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. HounslowBusGarage said on 10th May 2009, 22:10

    On the Telegraph and the Times sites there is a quote from Button saying that he was on a three-stopper as well, and somewhere I read that he wasn’t 100% convinced when they changed him to a two-stopper.
    I agree with SoLiD; there is no story here. It was just racing.

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 10th May 2009, 22:23

      Here’s the Jenson quote

      “They switched me a two-stop to cover all bases,” Button said. “Three-stop was the quicker strategy, we thought. I wasn’t sure about going to a two-stop. When they put the fuel onboard, the car felt very, very heavy. And I didn’t think I’d come out in front of Massa and Vettel but I did and from then on I could just get my head down and concentrate on putting the laps in and being as consistent as possible. To come away with a win, this … y’know, they all mean a lot, obviously, but coming back into Europe and winning in Barcelona, a circuit I’ve always found a little tough, is a good feeling. It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.”

  2. John H said on 10th May 2009, 22:27

    Rubens should have changed to a 2 stopper too if he felt it was the right thing to do. I’m sorry, but the driver does get a say in these matters, you can’t just blame the team here.

    Button changed his stratergy on the fly due to Rosberg – and it worked out. No dodgy team tactics.

  3. Daffid said on 10th May 2009, 22:29

    It looks very suspicious, why was Barrichello not notified of Jensen’s switch till after his own first stop?

    Moreover – Barrichello could surely have won on a 3-stop, if at his 2nd stop they’d put more fuel in. He came out miles in front of Webber – can you check how much Keith? Surely he could have taken on another 10 laps of fuel, retained track position, built a larger lead and ultimately spent far less time on the hard tyres. The final winning margin is rather false I feel, as clearly once Rubens knew the game was up he nursed his car and/or his head went down, but an intelligent 2nd stop could surely still have rescued his race.

  4. EGC said on 10th May 2009, 22:45

    Si.

  5. SurferMark said on 10th May 2009, 23:14

    Barrichello was nearly out of the team this year. He was obviously chosen because Ross Brawn couldn’t afford the risk of having a young driver who’d always be battling with Button for the win. I’m sure one of the conditions of giving Barrichello the drive was that he’d have to play second fiddle to Button. To stand the best chance of winning the drivers title (the only thing the public cares about) the team has to back one driver. Look what happened to Hamilton and Alonso. For a team on a tight budget they can’t afford to take risks.

    • carlos said on 10th May 2009, 23:34

      I tend to agree with you on that, but Barrichello has to have SOME integrity left in him. Why is he racing then? waiting for a retirement from JB so he can pick up a win?

  6. Kamawoop said on 10th May 2009, 23:20

    I suspect this was Brawn’s preferred result. It’s not about favouritism; it’s just common sense given the current standings.

    How many of recent seasons come down to the the last race and a few points? Lots of them.

    It’s still early in the season? So what, as far as I was aware the point value of these races doesn’t depreciate over time.

    It was great to see the two best drivers; Alonso and Hamilton, battling it out at Maclaren, but I bet Ron Dennis is secretly kicking himself for not picking one over the other, during that season.

    • Bas said on 11th May 2009, 21:05

      well, Kamawoop, initially Donnis did do that, as Hamilton let by Alonso for 2nd on his debut grand prix, Australia 2007. In the end, those 2 points acutally cost Hamilton and McLaren the WDC at the end of the season. Ironically.

  7. carlos said on 10th May 2009, 23:31

    IMO Barrichello has some choices to make whether to continue in F1 or not. His interpretation of events is what really matters at this point. Rubens, make the decision now to continue to be a Village idiot or not. Most F1 people think that Brawn put one over you, again, so decide now to go to Rio for good or not. If JB is decided by the team to be the chosen one, go home man. You have been there done that.Get out!!

  8. Kamawoop said on 10th May 2009, 23:36

    I always get annoyed when people say sportsmen should retire.

    It seems to me that Rubens has a genuine love for racing; stay until your pushed is my advice.

  9. Eduardo Colombi said on 10th May 2009, 23:38

    Barrichello was slow in his third stint of tyres and went to the pit too early. If he could stay in the pace that he was in second stint and entered the pit 3-4 laps after he would had won the race.

  10. Oliver said on 10th May 2009, 23:44

    Interesting that the conspiracy theorists are focusing on the fact Rubens was on a three stopper. In Bahrain he took a different strategy to Jenson, as that was what he was comfortable with, and it seems clear that 3 stopping today was his call too.

    The only way I can see foul play (a way which is not hinted at in the comments I read), is if Rubens had chosen a 2 stopper and been switched to 3 without his consent. As it happens, three stops should be quicker in theory, so that seems out. And is pretty desperate to claim that Jenson and his engineers should not be able to modify his strategy as circumstances change (as they had from losing a place at the start).

    The other possibility, which I sincerely hope is not the case, would be if the tyres on Rubens car for the third stint were ‘sabotaged’ from being worn or having the wrong pressures. The lack of pace in third stint was very noticeable from a driver on top of his game but I suspect at his stage in life he would be very clear if he thought that had happened.

  11. Kamawoop said on 10th May 2009, 23:51

    Rubens was close to tears after the race. It clearly wasn’t sabotage, yet I also think the only sensible individual option would have been covering Rubens move.

    There’s no “I in team”, also works in reverse. I think Brawn got it spot on.

  12. Kamawoop said on 10th May 2009, 23:53

    Edit: covering Jenson’s move.’

  13. Leaf said on 11th May 2009, 0:17

    Interesting. The votes are split right down the middle. The answer to your question though is no, Brawn did not deliberately give Barrichello a poor strategy to let Button win.

  14. F1 is a show run by from the shadows. Remember last year last race last corner? Remeber how both Toyotas posting almost identical times on that last lap to use as evidence that there was no foul play.

    Remeber the year before, the 17 points gap that evapourated within two races (I speculate Mr E promised Ferrari the title in return for keeping the McLaren driver in the show and how Kimi didn’t even look excited by achieving his dream of world champion? Ask yourself who controls those times???

    Do you remember when three drivers (not sure but I think in ’97 MS, JV and Frenzen) posted +0.000 in qualifying and Murry had to say “trust me there is no fix”???

    Did you notice how surprised Button was when he got pole position yesterday when he clearly didn’t expected?

    Well done Mr E who is determined to manipulate everything from his control room.

    Wake up people! F1 has died long time ago and all we are left with is mere show where the players know exactly what the score is.

    I bet Button requied number 1 status in return for his 50% pay cut. I bet Rubben was told whoever is on Pole would be allowed to win the hence his BIG shock yesterday. I bet Mr E manipulate the Button’s time yesterday.

    What do you think Martin (CEO McLaren) agreed with the FIA after Ron was sacrified? To toe the line is obvious but something else fishing went on then and we are about to smell it soon when the teams meet the FIA next week.

    Please prove me wrong just so I can enjoy real F1 again :(

  15. CD said on 11th May 2009, 2:19

    This topic made me sick. It’s absurd! Why don’yt you guys just accept the fact that Jenson is better that Rubens, and Rubens ain’t good enough to take the Championship. A win or two may be, but never a championship. Clearly this is just a conspiracy theorist’s idea… to have more post on the blog and be ever popular in the net.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th May 2009, 8:55

      This is the biggest talking point coming out of the race, loads of questions were asked about it in the press conference afterwards, it’s an entirely legitimate area of discussion.

      The poll results make it pretty clear that people have sharply divided views on this one, and it’s definitely worth looking into.

  16. Prisoner Monkeys said on 11th May 2009, 2:20

    If Brawn sabotaged Barrichello just enough to get Button in the lead, why did Jock Clear keep telling the Brazilian to put the hammer down? Every time the BBC picked up a radio transmission between car #23 and the pits, Barichello was told that he needed to find more time, especially when he was trying to dial out a substatntial enough lead on Button to keep his position when he came back out fo the pits.

  17. gospeedracer said on 11th May 2009, 5:17

    If Button is a better driver than Rubens, how can the inferior driver pass the superior driver and take the lead at the first turn?

    Button thanked Rubens for his input on making the necessary adjustments on Buttons car to make it run faster during the free practice sessions. If Button was a the superior driver, shouldn’t he have figured it out himself?

    The Brawn team is British. This wreaks of bias. It’ll be interesting how Brawn handles the rest of the season. The truth will manifest itself.

    Most comments are not biased here but I sense that the ones that claim Rubens inferiority are most likely from Anglo bloggers.

    • John H said on 11th May 2009, 8:56

      How about Ruben’s start at Melbourne?

      Jenson has made far less mistakes this season already and is the better driver. Rubens is not consistent enough to be a WC. Have you been watching F1 for the last 20 years?

      It’s nothing to do with the British connection.

  18. The Limit said on 11th May 2009, 5:22

    I don’t find it too difficult in believing that Brawn Gp went with Button instead of Barrichello. If body language is anything to go by, the Brazilian looked mightily cheesed off during the press conferance.
    As others have suggested, Barrichello went through this before at Ferrari when Ross Brawn was on the pitwall, so this should not come as a surprise.
    The fact of the matter is, the situation Rubens found himself in is as old as racing itself. When the team sees one of their two drivers getting wins, getting poles on a regular basis, the other driver very quickly assumes the ‘back up’ role.
    Atleast, the is how the teams would like it. More often than not, it can end in bitterness and poison and tear a team to pieces from within. Just look at what happened at McLaren two years ago for how bad it can go wrong.
    Who can forget David Coulthard driving the race of his life in Australia twelve years ago until being told to defer to Mika Hakkinen. An event that would take years to rectify, as the Finn would quickly go on to win two championships.
    Ross Brawn knows that Rubens is a dependable man, loyal and dignified. If you had put Schumacher, Montoya, Alonso, or any other bigtime driver in a situation in which they felt they had been cheated out of a win then there would be fireworks.
    It could, maybe, payback for all the loyalty Button showed over the years as the team operated under the Honda umbrella. Not too many years ago, Jenson had the opportunity to return to Williams, one he turned down in favour of Honda thus breaking an existing contract with the boys from Grove.
    Button, unlike Barrichello, has that link with the team. A link as strong as Alonso’s with Renault, Hamilton’s with McLaren, or Massa’s with Ferrari. Ross Brawn kept Rubens because he is a great driver, a great guy to have onboard, and the perfect foil to Button. Just as he had been to Schumacher for six long, highly successful seasons.
    The way Brawn Gp are going, they remind me of Williams back in 1992, unstoppable. That year, a certain Nigel Mansell brought home the world drivers title. After years of trying, years of bad luck, he eventually prevailed. Sound simular?

  19. Dorian said on 11th May 2009, 6:35

    Rubens, with lighter fuel and fresher tires, should have been a second faster on his 3rd stint and beat Button by 4-5 seconds.
    Rubens lost, because his car or tires lets him down. It’s that simple.

  20. Chris Giancaspro said on 11th May 2009, 6:43

    What are the conspiracy theorists looking at? Do you that fall into that category not see his lap times in his 3rd stint? Seriously look at Ruben’s 3rd stint, this speaks of his race. Then go ahead and look at his times when he took on the hard tires compared to Button’s on hard tires. If the team changed his option to 2 stops, do you really think he would of won the race? He was mighty slower on the hard tires and really not that much faster on the softs even when Button had much more fuel on board. I believe he would of not even ended up 3rd as he would of been right in the thick of Vettel and Massa. Please go and look at the lap times before crying foul play by the Brawn team. He didn’t even come near low 1:23s in that 3rd stint at all. 3 stops would of won if the tires didn’t take a dump. Some people really just irk the hell out of me with the crying foul silliness. Open your eyes and see the plain truth that is there to be seen in front of you.

    Rubens was let down by the Bridgestones not the team.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th May 2009, 9:02

      If the team changed his option to 2 stops, do you really think he would of won the race? He was mighty slower on the hard tires and really not that much faster on the softs even when Button had much more fuel on board.

      Which is more reason why they should have put him on a two-stop strategy to keep track position over Button – Massa’s race shows how (comparatively) easy it is to keep a fast car behind you at Catalunya if you mirror their strategy.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 9:30

      Keith, seriously, that makes no sense. They calcultated that 3-stops was faster. Indeed Rubens’s second stint shows it could have been.

      Why would they take a risk with Rubens while he was in the lead? How on earth could they have known that Rubens would have a problem in his third stint?

      Ifthey had assumed that Rubens would have a problem in his third stint (or if they thought a 2-stop strategy was actually faster) they would have gone for a 2 stopper for both drivers from the get go.

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