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. Bigbdderboom said on 11th May 2009, 10:45

    Anyone who knows me knows I love a good conspiracy, however on this occasion the facts hold up. Rubens pace was poor and he simply was not quick enough over his second stint, even in an interview Rubens sid he felt like something was broken on the car, and he couldn’t match jensons pace.
    It makes no difference to the constructors champ which order they finish in, and its far too early to be racing with team orders.
    Luck or talent won Jenson the race, but it certainly was not contrived.

  2. fatty boy said on 11th May 2009, 11:01

    i think ross brawn wants button to win it is a shame that barrichello did not win the race it will have been good for him and button was happy about it i dont want him to win the championship

  3. Ronman said on 11th May 2009, 11:36

    Someone please clarify this. even if Jenson was stuck behind Rosberg, he would still have maintained his second position. No? so there was no need to switch him to plan A. now i hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but this thing does stink of some sort of uneven play between the teammates. It was Barrichello’s race to win, and if it wasn’t for his team strategy change he should have won.

    and to be fair, although team orders are not my preference, Barrichelo should have won among the brawns just because he got to turn 1 first, letting his teammate overtake him in the pit stops is not cool. however if it was a ballsy maneuver on the track then i wouldn’t be typing this post, it would have been deserved by Button.

    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 12:34

      if Jenson was stuck behind Rosberg, he would still have maintained his second position. No?

      No, he would have lost that position.

      Rosberg was losing a heap of time to the front runners. Potentially Button could have been stuck behind Rosberg for 6 laps. Rosberg lost 6 to 8 seconds to Button over a 6 lap period. While to make the 3-stop strategy work Button would have was supposed to be gaining 4 seconds during those 6 laps.

      So overall, pushing through with the original strategy would have cost Button 10 to 12 seconds. Button only had a 6 second lead over Massa (and Vettel). Had Vettel gotten past Massa, Button would have been in even more trouble.

      There is no way that Button would make up for losing 10 to 12 seconds. He would have lost second and maybe even third spot by going for a 3 stopper while stuck in traffic.

      Rubens on the other hand had a clear track ahead of him so he could make the faster 3 stop strategy work. He was in the led already so there was no reason to gamble with his strategy anyway.

      Honestly when you think things through it really all makes perfect sense. It was brilliant strategy from Brawn.

    • Kegs said on 11th May 2009, 12:46

      If Button was caught up behind Rosberg on his middle stint of a 3 stopper, given what they thought the ferrari and Vettel were running, would They have been risking button dropping down to 3rd or lower?

      A 3 stopper in Spain requires clear air to bang in the laps to make up for the pit stops.

      Remember, one of the radio transmissions that was broadcast was Brawn being very surprised that Massa and Vettel was coming in for their last stop so early, they were obviously expecting them to be running quite a bit longer, which would have threatened splitting the 2 Brawns.

      I reckon Rubens was just unlucky with the tyres on his last stint on the softs, but it would have been tight anyway, Button was incredibly fast on the hard tyres.

      Changing Button to a 2 stop was a change to ensure that they got the 1-2, given when they thought (wrongly) Vettel and Massa were going to be pitting.

    • @ Kegs – Spot On!!

      And don’t forget the other transmission we heard where Jenson was pushing for Rubens to go faster (basically saying that he was being held up behind him). I believe that Brawn really did think that a 3 stopper was the way to go, BUT it required both cars to be lapping faster in the first stint than Rubens was managing which meant that Jenson’s race was being compromised – hence the switch to a 2 stopper for JB.

    • Bas said on 11th May 2009, 16:09

      Exactly, they took a gamble with Button (as did Webber btw) and it paid off – more than padi off, in fact, because Barrichello slowed down.

  4. PJA said on 11th May 2009, 12:36

    I don’t see any conspiracy here, what Brawn said seems to stand up.

    Brawn obviously thought that a three stop strategy was the quickest option as both cars started out on this, however it relied on the cars not been held up at all during the race. If they had not changed Button’s strategy he would have come out behind Rosberg after his first stop. On a two stopper this would not have mattered much but on a three stopper this would have stopped him putting in the quick laps when he needed to.

    Barrichello didn’t win because he wasn’t able to put in the required lap times throughout the race for whatever reason.

    Brawn weren’t guaranteed a 1-2. if Vettel had not been held up by Massa he would have challenged for the win, it was juts unfortunate for Vettel that they both pitted on the same laps.

    I read that BBC article and I thought the title was misleading, while the headline makes it seem Barrichello is ready to quit Brawn right now, the impression I got from reading it, is that he was asked what he would do if Button was favoured by Brawn, and he said he would quit but that he doesn’t think that is the case.

  5. Liamdc2 said on 11th May 2009, 12:51

    I’m sorry, I may have missed something here, but I haven’t seen many people bring up the suggestion that for Brawn a 1-2 in the team is much more preferable to a 1-3. If I was given the decision of Rubens 1 & Jenson 3 and the few constructors points lost, or to make a decision that although put Rubens 2nd after Jenson, then I’d take it.

    I don’t think it comes down to a better driver, the team also has to make tactical decisions based on constructors points, which seemed more likely if they adopted the strategy they did. Barrichello is a great driver, as is Button, they both proved their worth, but against a talented driver like Rosberg, especially at the Barca track you can’t assume that Jensen would have overtaken him.

  6. Eduardo said on 11th May 2009, 14:38

    There is a lot to this story we don’t know, especially the relationship between Ross Brawn and Barrichello. Clearley the former holds the latter in high regard, probably due to his years playing second fiddle to Schumacher and sacrificing races because of his strategy, and was brave to give Barrichello a seat this year, considering the team’s lack of cash and Barrichello being on the verge of retirement and with no sponsorship. Brawn clearley feel indebt to Barrichello, and probably said something along the lines of “what happened at Ferrari won’t repeat again”. This is what makes the comments that Barrichello has been saying to the brazilian press so fiery. It’s somewhat logical that Button should be getting better treatment; he’s the leader with a 14 point advantage and four wins in five races, and a podium appearance in all. He is the better driver this year. If this Ferrari, they would have just told Barrichello to shut up and sit down.

    There’s a lot we don’t know.

  7. 1994fanatic said on 11th May 2009, 15:22

    Hell yeah Brawn wanted Button to win. It’s a real shame I don’t know if F1 will be shown in my house anymore because of all the politics. It’s ********!

  8. Bas said on 11th May 2009, 15:48

    Well, if the team really sabotaged Barrichello’s drive, they didn’t do it by messing up his strategy, but rather his tyres. The drop in pace following his second pitstop is remarkable, and there seems to be no other explanation than that his tires didn’t work (as he suggested himself) or that a problem developed with the car (as suggested by the fact that his lap times never recovered after his third stop). Indeed, if Barrichello had driven the exact same laptimes he drove in his second stint in his third stint, he would have ended up comfortably in front of button after his third stop. They even told Button so over the radio: [quote from FIA post-race press conference] <> If true, this indicates that Button’s engineers at that point did believe Rubens was having theadvantage.

    The main reason for Barrichello not to copy Button’s strategy is that this would ave left him immediately behind Rosberg on track, which would have left him held up in dirty air, losing time and wasting his tyres, all of which actually would have played into Button’s hand.
    Also note that Button’s laptimes in his second stint, especially during the first part, were amazing, considering the large fuel penalty of Circuit de Catalunya, and he still managed to keep his tyres together for some consistently fast laps in the second half of his stint.
    The only doubtful aspect of the three-stop strategy is the problems which Rubens encountered with traffic, which he admitted was the reason for pitting a couple of laps earlier in his third stint. But here, we must keep in mind that we had this many cars being lapped, and particularly, beng lapped this early on in the race. Possibly, Brawn had assumed that a 3-stop strategy wouldn’t run into backmarkers until later on.
    On the other hand, it kept Ruben’s car well clear of all the slow, midfield stayers, which have been a more important factor in spoiling others’ race strategies so far this season (Alonso, Piquet, Hamilton, Heidfeld).
    Also, later on in a race, the field tends to spread out and due to this and the effect of marbles discouraging overtaking manoeuvres, we statistically see many less incidents prompting the entry of the safety car later in the race that earlier on. Therefore, there is little reason in preferring lesser stops halfway down the road, unless the SC appears, the weather interferes, or the on-track situation becomes unfavourable – as in Button’s case.

    All in all, I do believe that either tyres or a minor technical problem were to blame, along with a misjudgment by the team of the backmarkers’ racepace and an absolutely superb drive by Button in his middle stint. If it wasn’t for these factors, the only threat for Rubens would’ve been Jenson’s slightly superior pace on the harder tyre, probably insufficient to close the gap that would’ve opened and overtake him in the dozen or so laps that would’ve remained.

    But is there really a motive for Brawn intending so? Yes, but not a strong one. This ‘poor strategy’ ran the risk of letting Mark webber get by towards the end, which would’ve meant surrendering constructors points to RedBull. I think that would be enough of a reason to drop it from consideration for Ross Brawn.
    Also, back then Ross did it because Schumacher’s and Barrichello’s contracts put the former in a position to demand any favour possible from the team, and from the latter, so back then it was not necessarily Brawn’s decision to do that, more likely that of Michael and/or Jean Todt. Currently, it seems that neither Button nor Barrichello has any clauses of that nature, that they are cooperating on telemetry, and that Brawn doesn’t seem to favour either driver. Keeping in mind that barrichello still is title contender nubmer 2, a valuable and quick Button, and knowledgeable on car development (an priceless skill in teh test-ban age), I believe Brawn would want to risk alienating him.

    So, did Brawn deliberately give Barrichello a poor strategy to let Button win? As far as I can see, no.

    • Bas said on 11th May 2009, 16:03

      Sorry, forgot to mention that Rubens’ pace problem will have exacerbated his problem with bacmarkers, since, if you are slower, you end up driving in theri dirty air for a longer period of time (a few turns more each time adds up to quite a bit) before you get flagged past by the marshalls.

  9. Aquatic Mammal said on 11th May 2009, 16:01

    Isn’t it the case that after his first stop, Rubens came out only just ahead of Nico, then scampered off? If Brawn had put more fuel in to Rubens to move him onto a two stop strategy, he would have come out behind the Williams and been compromised.

    If Rubens had been able to get his thrid set of boots warmed up, he would have beaten Jenson who was stuck behind Nico for a time.

    I believe Ross Brawn. Rubens is just hacked off because without his set up data, Jenson would have been a as slow as a milepost.


    • Patrickl said on 11th May 2009, 18:17

      Well, Button was behind Rosberg too, but if you go long you don’t need to go very fast. The problem would have been when Rubens would have been behind Rosberg while needing to drive fast laps.

      Probably they gave Rubens a short stint exactly for the same reason (ie less fuel so he would come right in front of Rosberg)

  10. pSynrg said on 11th May 2009, 19:09

    I guess ultimately this means the honeymoon is over!

  11. CJD said on 11th May 2009, 19:20

    Hope I havent sent this twice. ugh. Apologies if so. Its all about tyres this year, KERS and DD are red herrings. Spain was to be the big challenge for Brawn when everyone else caught up. What would you do? As he told us, Ross put his trust in the experienced Rubens this time rather than the relatively unknown to him JB but JB can get more out of his tyres. Watch this space. though, this time it was no more Mr Stylish, JB can push

  12. Obster said on 11th May 2009, 20:06

    They better let Rubens win in Brazil!

  13. Oliver said on 11th May 2009, 21:54

    Why wasn’t Barichello told that Button’s strategy was being changed. Since he was effectively fighting Button, he had to know that as he could have decided to lenghten one of his stints. But leaving him blind during the moment Button’s strategy was changed all but ruined his options.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th May 2009, 21:56

    A little bit more on this in the post-race analysis:

    even if [Barricehllo] had been on the pace in his third stint, when he struggled with his tyres, he would likely have got stuck behind Massa and Vettel. This makes the decision to keep him on a three-stopper harder to understand.

    Charts here: Webber’s fine drive and Rosberg’s troubles (Spanish Grand Prix analysis)

    • Bas said on 12th May 2009, 1:15

      The way the race unfolded, yes, that would have happened, but obviously the race didn´t unfold the way Brawn expected (Rubens ahead of Jenson at the start, Jenson ending up behind Rosberg after his first stop). RedBull made the same gamble with Webber as Brawn with Vettel, and actually put in pretty much the same lap times over that looong middle stint. (on the side: why arent all these bloggers screaming hell of RedBull ´obviously favouring´ Webber, especially as they screwed up way bigger with Vettel – being simply outwitted on tactics by Ferrari – than many suggest Brawn did with Barrichello?) This shows that Vettel would have been capable of the same with a clear track, which he would have had if it wasn´t for Ferrari calling Massa in early – at the same time as Vettel, that is – in order to defend track position.
      That means Barrichello actually wouldnt have been held up by Vettel, because he would have been further ahead racing him for the victory (as Brawn expected comparable laptimes from the RB Barrichello wouldnt have caught him even if Vettel had made a longer second stint, which Brawn obviously were surprised they didnt, reference to which is made elsewhere here).
      It also means that Barrichello wouldnt have been held up by Massa, because, if Massa had stayed out longer for his first stint, he would have optimised his laptimes better (whilst sacrificing track position to Vettel) – just give him 3 more laps in his lapchart which are on pace with his best first stint laps, and subtract .1 of a second from his remainging second stint laps because his tyres wouldve been less worn over the slightly shorter distance on the slightly lower fuel weight, and because he wouldnt have to drive defensive lines… we didnt get to see much of the two of them but surely Massa has been looking in his rear view mirrors more than once. That would have put him some 3-4 seconds further ahead, for some 9 in total, of Barrichello.
      Barrichello, of course, was hoping to be gain 12 seconds on the duo during the course of his 3rd stint – with them lapping at roughly the same pace as button throughout their shorter middle stint – but he would still not have caught them as they were to pit only halfway the duration of his projected 3rd stint, which was cut short by 3 or 4 laps due to traffic. Even if massa had pitted 4 laps later, barrichello would have had him just under 2 seconds ahead of him by the time the ferrari would have pitted (in this hypothetical scenario Vettel would necessarily have gotten past the ferrari by virtue of pitting earlier for his first stop). Just do the maths, like Matt did, i gave my interpretation of what the numbers (laptimes of Barrichello) should be in response to his post.

      I know the list of factos that are changed from reality is enormous, and at this level the discussion is all becoming extremely hypothetical, but that is why F1 teams hire crews of specialist engineers and game-theorists to work highly complex computer models for predicting the race unfolding and making strategic and tactical decisions. If you want to challenge the quality of a strategy (Barrichello´s) on paper (not the way it worked out in practice), you have to come up with arguments that provide for the same number of variables as these professionals do.

  15. Gman said on 11th May 2009, 22:03

    I believe without a doubt that Button had priority, and once the team realized that Rubens had him beaten, they changed things up. It’s how Ross Brawn worked with the team at Ferrari, and old habits never die easily….

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