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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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

  5. 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.

  6. KingHamilton&co
    10th May 2009, 19:11

    amazing, the votes are exactly 50/50! (as of my vote, 197 each) Looks like this is an undecided one!

    I think the team wanted button to win, but did it in a perfectly legitimate way.

  7. I didnt vote because there was no decent option. I think Brawn was playing it safe. In such a good position it made sence for him to try both strategies out incase the 3 stopper didnt end up as good as predicted. I dont beleive the team are just backing Button.

  8. well if the three stop is so bad howcome RB came in second and not further down?

  9. “From then I knew that I had to go flat-out to make my strategy work. However, I suffered on my third set of tyres and was not able to set the lap times which would have kept me ahead of Jenson. With the pace that I had pulling away from him [early on], I really felt I had it in the bag, and then all of a sudden after my third stop I was on a tyre that wasn’t working particularly well, and when I saw he was in front of me it was very disappointing.

    This Barrichello quote surely answers his own question – he didnt win because he had a bad set of tyres in the third stint, and couldnt set the lap times needed to beat Jenson on his strategy. Not sure why Barrichello is questioning why he didnt win, when he has answered that himself.

    1. To be fair to Rubens I don’t think he is. You have to remember that a lot of journalists ask leading questions trying to get a news worthy quote out of the interviewee. What was Rubens asked when he mentioned that he would hangup his helmet if he caught a sniff of team orders? And the fact that he hasn’t hung up his helmet tells me that either a) He doesn’t really think team orders were employed or, b) He is actually happy playing second fiddle… I think it’s a)!!

  10. Does anyone know if there was any communication between Jenson & the team before the pit-stops ?

    Maybe he radioed the team and asked them about changing the strategy and Rubens didn’t because of their differing positions.

    I’m not trying to make excuses here but I could understand if Button was thinking about ways to win while Barrichello felt comfortable as he was leading anyway.

    1. the fact of the matter is Mr Brawn wants john button’s son to win all the races,

    2. Yes there was, Jenson was complaining that Rubens was going too slow and that he needed him to go faster. I heard it, infact anyone paying attention to the BBC broadcast coverage would have heard it.

  11. MacademiaNut
    10th May 2009, 20:29

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

    So, both of them were on the three stop strategy. BUT chose to go to two-stopper because he felt that he will be caught behind ROS. So, he decided to change his strategy.

    The correct question then should be, “why did Brawn choose only Button to switch to two-stopper and not both?”

    They both agreed to three-stopper and probably three-stopper was not a good strategy to begin with. BUT was smart to change it on track. BAR did not.

  12. It was more subtle than the Schumacher years, granted, but it was still not the least obvious position swap Brawn could have come up with. There’s no way he would have thought this strategy optimal. I just can’t see any reason to do this other than to give Button the win. Which is fair enough, I suppose, but you do feel for Reubens.

  13. I trust Brawn and believe it was a curious and initially unforseen mistake or perhaps even a rare miscalculation, simple as. As masterful a tactition as Ross is, it’s far to early in the season to be adopting team orders. Rubens appeared the stronger all weekend, and if anything I would have thought the team anticipated a Rubens win, so it seems odd to gamble that much more to give Jenson the win…

  14. The problem was not Rubens third stint. Just draw the whole lap chart and you’ll see that even if Rubens had been faster during his third stint he would have come up to Massa and Vettel.

    The reason Rubens lost the race was that Button had an extremely fast second stint that lasted for 30 laps! How he set those times with such a heavy car and on one set of tyres is just unbelievable. Barrichello could never have pulled that off.

  15. no one did a 3 stopper there since 2004 so I guess the team wanted to make sure button could exploit his true pace fully.

  16. Ross Brawn is a proven past master of team orders, and as we’ve debated else where on this site I don’t particularly oppose the notion. Especially come next year when the championship will be determined by the most wins.

    What better result than your current championship leading driver collecting another win and your other driver coming home second to maximize manufacturer’s points?? Perfect strategy to my way of seeing things.

    Sorry Rubens, your a great guy, a talented driver, but the team will always put the best strategy behind Jenson. And that decision was proven by Jenson’s amazing last lap in Q3. He’s a consistently better and faster driver. End of story.

    1. keep up with the news. next year will be decided by most points, not most wins.

  17. YES YES YES!

  18. Well, the poll results at the moment are 50-50 so I guess this one will be argued long into the season!

    Like Keith, I can’t see how three stops could have been considered a better option than two when taking track position and traffic into account. Whether or not the mistake was deliberate or not depends on who made the call to switch Button’s strategy. If it was his engineers alone, as Brawn contend, then maybe Rubens’ people are to blame, but I can’t believe that a master tactician like Ross would leave it to his engineers to call the race.

    1. Yep still split down the middle, only five votes in it after 565 cast…

    2. I like to know when was the last time anyone won anything in a F1 race with a 3 stop. I agree with your post.

  19. Here’s my take on it and I’ve posted this over at AMF and PlanetF1 too just for full disclosure so some of you may have already seen it… Brawn essentially sold Rubens a strategy that required him to set a pace that no driver short of Schumacher could possibly have done

    24.097[—-]23.757[—-] 0.340[—-]
    23.906[—-]23.607[—-] 0.299[—-]
    23.731[—-]23.646[—-] 0.085[—-]
    23.895[—-]23.368[—-] 0.527[—-]
    23.558[—-]23.460[—-] 0.098[—-]
    24.055[—-]23.890[—-] 0.165[—-]
    23.911[—-]23.436[—-] 0.475[—-]
    23.653[—-]23.386[—-] 0.267[—-]
    23.916[—-]23.394[—-] 0.522[—-]
    23.861[—-]23.406[—-] 0.455[—-]
    23.517[—-]23.463[—-] 0.054[—-]
    23.594[—-]23.454[—-] 0.140[—-]
    23.683[—-]23.444[—-] 0.239[—-]

    Here are a comparison of lap times, essentially “fuel corrected” in that they display Rubens third stint (soft tyres), and the last 18 laps of Jenson’s second stint (soft tyres). What this demonstrates are their times relative to each other while each driver had the same amount of fuel on board. You can see that over the course of those 18 laps, Barrichello was 3.035 seconds slower than Jenson, keep that figure in mind we’ll come back to it an a second.

    When Jenson came in for his second pit stop at the end of those 18 laps, Rubens had a gap of 11.9 seconds to him. If Rubens had been allowed to run the full length of his planned third stint, an extra three laps at a projected pace of 23.350 seconds against Jenson’s third and final stint on hard tyres this is what would have happened…

    [b]Jenson Button 3rd Stint (Hard Tyres)[/b]
    50 1:25.225
    51 1:24.962
    52 1:24.788
    53 1:24.698

    Rubens would have gained 6.2 seconds over those laps, minus an estimated 0.6 seconds which is the same amount of time Jenson spent lapping back markers, which was Brawn GP’s given reason for bringing in Rubens early to go onto the hard tyres.

    11.9 – 5.6
    GAP: 6.3 seconds

    Now remember back to how Rubens was 3.035 seconds slower than Jenson during those 18 laps? Let’s say Rubens had matched Jenson, lap for lap…

    6.3 – 3.035
    GAP: 3.265 seconds

    So if fuel corrected Rubens had lapped at the EXACT SAME SPEED as Jenson Button, he still would have emerged 3.265 seconds behind his team mate.

    Now you have to look at the time Rubens spent during his second stint when he was lighter than Jenson Button…

    [b]Rubens Barrichello 2nd Stint (Soft Tyres)[/b]
    21 1:23.569
    22 1:23.352
    23 1:23.354
    24 1:23.288
    25 1:23.377
    26 1:23.009
    27 1:23.004
    28 1:22.762
    29 1:22.780
    30 1:22.829

    10 laps, 3.265 seconds, 3 tenths of a second per lap he needed to go faster. To do so, Rubens would have needed to have set the following times…

    [b]Rubens Barrichello 2nd Stint Adjusted[/b]
    21 1:23.242
    22 1:23.025
    23 1:23.027
    24 1:22.961
    25 1:23.050
    26 1:22.682
    27 1:22.677
    28 1:22.435
    29 1:22.453
    30 1:22.502

    Rubens Barrichello’s personal best lap was a 1m22.762, that was good enough for fastest of the entire race. Jenson Button’s fastest lap was 1m22.899

    For Rubens to have emerged with a 0 second gap to his team mate, he needed to set a time below his and Jenson’s fastest laps 5 of those 10 laps.

    To put this into perspective, Jenson Button set only 2 laps under 1m22.000s the entire race.

    Now I’m going to tell you why all that was irrelevant. Rubens Barrichello had track position. He was leading the race, running a lap longer than Jenson Button and had a comfortable gap that he could cover whatever strategy Jenson chose. Whether they originally planned for both cars to run a three stopper or not, Rubens should have been put onto the same optimal strategy, not one which required him to set 5 laps well under the already fastest lap time of the race.[/quote]

    1. I don’t quite follow the whole story, but it should be quite straightforward.

      Barrichello does one stop extra during Button’s 30 lap middle stint. Barrichello loses 19 seconds with that extra stop, so he should have been (on average) 6 tenths of a second faster during those 30 laps. Fuel corrected that should be possible.

      During his second stint Rubens wins 8 seconds over a 10 lap period. So that’s actually 8 tenths a lap faster.

      I’m pretty sure that their computer really calculated a 3 stop race to be faster. I’d say that it would have been right too.

      On the other hand when there is traffic or when the driver has a problem it might fail too. Rubens demonstrated both. Had he been faster he would have been stuck behind Vettel and Massa, but ibviously he wasn’t fast enough during his second stint.

      Seeing how Rubens had a problem with his car (actual problem or perceived problem), he would have had the same problem with Button’s long second stint.

      Imagine Rubens in a 30 lap stint with a problem. he would have completely collapsed.

    2. Sorry Matt,
      but youve completely forgotten about Vettel. Had Vettel gotten past Massa (or just pitted even 1 lap earlier) he would have put in some seriously fast laps for much of the race… With Rubens ‘safely’ behind Rosberg for a couple of laps, he would have lost 10 to 12 seconds (see calcuations done for Jenson on same strategy somewhere down this thread). 4 seconds lead gone, tyres gone… yes, he would be shure that his teammate was behind him, but he was racing Vettel too at that point. It was pure luck for brawn that Vettel left himself stuck behind Massa all race long, just look at those last few laps he put down after passing Massa. They must have assumed Vettel would’ve gotten past Massa by the latter not pitting lap 19, by driving the pace they held him for, and by having pitted when they expected him to pit (he and Massa made their second pitstop earlier than Brawn expected, considering what they said over the radio). So assume he would have settled for this ‘safe track position’ right under the DDD of Rosberg: he would have lost his gap and fuel advantage to Button, whilst wasting his tyres, and in addition, he would most likely end up some 8 seconds behind Vettel with no pace to catch him (or so suspected Brawn GP).

      As for your calculations, Im impressed with the amount of numbers crunched, but again, you made mistakes.
      In Formula 1, all competing cars are on track at the same time. Therefore, if Barrichello in any manipulations had come out ahead of Button after his third pitstop you cannot assume that Button would have driven the last few laps as he drove them, passing Barrichello without any hindrance. In fact, the Circuit de Catalunya is known for being a difficult track for overtaking, and when taking into account that theyre also driving the same car, the possibility of Button passing Barrichello in that hypothetical situation is very dim, as the team would certainly not want to risk a ‘rosberg-Kubica like incident’. Barrichello didnt sound like he was ever going to let Button by voluntarily.
      Therefore, your calculations must start from the 7 second gap Button held after the latter’s last pitstop. the rest of this is irrelevant anyway: assuming that both had an equal car after Barrichello’s third pit stop, they should have been equally fast, Barrichello a little faster even when he had pitted later and his tyres were marginally better.

      Next, you looked at those laptimes and started doing some mathemagic that proved your point. But not very relevant, since those 3rd stint laptimes are not to be a point of reference, since everyone can see that Barrichello lost his race there as his laptimes were so much slower than his 1st/2nd stint laptimes. Also, using the laptimes from Button in his second stint as an estimation rests on the assumption that Button’s 13-lap older tyres would be a match for Barrichello’s, which they normally shouldn’t be.
      Next time around, I suggest you start by inserting Barrichello’s second stint for the last 9 laps of Ruben’s third stint & the 3 laps of his third stint he didn’t drive. For the first 10 laps, use the laptimes of Button on the same fuel load.
      That button’s tyres by then had completed 13 laps on heavy fuel makes his tyres a little more worn than Barrichello’s. This means Button was slightly slower than what Barrichello would’ve been capable of. This more than compensates for those latter 9+3 laps of Barrichello, where he would have been a little slower than we assume, since his tyres had completed 10 laps on a lower fuel load, whilst his tyres in his second stint were fresh

      Im not gonna do the math for you, but by looking at it, I can tell you that this would bring Barrichello some 5 (give or take 2) seconds ahead AFTER his 3rd pitstop. Then you would have to factor in a big chunk of traffic, say a worst case scenario of 2 seconds, and that leaves him 3 seconds ahead.
      Keep in mind that Button’s engineers told Button the gap would be 3-4 seconds, at least, thats what Button told the world during the FIA official post-race press conference. Or did you somehow miss that?
      So no, he would not have to drive 5 laps faster than the fastest lap of the race, just 1 identical copy (since you copied it over), and instead of that fastest lap, he could have had a big moment that cost him 2 seconds and still appear ahead of Button.

      Anyway, thanks for your insights and the work you put into them, but please, be a bit more cautious next time when picking what raw data you want to manipulate.

  20. I don’t think there is a story here… Button lost first place so they changed his strategy … that’s normal imo.

    Rubens was doing great in the first half of the race, pulling away nicely.
    But in the end he couldn’t get the pace out of the car when he needed to… so he lost the race.

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