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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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. If there’s one guy in F1 I trust it’s Ross Brawn.

    He said they gave Rubens the strategy to win and believed 3 stops would be quicker – Rubens just couldn’t pull it off – be it for technical reasons or lack of talent…. nuff said !

    1. if there’s one guy in F1 i do not trust its Ross Brawn.

      he said what he said to make barrichello look like an idiot. thats why he said that.

      ok consider this- why did ross brawn in an interview to bbc say they wanted rubens to win this race??? isn’t it open bias?? he said this after the race. it was kind of ridiculing rubens’ credentials as a grand prix driver. ross brawn was trying to make a statement through that comment,i.e. even after spoon feeding, rubens couldn’t pull it off, thats what he meant!!!! correct me if i am wrong. now everybody thinks rubens is a second class driver,fit only to play second fiddle to other dominating drivers. this fact will be substantiated,becoz these words came out of the mouth of ross brawn, & he is a demi-god to many of the ill informed f1 fans.
      i know how rubens will feel about this. he was backstabbed,cheated,fooled. poor rubens. but he’ll be remembered as a true gentleman racer. i dont wanna anger british fans(this being a .co.uk website) by saying it was jenson button who laid the icing on the cake on the already wrecked career of rubens barrichello.

  2. I’m not sure exactly, but I think he stopped quite a few laps before he was supposed to on his 2nd stop. Brawn said traffic, but I don’t think that was the case. And if the team put Button on a 2 stopper, then why not put Rubens, who was stopping later, on the same strategy? It just indicates favouritism. Guess Ross Brawn still sees Rubens as a sidekick.

    Someone said that Button’s a great driver. I would disagree. The great drivers do well even when the cars are struggling. Schu, Alonso, Senna and Prost are good examples. Button struggles when the car is bad. Remember last year? Clearly outperformed by Barrichello. So Button may be a good or decent driver, but he is far from great.

  3. second class treatment to rubens. i said this at the beginning of the season. after all ross brawn was the man who wrecked barrichello’s career at ferrari. it is quite clear brawn were not as efficient & responsive as they are to button. quite understandably, they are a British outfit & wanna see a Briton claim victory. so this is going to be a repeat of 1992,barrichello will have to settle with 1 or max 2 victories. i pity both rubens barrichello & ricardo patrese. but i’ve to mention that both mansell & button(if he wins the title) deserve it. but i feel sorry for rubens. but i have a feeling that rubens will part company with the team before the season ends. and when was the last time Brits won back to back championships???????

  4. ferrari’s days again.

    1. beginning of the alesi-berger era???

  5. Rubens Barrichello on Sunday made clear he is no longer willing to play second fiddle to any teammate.

    “I had the race in my hands and I was quite surprised when they told me they were switching Jenson to two,” the 36-year-old said.

    “I would like to understand why they changed that,” he added, explaining that his third set of tyres also slowed him down.

    “If that happens I won’t follow any team orders anymore,” Barrichello told reporters in Barcelona. “I’m making it clear now so everyone knows.”

    but Button denies it is the case.

    “We are all here to win, and today it just went my way and it didn’t for him,” the Briton said. “It could swing around for the next race, that’s the way things go in F1.”

    1. if he really said what he said,then i’m sure he’ll not be sticking around with this team is he doesn’t win the next couple of races. even i wanna know why they switched strategies midway??? even if there was a switch,it should have been for both the drivers. clear bias is visible. and finally its really annoying to see shoemaker hanging around in the paddock. he must be banned. what does he want??? hasn’t he grabbed everything that f1 has to offer???wants to wreck the career of other upcoming drivers????

    2. David (Brazil)
      10th May 2009, 20:18

      Kind of reminds me of the initial Alonso/Hamilton spat at Monaco 2007 and Lewis’s post-race comments about being number 2.

      I think the argument is fairly empty. If Button won by changing to a 2-stop after trailing to RB, then the issue is why Brawn went for a 3-stop strategy in the first place. Because they already knew Barrichello would get past Button from the grid?? The conspiracy theory doesn’t make sense. Seems more likely they were worrying too much about Vettel and Massa and did a McLaren of over-elaborating. And if RB thought Button switching to a 2-stop would threaten him, why didn’t he ask to change too? Would he really have risked switching strategy?

  6. It’s safe to say that Rubens was on better form than Jenson here going by the majority of friday and saturday, he was just pipped to pole in Q3 however got a better start and slowly pulled away from Jenson in the first stint despite carrying more fuel. If he’d have gone onto a two stop like Jenson then I don’t believe he would have won the race as Jenson could extract a lot more out of the harder tyre for some reason so his best bet was to run longer (and with lower fuel) on the softs using a three stop while Jenson had more fuel and was on harder tyres for longer on a two stop. Unfortunately, Rubens 3rd stint wasn’t as good as his first two and this cost him a lot of time. Also, if he’d have stayed out longer while Jenson was on the hard tyres then that probably would have helped him too.

    I dont think (and I really dont want to think) that the team is already manipulating the results but it does appear that Button is becoming pretty jammy in racking up the wins.

  7. I have no doubt. Button is driver number 1 for Brown like Schumacher was for Ferrari – maybe he can only be good doing stratagy for 1 horse… What a shame… Buu!

  8. What a shame! I expect people who in the past were against such things happening at Ferrari do the same.

    Rubens was definitely faster…apart from the fact that Button used Rubens settings yesterday. Buuuuuu

  9. 1 extra stop for only 2 laps less last stint on hards, there must be something wrong there. The 2nd stint(12 laps) from Rubens seemed way too short, traffic can not be the true reason, as Rubens was leading, whatever he’s running into, he’s lapping them not racing them, by bringing him in early(not enough gap to the cars behind him), he’ll only get behind real traffic.

    However, Brawn seemed indeed disappointed to me. And Button’s 2nd stint with 30 laps, was very good indeed!

  10. Brawn I believe is being deceptive here.

    Firstly, Button qualified with the lighter fuel load to guarantee pole position, So Button was the one on a pure 3stop strategy.

    Secondly, since Barichello was ahead of Button after the first pit stop, and was well ahead of the other cars, that was an opportunity to save a pit stop as he could be fueled heavy as much as Button, yet always come out ahead of him and other cars after their respective stops.

    Thirdly, after the introduction of the safety car, there is actually less time for a car on a 3stop strategy to build enough lead and maintain a consistent gap to the other cars, hence the window for a pure 3stop strategy had become eroded.

    Lets not also forget that, as the track rubbers in, there isn’t that much penalty in carrying a higher fuel load, as the tyres don’t suffer as much degradation.

    If you ask me, this was purely in the category as, “we are racing Barichello” :-) Deja vu.

  11. Surely the poll needs a third option, i.e. that Rubens just wasn’t quick enough in his third stint?

    After his first stop, Barrichello came out just ahead of Nico Rosberg. The extra time needed to switch to a two stop fuel load would have almost certainly put Rubens back out behind the Williams. Button would have come out behind the Williams regardless of his fuel strategy. That, I assume, was why Barrichello was kept on the three stop strategy.

    Rubens’ lap times in his third stint were extremely erratic, which supports the tyre problem explanation. Whether he would have been able to make the strategy work had it not been for this we’ll never know. We’ll also probably never find out how much fuel Button was due to take onboard at his first stop had he stuck with the original 3 stop strategy. But I don’t think this was some sort of conspiracy.

    1. Yes, exactly! If there is a need for a poll at all then there’s a need for this third option – well said! The argument is stronger for Bazza just not being as fast.

    2. I wanted to keep the poll as simple as possible to see where people stand in terms of “were Brawn doing something ‘naughty’ or not?”

      So whether you think the strategy was an honest mistake, or it was correct but Barrichello wasn’t quick enough, from the point of view of this article I think it makes sense to lump those together. It’s very easy to make polls too complicated.

    3. Right, well on the post about how good the race is, it would better better be be “great, good, dull or bad” rather than 10 options then?! Just a friendly jibe Keith, you know I’m a fan of F1F!

  12. Keith,
    You are absolutely right to pose this question, it clear others are asking a similar question. The forums are buzzing with this and no doubt the press will soon have something to say. I do hope everything is above board, because it would be a shame for Brawn and indeed
    Button. It just feels a bit of a downer at the moment as if something is not right.

  13. Not in a million years do I believe that this was an organised switch. I just think Button and his engineer did a better job.

    1. yes button & is engineer did do a better job. they did the best possible job by cheating,deceiving,fooling rubens barrichello.

  14. *hear hear to Andrew’s comment, not you mp4-19
    (why did your parents call you that – a little harsh!)

    1. is it your real name or are you trying to ridicule the names of gilles & jaques villeneuve??? i’ve never heard of a Milleneuve before!!!

    2. I’m a writer for F1 Badger – we all have motorsport related names based around our actual names – it’s an easy going website. You’ll find Ciaran Buttonham, Tess Tarossa, Ricardo Monza and Emma O’Rouge.

      Excellent stuff.

  15. It’s true that Barrichello wasn’t quick enough for whatever reason in the 3rd stint to make the strategy work. Even with Jenson being faster on the hard tyres, it’s very unlikely that he would have been allowed to race Rubens in the final stint unless someone like Vettel or Webber started to threaten them.

    However, I find it hard to see why Rubens remained on a three stop after Jenson had switched to a two stop, especially with the safety car being out for the first few laps – surely his engineers would have countered it if they were allowed to race for the win – but that’s the question isn’t it.

    It’s the second race in a row he’s had a three stopper, which is very unusual as that hasn’t really been the case at the front for years. The last time I can remember is Hamilton at Turkey last year, but that was because Bridgestone were worried about the tyres. Perhaps with this car Rubens is having a problem over longer runs? Or could it be the more cynical view that Rubens is being put on three-stoppers to ensure that he doesn’t beat Jenson?

    Either way, I’ve no doubt Rubens has the pace to beat Jenson – a look at the last couple of years shows that -but Button has the confidence at the moment that just seems to be giving him that bit extra. A win for Barrichello here would have given him more confidence and momentum for the rest of the season, but with evidence of a definite pecking order in the team beginning to emerge this early that’s sure to hurt Barrichello’s motivation.

    It’s a shame, because Rubens left Ferrari as he was fed up of being number 2. When he finally gets in a race winning car again, it’s in a team which again has Ross Brawn and another quick driver, and Rubens is being left out in the cold – underservedly in my eyes – again.

    1. I find it hard to see why Rubens remained on a three stop after Jenson had switched to a two stop, especially with the safety car being out for the first few laps

      Good point about the safety car.

  16. Button’s 2nd stint was almost as long as a stint for a 1 stopper, Rubens’ pace in his 2nd stint just wasn’t fast enough in comparison(and that stint wasn’t long enough either for whatever reasons).

    I tend to believe Brawn treated them fairly, whatever strategy was superior, the driver has to make it work.

  17. Driver A leads the race from his lighter teammate (driver B) before 1st pitstop in a dry race in one of the tracks where overtaking is almost impossible. Every driver is in a 2 stopper. Team decides a 3 stops for A and 2 for B.

    This is a team order to maximise the chances of driver B winning. It was all about track position on this track. All excuses are pure BS. End of story.

  18. Why can’t people simply accept that Button is faster and more consistent than Barrichello? That he works a better strategy with his engineer and pounds in the laps when needed?
    Barrichello has shown quite clearly over the years that he isn’t quite the top driver we all would so like him to be.
    Just how much of an opportunity do you need to win a WDC and fail on each occasion (including the Schumacher years.)

  19. Then why was Rubens faster with a heavier car during the first stint? Did he suddenly forget driving this track?

    1. Rubens didnt have a problem with his tyres or have erratic lap times in the first stint. Yes he was faster then, but he didnt maintain tht over the whole race – Jenson kept his pace up and did fast laps when h needed to. More than once heard the team telling Barrichello he needed to go faster to make th strategy work, which he did for a bit then dropped off a bit again. Barrichello lost the race for himelf (well hat and the tyre issue), nowt to do with Button switching strategy

    2. Rubens wasn’t faster at all during his first stint. Button was keeping exact pace with him during the whole stint.

      Obviously Button couldn’t go faster because Barrichello was holding him up.

  20. Have a first driver option in the team is the way to win WDC, and last for champions could tell it.

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