Rubens Barrichello had a brilliant performance in the lead up to the Spanish Grand Prix and being more comfortable with his car than Jenson Button, was looking to score his first win for Brawn.
But how did it all go wrong in the race?
All the drivers and teams know the Barcelona circuit very well because they do a lot of testing here.
On past performance, Barrichello knows and likes the circuit much better than Brawn team mate Jenson Button. By his own admission Button is not really totally at ease here, as the circuit seems to favour Barrichello’s harder driving style rather than Button’s silky smooth style.
Button spent the build up constantly struggling to get a better set up, and was finding the perfect set up elusive. In the end he settled for a set up closer to the one Barrichello had worked out and put in a mega qualifying lap – starting it just 1.6 seconds before the end of the session.
He was the last to clock a time and ended up pushing Vettel off pole into 2nd on the grid, by 0.133 seconds with Barrichello in 3rd just 0.102 seconds behind.
With this grid it looked as if Button was going to roar off into the lead leaving Barrichello to ride shotgun and keep Vettel at bay.
As it turned out Barrichello had a brilliant start and muscled his way past Vettel and Button into the lead at the first corner. The tables were turned and now Button was behind.
After five laps behind the safety car following the mayhem at the second corner, the two Brawns raced away by nearly half a second per lap, leaving Vettel’s Red Bull stuck behind Massa’s rejuvenated Ferrari. Despite this they were on the radio asking Barrichello to push harder as they felt that they needed to put more distance between the Brawns and the rest of the field, particularly Nico Rosberg who was in seventh.
Button pitted first (a lap earlier than Barrichello) and Ross Brawn, concerned that Button would get stuck behind Nico Rosberg in his Williams, and so not be able to make the best use of their three stop strategy, switched Button onto a two stop race. He kept Barrichello on a three stopper and with the advantage of one extra super quick lap he made it out just 1.2 seconds ahead of Nico Rosberg.
Now, to be ahead of Button at the end of the race Barrichello had to do two things.
Firstly, during the next short twelve lap stint he had to sprint and make up most of the time that he was losing by having to make an extra pit stop, which costs about 22 seconds. He continued to put in stunning lap times, but Button was also in it to win it, and was also pushing hard despite having a heavy fuel load – enough for thirty laps! During these twelve laps while he was carrying 16 laps less fuel than Button, Barrichello really needed to be lapping 1.5 seconds quicker (to make up 18 seconds), but he was only doing about half a second and ended up gaining about 7.5 seconds of the 22 seconds he needed, to make up for the extra pit stop.
Secondly, during his third stint of 19 laps he needed to make up another 6 or 7 seconds while Button was on much older tyres, to put him ahead after his second stop. Unfortunately for Barrichello even though they were now on roughly the same fuel level, Button with his silky smooth driving had preserved his soft tyres and was actually lapping faster than Barrichello, who ended up losing about 4 seconds instead of gaining about 6.
So as Ross Brawn put it… “there was a period of the race where he (Barrichello) was a lot slower than expected”.
Were there team order in play here, or was it a strategy intended to give Barrichello his best chance to win the race?
Without switching Button to a two stopper he would probably have come out a few tenths of a second behind Nico Rosberg and spent a miserable seven laps stuck behind him losing a second a lap, as opposed to Barrichello who came out ahead of Nico Rosberg and spent the whole race with free air ahead of him.
It looks as if it was a strategy that gave both Brawn drivers the best chance they could have, and Button was lucky this time. What a start to the season – four firsts and a third!