How Button, Vettel and Hamilton got to the front (Brazilian Grand Prix analysis)

Hamilton started 17th and finished on the podium

Hamilton started 17th and finished on the podium

Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton may have been disappointed with their qualifying performances but they made up for it with impressive drives to the front in the race.

Take a look at how they did it and get more insight into how the race unfolded with the Brazilian Grand Prix analysis.

Lap 1

Brazilian Grand Prix position change on lap one

Brazilian Grand Prix position change on lap one

The first-lap destruction derby ruined the races of four drivers who’d made it to Q3 including the likes of Jarno Trulli. The Toyota driver had a decent slug of fuel on board and would have been a contender for the podium.

KERS got Kimi Raikkonen up to third but his collision with Mark Webber put paid to his hopes of a big points haul – and left Ferrari vulnerable to McLaren in the battle for third in the constructors’ championship.

At the restart Robert Kubica got a run on Nico Rosberg and passed him. This was an important move – if Kubica had stayed stuck behind the Williams he wouldn’t have been able to get in front of Barrichello at the first round of pit stops.

From back to front

Lewis Hamilton vs Jenson Button vs Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton vs Jenson Button vs Sebastian Vettel

Hamilton, Vettel and Button finished third, fourth and fifth after starting 14th, 15th and 17th respectively. They carved their way to the front using a mixture of strategy, luck and good old-fashioned overtaking.

All three of them were helped by the lap one melee which moved several cars out of their way. McLaren made the most of the safety car hiatus by bringing Hamilton in for an early pit stop. That allowed them to discard the super-soft tyres Hamilton had started on, allowing him to spend most of the race on the more favourable medium specification tyres. Plus, he was fuelled longer and could pit later.

Button and Vettel made headway with some early passes, though the cameras missed a couple of Vettel’s. It took Button 16 laps to break down Kamui Kobayashi’s defence. Once he did it was too late to get far enough ahead of Vettel to keep the Red Bull driver behind. Button’s efforts were not helped by Webber appearing in front of him after the eventual winner made his first pit stop.

Vettel made his first pit stop after the halfway mark but the team wisely elected not to fuel him to the end as he surely wouldn’t have made it on the super soft tyres. That meant he could do nothing to keep Hamilton behind, but in the last 14 laps Vettel cut Hamilton’s advantage from 7.5s to 0.7s at the chequered flag. Whether he would have been able to do anything about the KERS-equipped McLaren had the race gone on any longer is another matter.

Button, meanwhile, had no incentive to go chasing after Vettel and backed off in his final stint on his way to the championship.

Race charts

Brazil race chart (click to enlarge)

Brazil race chart (click to enlarge)

Brazil race chart - average times (click to enlarge)

Brazil race chart - average times (click to enlarge)

Before the race we identified Barrichello’s early first pit stop as a potential problem and so it turned out to be, as the lap chart makes clear. He was 2.7s ahead of Webber and 4.1s ahead of Kubica before his first pit stop. After all three had pitted Barrichello was 7.6s behind Webber (a 10.3s swing in seven laps) and 1.2s behind Kubica.

Why did Raikkonen not make the kind of progress Hamilton did given that he also had KERS and a bonus first pit stop? He got stuck behind Romain Grosjean in his first stint and lost touch with the middle bunch of cars. But give him credit – he did get a fireball thrown in his face…

Brazil lap chart (click to enlarge)

Brazil lap chart (click to enlarge)

NB. The above charts do not reflect Heikki Kovalainen’s 25-second penalty.

2009 Brazilian Grand Prix

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50 comments on How Button, Vettel and Hamilton got to the front (Brazilian Grand Prix analysis)

  1. hamz0rs said on 19th October 2009, 22:33

    Splendid analysis.

  2. sato113 said on 19th October 2009, 22:34

    Keith perhaps you forgot Raikkonen? although he started high up, he soon was forced back down to around last place, yet still managed to make 6th place…

    • sato113 said on 20th October 2009, 0:39

      of course you mentioed him, but he did just as good a job. ;)

    • Jonathan said on 20th October 2009, 8:46

      He did a good job… but not as good a job as Hamilton, Vettel and Button.

      I think it’s quite striking that Kimi could not pass Grosjean, when it seems like five or six other drivers managed this modest feat.

      Was this another of Raikkonen’s “off” days?

  3. Terry Fabulous said on 20th October 2009, 0:43

    I like your comment about Raikkonen. That must have been a truly horrifying moment when the fire lit up all around him.

      • Shocking when he caught fire, but when he then slowed down, was I the only one who thought it was mildly amusing how once the fire was out he went on his way, I was imagining him thinking “ohh fire?…. errr…. wait… no…. fire gone…. lets race who cares about that bit of fire?”

        • “…lets race who cares about that bit of fire?”

          This is what Raikkonen said about that:

          “At the pitstop, I ended up with some drops of petrol in my eye, from the fuel line stuck on Kovalainen’s car and then I was engulfed in flames and blinded: I was going to stop, but luckily the flames soon went out.

          “Even now, my eyes are still burning, but I’m alright.

          Drops of petrol in his eye… not good at all, and very lucky indeed.

          • Lou Reed said on 20th October 2009, 6:51

            The man could have been blinded, but he raced on anyway. He truly is the “Ice Man” and deserves every bit of his $50M salary.

          • Jonathan said on 20th October 2009, 8:56

            He’s like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

            “Erm, Kimi, your face is on fire.”
            “No, it’s barely singed… a little fireball in the face cannot stop the the Ice Man!”

          • iceman > fire

  4. Macademianut said on 20th October 2009, 2:23

    All in all, you could see Button finally pushing harder during the first two stints and a very sensible third stint! It was nice to see him drive that way. Congratulations to him on finishing 5th (exactly where HAM finished last year to win the championship) and taking the WDC.

    It’s absolutely fabulous to see how strategy could get great positions (given this race and the one at Monza). Nice work by the three teams here!

  5. MikeW said on 20th October 2009, 2:46

    Ironic to see that Heikki held Button up for 3 critical laps – so Vettel managed to come out in front.

    And who helped make sure Heikki was there at the right moment…

    The Brawn pit crew!

    … who gave him a helping hand to get out of the pit lane after the fire, by removing the refulling rig…

  6. Prisoner Monkeys said on 20th October 2009, 4:13

    Five passes by Button … he made more in a single race than most of the field have made all year.

    • Antifia said on 20th October 2009, 8:36

      Grosjean in a Renault, Nakagima in a Williams, Kobayashi in a Toyota and Buemi in a Toro Rosso. It is a who-is-who of the backmarker’s club.

    • DanielPT said on 20th October 2009, 8:37

      Certainly more than Vettel…

    • MikeW said on 21st October 2009, 21:50

      Wasn’t it 6 overtakes?

      Button got past Alguersuari too. He was behind him into the first few corners, with Grosjean also boxing him in. But he was past by the time of the safety car.

      I suspect the overtake happened just as the TV cameras were focussing on Trulli & Sutil’s handbags…

  7. Still finding it very difficult to understand how Barichello ost the race so badly after a pole position and a good start. !!!!!

    Vettle did a very nice drive too. Had he taken kaz nakajima early on i guess he would have got a shot at the podium.

    I sincerely believe Mercedes – Haug should get Vettel to Brawn Mercedes.. Ross Brawn can work wonders with him.

    • sato113 said on 20th October 2009, 11:14

      because it wasn’t that good a start. he never really pulled out a good enough lead over webber.

      • The safety car didn’t help and then he came out in traffic after his first pit stop. It all went down hill after that.

  8. sav001 said on 20th October 2009, 7:11

    i think overall a good race and a good season and i think the grid will be the poorer if Kimi isn’t on it next season.
    Kimi has shown a lot of class with all the talk about alonso taking his seat added to the fact that heikki tried to barbecue him.
    congrats to jenson and jeers to the idiot that threw something at lewis , tainted a good weekend.

  9. Antifia said on 20th October 2009, 9:04

    Button has won it. He has scored more points than anybody else and he did it without any reproachable move (from the point of view of fair-play) – this is more than what one can say about many a F1 champion. But why trying to make his performance sound better than it was? Once again he failed to get to Q3 (spin it as you want, but in truth it is a pittyful performance when you consider that it is the 4th (?) time in a row and that his teamate got pole). In the race, he got quite some positions but others, as the text above points out, did it better – which shows that after the first lap incidents and having a field of kids in the midfield, it was not such an ask to move to the front. Both LH and Vettel started behind Button and finished ahead of him. He overtook some rookies (or semi-rookies), driving some 2nd rate cars…what is so special about it? If anything, praise Interlagos, an old school track that allows for loads of passing – people overtook each other left and right.

  10. schumi the greatest said on 20th October 2009, 11:37

    does anyone think that brawn will be able to challenge for the championship again next season? Bearing in mind that they have dropped back through the field throughout the season and none of their upgrades have really helped their performance too much?? How will they fair next year without the performance advantage from the 1st race?? Be intresting to see!

    • mp4-19b said on 20th October 2009, 12:35

      Nope! Brawn will never win a title for the next 10 years :P Hamilton & Slowalainen are going to bang down everyone else :D

      • We stil have Abu Dhabi to come with most people still having something to prove, even JB.
        As for Brawn etc winning the championship, think what a dreary winter it would be without speculation as it was in the Michael/Ferrari years

    • No. If Jenson stays at BGP, which he will, then I think he’ll be picking up 6th or 7th spot on a regular basis.

  11. schumi the greatest said on 20th October 2009, 12:59

    Wat i really wanna see is mclaren and ferrari in a close battle.

    Alonso v Hamilton for the championship

    i dont thtink massa is gonna be quite as good after his injuury and if kovaleinen stays at mclaren we know he wont be giving lewis a hard time!

    Thats what makes an exciting championship the best 2 drivers in the best 2 teams head to head for the tittle like senna v prost, schumacher v hakkinen/alonso

    • Dennis said on 22nd October 2009, 13:05

      Yeah me too! But I’d like to see Vettel there as well and if they get a Mercedes motor in that Red Bull they will have a good shot at the title. Vettel is an awesome driver and he’s proven he can overtake cars in this race. I’m not sure if he’s quite as good as Hamilton and Alonso though. I think of the three Alonso is the most consistent. Perhaps Kimi can surprise us in a toyota? (I don’t think so..)

  12. Brilliant analysis Keith, anyone who watched the race could easily sum it up: Those guys drove their hearts out,
    including Kimi. Regardless of who is in front of you, the driver’s job is to pass them, and I certainly saw my fill of that on Sunday.

  13. maiesky said on 20th October 2009, 16:51

    Hamilton, Vettel and Button finished third, fourth and fifth after starting 14th, 15th and 17th respectively.

    It was Button, Vettel and Hamilton on 14th, 15th and 17th respectively.

  14. Just wondering nobody has said or written anything about the hold up by rubens on L. Hamilton. Without that Hamilton would have passed the BMW of Kubica. Just my 2cts. :-)

    • I am not sure it was as much a hold up as it was the two drivers battling it out matching pace for pace. If anything, Hamilton was unable to pass, not that Rubens held him up.

    • Agrafa said on 21st October 2009, 17:32

      Nonsense!

      Had Kubica didn’t get stuck behind four cars after his first pit stop he would have passed Webber.

      If ifs and buts were candy and nuts…

  15. I agree the mystery of the race is how Barrichello disappaeared after the first stop. Webber and Kubica just drove away. He even inquired about possible mechanical issues on the radio.

    This radio dialogue in fact was strange, because even though Hamilton was climbing all over him, the team said don’t worry the pace is normal, fuel-corrected. It was not normal—he was being buried by Kubica and was already in Hamilton’s grasp on the overlap. It was really odd, and Rubinho even complained of vibration, before the final attack by Hamilton.

    And it is worth wondering how much Barrichello held up Hamilton. Barrichello had faster laps, but his were set on dry tanks in stint 1, after which he was like molasses.

    • Patrickl said on 21st October 2009, 8:40

      They didn’t say his pace was normal. They said he should be doing 1:15.2 laptimes while he was actually going half a second a lap slower. That’s 35 seconds on full race distance!

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