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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. BluntRap said on 11th May 2009, 8:17

    Historically the Spanish GP is won from Pole Position so the Conspiracy started in Qualifying:

    Q2. RB is quickest driver overall in session @ 1:19.954
    JB 5th @ 1:20.192

    Q3. RB is given heavier fuel load than JB, despite both supposedly on same stratergy – no surprise then that JB gets pole position

    RB shows his Superiority over JB by overtaking the lighter car from the start (and getting the fastest lap time in the race). Hence the (supposed)change back to ‘Plan A’. By the way doesnt Plan A usually come before Plan B

  7. FLIG said on 11th May 2009, 8:24

    I just can’t believe that some people blame Barrichelo’s 3rd stint. He came out 10 seconds behind with 18 laps to go, same amount of fuel and same tyre conditions. HOW THE HELL DO YOU EXPECT ANY PILOT to cover 10 seconds and pass in 18 laps, IN BARCELONA, with the SAME CONDITIONS??? C’mon, you people defending the “bad 3rd stint theory” are jokers.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 13:44

      Rubens gained at least 8 seconds during his 12 laps in his second stint. His second stint lasted longer so why not? Button was losing pace during his long stint too since his tyres were wearing out. Rubens should have been able to push all through his stint.

      He wouldn’t have had to pass Button on track either, he would have gone longer than Button and passed him in the pits.

  8. 2 stops is always the best option period. It’s very obvious that Brawn wanted Button to win.

    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?

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 9:32

      A properly executed 3 stop race with no traffic interfering would have bene faster.

      Rubens was 8 tenths a lap faster than Button in his second stint. Rubens would have gained 5 seconds if he had completed the strategy properly.

      Of course he didn’t run fast enough and I say he would have ran into traffic (Vettel+Massa) if he had. Still it’s what they thought would win.

  9. schumi the greatest said on 11th May 2009, 9:28

    I think you need to take a long hadr thought before reacting to this article (great again keith). 1 or 2 things just dont add up in my head.

    Why were the brawns 3 stopping anyway?? their 1st stint was similar to vettel’s and he managed to split them on the grid? as keith pointed out nobody other than barrichello and nakajima 3 stopped so clearly it wasnt the quickest strategy. why would it be?? i know the circuit is hard on tyres but the pitlane is very long too so the more you stop the more time you lose doing the pitlane speed limit.

    Also i would of thought that brawn wouldn’t risk the strategy of the guy who was in front. It was clear with massa holding up vettel and webber that the race win was between button & rubens yet they kept rubens on the 3 stop.

    Another thing to consider is the gap rubens was able to pull out in his 2nd stint. 13 seconds…not bad in about 15 laps (probably was more i know)

    The most puzzling thing for me though was the length of the last stint, ross said that they went for 3 stops to avoid being on the hard tyre for a long time. which is a fair point they were much slower thsn the soft tyres, so why bring barrichello in with about 15 laps to go?? he never real;ly stood a chance on that strategy. thats what ive drawn from it anyway. i dont know if it was deliberatley favouring jenson or whether rubens was left with no hope because of his tyres on the 3rd stint.

    im not taking anything away from button though, the last few seasons ive not been a big fan of his driving to be honest and i thought there was no way he could win a world tittle but im eating my words this year. He was struggling all weekend and then he grabbed pole with a super lap, albeit slightly lighter than rubens. then in the race he didnt put a foot wrong again so all credit to him.

    i think rubens has to win in monaco or brawn are going to be looking at team orders. Rubens had the advantage this weekend and through some bad luck he has come away even further behind button.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 9:41

      Why were the brawns 3 stopping anyway??

      Like I said already, Rubens was 8 tenths a lap faster than Button during his second stint. 0.8s Times 30 makes 24s minus 19 seconds for a stop makes Rubens faster by 5 seconds.

      Rubens only needed to be 6 tenths a lap faster to break even, yet he was even 8 tenths faster.

      Obviously 3 stops was potentially faster.

      Also i would of thought that brawn wouldn’t risk the strategy of the guy who was in front. It was clear with massa holding up vettel and webber that the race win was between button & rubens yet they kept rubens on the 3 stop.

      Yes, so they kept Rubens on the strategy they thought was fastest. How does this not make sense?

      They gambled with Button since he wasn’t in the lead and he genuinly would have ended up losing time behind Rosberg.

      It really makes perfect sense.

      The most puzzling thing for me though was the length of the last stint, ross said that they went for 3 stops to avoid being on the hard tyre for a long time. which is a fair point they were much slower thsn the soft tyres, so why bring barrichello in with about 15 laps to go??

      Rubens DID have the shortest last stint of all drivers! Not by much perhaps, but still.

  10. Brawn shows no respect for Barrichello’s career. He did in Ferrari, he did it again in BGP. Just give all champions to Button! I’m a Barrichello’s fan, but now I have to cheer for Vettel, because only he have chance to beat Button. There is nothing Barrichello can do. So sad.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 9:44

      Or maybe, like Schumacher, Button is simply a bit better than Barrichello? Or is there some conspiracy theory explaining why Button beat him in the previous races too?

    • Scott Joslin said on 11th May 2009, 9:49

      R – You have to ask yourself why is this happening to Rubens all over again? Is it that he isn’t as good as people think, hence why the management of the teams he drives for see this and prioritize the other driver over him because they are faster and more consistent.

  11. Brahmin said on 11th May 2009, 9:49

    Poor Barrichello..always living in shadows, he is my favourite guy in F1..

  12. CJD said on 11th May 2009, 10:02

    This season is about tyres not KERS or DD2. The Brawn car showed in China that it lacks ultimate down-force but has been very easy on tyres elsewhere. JB has shown that he can get more out of his tyres than anyone else, which made him faster on the hard tyre in Spain. Come Monaco and Rubens can put in a banzai lap for pole with every hope of winning.
    Ross Brawn cannot have decided who is his better driver yet, Rubens who is known to him or Jenson who had no real track record. He would have been mad to opt for JB in Spain where the threat from other teams appeared real before the race. He told us that his hopes lay with Rubens in Spain, what more honest comment do you need?

  13. Paul F said on 11th May 2009, 10:05

    I haven’t read all the comments, but it seems to me as if Button’s strategy was the superior one, but this was in part due to the fact he drove faster when it mattered most.

    Rubens’ times on similar fuel loads with the same times simply weren’t fast enough – if they had have been I imagine there was a small chance he could have beaten Button, but this is probably unlikely.

    I also find it hard to conceive that Brawn accidentally discovered 2 stops were better than 3 by changing strategy during the race, with the reputed tactical genius of Ross Brawn…

    I think the rational way to look at it is this:
    -Reliability depending, Brawn were pretty much guaranteed a 1-2 here.
    -To date this season, Button has 3 wins, Barrichello has 0.
    -Over the past 2 seasons, the drivers in contention for the title have all had 4/5/6 wins over the course of the year.
    -Button is fast approaching this total of wins already, and, even at this early stage, it does seem unneccessary to have the two drivers taking wins away from each other as we (and the Brawn team) don’t know how long their dominance will last.
    -Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Toyota could all potentially surpass Brawn in terms of pace before the season-end.

    I know outwardly the team want their approach to be seen as “they’re racing each other”, but ultimately they’re here to ensure 2 things happen – they win the WDC and the WCC.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 10:55

      Rubens’ times on similar fuel loads with the same times simply weren’t fast enough – if they had have been I imagine there was a small chance he could have beaten Button, but this is probably unlikely.

      Did you miss the chart on top of this page? It shows that Rubens picks up a huge lead during his second stint. Another stint like that would rally have been more than enough to make a 3 stop strategy the faster one.

      I also find it hard to conceive that Brawn accidentally discovered 2 stops were better than 3 by changing strategy during the race, with the reputed tactical genius of Ross Brawn…

      They obviously did not discover this until the end of the race. Otherwise they never would have started both drivers on a 3 stop strategy. Besides how could they have known upfront that Rubens would have a “problem” during his third stint?

      Did you see how Rubens emerged just ahead of Rosberg after his first stop? Button was behind Rubens and thus Rubens would have been behind Rosberg. A strategy that is based on making time with a clear track ahead is then not going to work. So they put Button on what they thought was the inferior strategy because they had no other choice.

      If anything, Button’s strategy was compromised because he was behind the slower Barrichello after the start.

    • Clare msj said on 11th May 2009, 11:38

      If Button had maintained his pole position off the grid, and the roles had been reversed up until the first pit stop, I would have thought it would have been Rubens who was switched, due to the Rosberg factor. As you say Patrickl, Button’s three stop strategy would have been fine for him if he had had clear air, but he didnt, and Barrichello did.

      Barrichello’s strategy should have worked, he just didnt maximise it for one reason or another.

  14. In my opinion Brawn clearly favoured Button. OK, they’ve realised he’s the prime candidate for the title and they’ll be doing whatever it takes to secure him as many points as possible.

    Rubens was comfortably leading the race. He was heavier than Jenson in the beginning and just needed a pit-stop to finish the race. The team obviously changed their strategy. They called him much earlier twice! Really, what was the point of a three stopper for RB?

    A clear sign that Rubens was screwed bigtime, nevermind what the team’s chiefs suggest the opposite.

  15. Brawn said on 11th May 2009, 10:39

    BAR says he would quit straight away if there was any hint of favouritism- http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8043243.stm

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