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?

  1. Tim said on 10th May 2009, 17:40

    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.

    • 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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th May 2009, 17:50

      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.

    • 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!

  2. Lynn said on 10th May 2009, 17:42

    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.

  3. 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.

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

    • mp4-19 said on 10th May 2009, 18:17

      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!!!

    • 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.

  5. Dan Thorn said on 10th May 2009, 18:03

    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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th May 2009, 19:19

      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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. pSynrg said on 10th May 2009, 18:10

    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.)

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

    • Clare msj said on 10th May 2009, 19:07

      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

    • Patrickl said on 10th May 2009, 22:26

      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.

  10. frecon said on 10th May 2009, 18:24

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

  11. frecon said on 10th May 2009, 18:25

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

  12. Clare msj said on 10th May 2009, 18:37

    It didnt cross my mind once that they purposely switched Barrichello and Jenson, Rubens just didnt make enough of his strategy – in theory his should have been the better of the two – arent three stops the way to go when you start at the front in Barcelona? Which would make Jenson on the strategy which was slightly more risky, but he just made the best of it. Just like the other races this year he has put in super fast laps when he needed to, he did it again here, and Rubens didnt do quite enough.

    Just because Barrichello was faster on Friday/Saturday does not mean that he will necessarily do the better job on Sunday. Vettel was better than Webber pre-race, but Webber’s race strategy proved to work better. Barrichello made the better start, but for one reason or another didnt maintain it over the whole race – Jenson did. Vettel was unlucky to be stuck behind Massa, and Barrichello seemed to have bad luck with tyres, its how these things go.

    To suggest that it was a team decision to hamper Barrichello so that Button would win is really quite unfair on Button, who simply drove the better race today.

  13. Polak said on 10th May 2009, 18:41

    Barrichello claimed he had problems with two sets of tires and concluded that it was probably a mechanical problem with the car. He ended up running slower.

    They changed Jensons strategy thinking it would be better for Jenson. They didn’t change Barrichello’s strategy which was already planned. The conspiracy would be if they changed Barrichello and let Jenson pass him in the pits.

  14. There is no way that 3 stops is the way to go on this track. Alonso started with a 3 stopper in mind but switched to a 2 stopper because of the early safety car. Nobody was on a 3 stop strategy…except Rubens of course. He was faster than Button with a heavier car, has been faster all weekend…and suddenly all this happens. Why not just tell it like it is? Why pretend it was all racing? what are we…just a bunch of idiots watching TV? I have respect for Jenson as a driver, but today Rubens had the race in his bag and team screwed him. They may have their reasons, but chose to lie.

    • keune said on 10th May 2009, 19:02

      agreed.

    • Clare msj said on 10th May 2009, 19:03

      Three stops works if you are at the front in Barcelona, which Barrichello and Button were. Alonso by all accounts was not happy with his qualifying because of the fact he was geared up for a three stop. His intention was to be nearer the front, and he didnt achieve this in qualfying, so the three stops strategy wouldnt have worked for him as he was too far back – he had no option but to change to a two stop. Three stops should have worked for Barrichello, better than Buttons two stops in theory, but Rubens just wasnt fast enough whe he needed to be. He admitted himself in the interviews that he had problems with the tyres and stuff, so why he was so confused that he didnt win I have no idea, if he knew he had had problems with the tyres – he has answered his own question :S

  15. Rubens was faster than Button with a heavier car? I don’t know, I looked at Keith’s graphics, I thought that the gap between them during the first stint was fairly constant. And 646 vs 649,5, hardly something to brag about IMO.

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