’s a nationalist and all.

      We can go on and on, but we’d have to ask yourself why Ruebens never won a WDC before….he’s good, but not great. Its as simple as that. Winning the Championship takes a lot more than just raw speed, its about the whole package.

      Thats my opinion. Good on Jens for another victory, conspiracy or whatever…he’s won the race, no point arguing..I felt that Lewis didnt deserve to win the WDC last year..but hey..he won, what can I do?

  3. Phil G. said on 10th May 2009, 16:41

    It’s pretty sad, actually. I hoped for Rubens to pull a Mansell this year and retire as a champion.

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 17:26

      that is never going to happen. becoz rubens barrichello is a clone of ricardo patrese. i always knew that ross brawn would back jenson button as champ for obvious reasons. poor rubens, most experienced & the most betrayed driver on the grid.

    • Nick A. said on 24th October 2009, 2:06

      That’s the only truth and a fair justice! But it wasn’t meant to be…

  4. Chris Giancaspro said on 10th May 2009, 16:41

    I don’t think they made a mistake, it was painfully obvious the 3rd stint for Rubens was just TOO slow. The tires weren’t working the way the team and Rubens expected. They most likely were scrubbed tires from earlier in the weekend and hardened up some after being used. His times were erratic lap after lap in that 3rd stint watching the live timing and even by the chart up above. He was not deliberately screwed into 2nd place, also look at JB’s performance on the hard tires, he killed it compared to FM and SV. Though I really thought Rubens wasn’t coming in for his 3rd stop until about lap 54 versus 50, which would of given him about another 8 second advantage if not a tad more over JB.

    I could be entirely wrong in my observations and the team are already fully backing JB this season. I do hope that is not the case, though I prefer JB over RB, I want to see a fair fight between them.

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 18:10

      there was no need for a third stint in the first place. he was flying like a rocket before the ill fated 3rd stint. ross brawn has to accept the mistake & publicly apologize to rubens.

  5. Mussolini's Pet Cat said on 10th May 2009, 16:42

    I just think Jenson was always going to get more out of the harder tyres. Even if Rubi had been on a two stop, I dont think he would have been quick enough. Let’s just start giving Jenson some credit here.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th May 2009, 16:46

      Does Button’s pace on the hard tyres (during his last stint) really matter though? He was only on them for two laps before Barrichello’s final stop, not enough to make a difference.

    • pSynrg said on 10th May 2009, 17:58

      But Barrichello’s lap times on the softs was peaking at only 1 or 2 tenths faster than Jenson on the hards!
      As Barrichello’s engineer said he needed to be touching the 1.23’s if not dipping under. He was consistently in the high 23’s. Thus failing to take advantage of the strategy.
      Saying that, it was still an unorthodox choice of strategy under the circumstances. But it was maybe the one that gave them a 1 2 – just not in the order Barrichello would have preferred.

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 18:12

      i dont agree with u cat. are you trying to suggest that button is better than barrichello??? if thats what you are suggesting, you got it absolutely wrong mate.

    • Maciek said on 11th May 2009, 14:13

      Even if your basic ideas are correct, you just end up annoying people when you use too many loaded words and far too many exclamation points and question marks. Especially when you respond to lap time discussions with angry little rants.

      How about this: one driver is just a bit better in a given car, and so after a few races, whether consciously or not, the team does begin to back him…? Just kinda natural, even if it’s sad for the other guy, no?

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 15:39

      did you mean me Maciek?????

  6. Joe Smith said on 10th May 2009, 16:43

    I’m glad they changed his strategy as it’s clear at almost all races that Barichello is inferior to Button and with the other teams getting more competitive they should be helping Button get as many points as possible while they can to have the best chance to win the championship.

  7. There was nothing dodgy about Barrichello’s strategy, the maths show that three stops is the quickest race in Barcelona. As he says, his poor pace in the third stint cost him victory, although he would have been held up by Vettel/Massa anyway had his pace been what it could/should have been.

    Unless you’re at the front, choosing a three-stop isn’t going to work because you’d be stuck behind slower cars for the entire race. When you’re starting near the front, three stops work because the driver has a better opportunity to drive a ‘perfect’ race. In order to negate the extra time lost in the pits, a driver needs to be nearer the perfect laptime each lap on a three-stop strategy than on a two-stop. A three-stop is more about being on low fuel for longer than being on the more favourable tyre, which is why Barrichello only spent a lap or two less on the hard slick.

    It wasn’t a team ‘mistake’, and it probably wasn’t the team wanting Button to win. It was Rubens’ bad third stint

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 4:44

      then i would say ross brawn is very poor at mathematics. if brawn really wanted to judge who the better driver, he should have left button on a 3 stopper. then we would have seen who really is the better driver. i just dint accept the rosberg explanation. ross brawn is a very good deceiver i must admit to that.

    • Bernification said on 13th May 2009, 15:09

      Mp4- Brawn wasn’t trying to discover who was the best driver- he was trying to get the best result for his team. He was covering the basses in the event of a safety car.

  8. shery said on 10th May 2009, 16:46

    “And if the purpose of the three-stop strategy was to reduce the amount of time spent on the unfavourable hard tyre, why did Barrichello make his final pit stop only two laps after Button?”

    becuz he was stuck in the traffic.

  9. hitchcockm00 said on 10th May 2009, 16:47

    Like you say, Brawn has put Barrichello in this situation before at Ferrari.
    I’m not totally convinced that it was deliberate but if it was a mistake they should have realised.
    At the start of the race Button was complaining that Barrichello was going too slowly, then he dropped back. Perhaps because he was told that they would change his strategy and pass Barrichello in the pits.

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 4:41

      i absolutely agree with you. it was brawn’s call & it worked perfectly against rubens. ross brawn can never be a ron dennis. his mantra to success is to favor one driver & ridicule the other, thats what he does best & the best scapegoat available is rubens barrichello. we’ve already seen this happen countless times at ferrari.

  10. ckwong said on 10th May 2009, 16:48

    Brawn can say whatever on why he chose the strategy for Rubens. Rubens know best on the kind of strategy that works for him to finish in front of Button. Being a team player, he has to follow team orders. His sulking face in the post conference showed he is clearly unhappy; playing second fiddle to his team-mate similar to his Ferrari days when he in the shadows of Schumi.

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 4:49

      i agree with you. he should demand for equal status in the team. this is just turning out to be another 2004 for barrichello. i pity him.

  11. James G said on 10th May 2009, 16:48

    As a Brit and a fan of Button, I wanted him to win this race, but I wanted to see him win by beating everyone else, rather than cheating Barrichello for the win. On a dry, consistent track without a major likelihood of another SC period or rain, I can’t for the life of me see why a three stop would have any advantage over a two stop. Poor old Barrichello – he’s played second fiddle for practically all of his F1 career and today is no exception.

    • pSynrg said on 10th May 2009, 18:01

      It’s up to the driver to assert themselves. Barrichello has always been F1’s Mr. NiceGuy. Nice guy’s don’t win as often..

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 4:53

      he’s the easiest scapegoat one can find on the grid. he was cheated. i’m absolutely gutted.

  12. Damon said on 10th May 2009, 16:52

    I hoped for Rubens to pull a Mansell this year and retire as a champion.

    Mansell didn’t retire as a champion.
    He did 4 races in 1994 in Williams – won the season’s last GP in Australia. And then he raced unsuccessfully in McLaren in 1995 (2 races).

    And if the purpose of the three-stop strategy was to reduce the amount of time spent on the unfavourable hard tyre, why did Barrichello make his final pit stop only two laps after Button?

    Since the third set of tyres didn’t work well, it was reasonable not to race with them for too long.

    • Phil G. said on 10th May 2009, 20:18

      Well, what i meant is that Mansell was a one-time champion by the time he retired :) Because i cannot predict whether Rubens is here to stay or he gets replaced.

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 4:57

      the mp4-10,the car designed by a super computer. sadly mansell couldn’t fit his large buttocks into it. he was the fattest driver i’ve ever seen. who was the fattest driver of all time????

  13. Chris Giancaspro said on 10th May 2009, 16:53

    It was the 3rd stint, if the tires worked like they were supposed to, he would of easily had the win. What are some of you not seeing that I did? Just look at the erratic lap times for Rubens in that 3rd stint. That is what did his race in. They changed JB’s strategy because they feared he wouldn’t of even claimed a podium if he stayed on the 3 stopper due to being stuck behind Rosberg on a track that is nearly impossible to pass on. The tires killed Rubens today, not the team’s decisions.

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 5:02

      i’m sorry mate, i completely disagree with you on that one. don’t tell me button would have been stuck behind rosberg for eternity. rosberg after all finished 8th. no way was button finishing behind the williams. it is a clear conspiracy against rubens. Mr Brawn is a deceitful man. its rubens’s mistake to have trusted him. i doubt rubens will win any races this season. for that to happen ross brawn should resign.

    • No-one’s saying Button would have been behind Rosberg for the entire race, but he would have been behind him for long enough to compromise his race and possibly put him behind Massa & Vettel on track.

      And if overtaking is so easy when you’re in a faster car, please can you explain why Vettel was not able to pass Massa?

      Okay changing Button’s strategy won him the race, so well done to his engineers. Rubens may be Mr Nice-guy, but he can wine with the best of them. He has never shown the kind of consistantly relentless pace that Schumacher had and that Button is showing signs of. He is probably the best Number 2 driver out there, but like Coulthard before him he is not WDC material.

  14. Lynn said on 10th May 2009, 16:54

    All the forums are buzzing with this, something is clearly not right. Poor Rubens, game over for him after only 5 races. It’s a shame because I would love to see Rubens take the title.

    • John H said on 10th May 2009, 22:21

      Yes but he’s not good enough. Who knows where he’d be now in the championship if he’d not fluffed the start at Melbourne.

      I’m sorry, Rubens is and has never been championship material IMHO.

    • mp4-19 said on 11th May 2009, 5:06

      @ John H

      so do you really think button is championship material??? he’s got a whole bunch of people and the team principal pitting for him. not to mention richard branson making it very clear that he would favour a english champ. rubens is as good as button, if not better.

  15. hitchcockm00 said on 10th May 2009, 17:00

    Rubens is going to be really gutted if he doesn’t get a shot at the championship this season. It’s his best opportunity for a long time.

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