It’s been nearly inevitable since the start of the season. When he went on that run of six wins in the first seven races, Jenson Button’s first world title seemed a near certainty. And try as he might to give the championship away, even his mediocrity couldn’t prevent him from picking up the biggest prize in all of motorsports. It wasn’t just a good day for Button but for all of Brawn GP which clinched the Constructors Championship after it nearly didn’t even race this season.
It was the biggest day in the history of BAR/Honda/Brawn GP yesterday at Interlagos. It was also the biggest day in the life of Jenson Button. All that made for what was likely to have been the biggest party they had since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2006. Rubens Barrichello’s 8th place finish was enough to clinch the Constructors Title for Brawn. However, Barrichello’s finish combined with Sebastian Vettel’s 4th place and Button’s 5th place gave the Brit his first World Drivers Title.
For Ross Brawn, this is more of the same. This one is his 8th Constructors Title. He has one from Benetton, six from Ferrari, and now his 8th (and first as a team owner) with Brawn GP. The BGP001 was easily the most dominant all season. It notched 8 wins, another 6 podiums and scored points all but three times in 32 starts (twice Barrichello missed the Top 8 and Button once when he was caught up in a wreck in Belgium). Despite the double-diffuser controversy at the start of the season, this has been an absolute banner year for Brawn GP. It’s probably the most dominant season for any one manufacturer since Ross’ heyday at Ferrari when they would dominate the season and leave the final result largely inevitable.
The sailing wasn’t quite as smooth for Jenson Button. The new World Champion has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks. Formula One fans and press have been debating Button’s qualifications to be champion. He has essentially backed into the title. Maybe we were spoiled by him winning six of the first seven races. He did score points in 15 of the 16 Grand Prix run this season.
But is consistency enough to earn you a championship when your average finish after the seventh race is 7th? Sure he was the best driver if you base your analysis on the whole season but that’s only because of how front-loaded Jenson’s success was. After his car wasn’t the best one on the grid, he struggled home in classic Button style. He’s never been capable of making a car better with his driving or by helping to develop it. The speed it rolls out of the garage on Friday morning is the speed he’ll run it at on Sunday.
However, that’s not to say either of the last two other men standing were any more deserving of the title. Sebastian Vettel had a feast or famine year. Either he racked up the points or he found himself watching the finish either through his own mistake (like the crash in Australia) or an engine failure. Rubens Barrichello, F1’s elder statesman, was often in the points. If it wasn’t for Brawn GP’s obvious favouritism of Button over Barrichello, Rubens would have been in with a shot at the title.
So while Brawn GP is a deserving Constructors champion, I’m not convinced that Button was the right man for his title. If things had been fair and square, Barrichello could easily have taken home the title. If he hadn’t been so young or had such a bad engine, maybe Vettel could have had a fighting chance, too.
By the way, there was a race yesterday. Barrichello started on pole but was denied the win because of strategy, of course. It worked out so that he came out from his first stop in traffic so both Mark Webber and Robert Kubica were able to get ahead. Then a bad set of tires in the second stint and a flat in the third ended his chances for the win and the title. Sebastian Vettel needed to finish first or second to stay in the hunt but starting 15th ended his chances. Button started 14th and watched as people crashed and ran off ahead of him. He made a couple of passes along the way but just cruised his way to 5th place and the title.
Up front, Webber got ahead after the first stint and stayed there. Robert Kubica finished second in the first time that BMW-Sauber has looked remotely competitive since the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton finished third after his team switched strategies in response to an early safety car period. In a slight bit of irony, Hamilton clinched the title at Interlagos with a 5th place finish last season. Yesterday, Button clinched the title by finishing 5th.
That was sure an interesting start to the race. Raikkonen looked like he banged into Adrian Sutil in the first corner. Then down the back straight heading to Turn 4, class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=””>Raikkonen was blocked by and ran into the back of Mark Webber’s Red Bull. That held up Sutil behind him through Turn 4. Jarno Trulli tried to pass Sutil on the outside but ran into the grass. Trulli’s Toyota lost control, spun back across the track and into Sutil before hitting the wall and ending his race. Sutil was knocked into the grass, slid along the still wet ground until he collected Fernando Alonso near the exit of Turn 5.
After the incident, Trulli was livid with Sutil. Trulli told the media that he thought Sutil ran him onto the grass but replays showed that Sutil gave the Toyota acres of room. Trulli also said Alonso said that he saw the whole thing and thought it was Sutil’s fault. No one witnessed this conversation and Alonso hasn’t said anything to that effect to anyone. I think it’s Trulli’s pent up frustrations over being on the outs at Toyota and his general lack of pace in the race. I’d like to think that it’s one of those racing incidents that caused the wreck more than it being either driver’s fault. Still, you would like to think that a driver as experienced as Trulli would know better than to make a near kamikaze move on the first lap.
The safety car was brought out as a result of the incident. At the end of the first lap, Raikkonen pitted for a new front wing. Heikki Kovalainen also pitted after spinning in Turn 3. Raikkonen was released from his pit stall and McLaren did the same for Kovalainen to keep their man in front. However, the fuel hose was still in the McLaren and the Finn took off with the hose still onboard at fuel pouring out the back. The fuel splashed onto Raikkonen’s Ferrari which ignited in a short, but scary, flash fire. The stewards were supposed to investigate Kovalainen and McLaren regarding the obviously unsafe release from the pit stall but nothing came of it during the race.
That last incident goes back to my rant from a few weeks ago that the officiating is horrible in F1. In NASCAR, they can keep track of 43 cars on track and hand out penalties almost instantly. Somehow, F1 officials can’t handle 20 cars or less. If someone breaks the rules, penalize them. Don’t take a half-hour to investigate something blindingly obvious. If I guy is dragging a fuel hose out the back of his car, then I’m pretty sure it was an unsafe release from the pit lane. Or they could change the wording of the rule so a driver cannot take pit equipment from the pit stall. Makes too much sense, doesn’t it?
Qualifying sure was an adventure. A typical F1 qualifying session has about 45 minutes of running time with breaks to get it done in about an hour. Sunday’s qualifying session took about two and three-quarters hours to complete. Q1 had a long delay because of a red flag after Giancarlo Fisichella’s Ferrari blocked the track in the Senna S and while race control waited for conditions improved before lifting the red flag. There was another delay before Q2 while waiting for the rain to let up but they started anyway. That decision bit the FIA and Force India in the arse. On his first flying lap attempt Vitantonio Liuzzi spun at Turn 1 and took off three corners of his car. The red flag was over an hour long while officials waited for the weather to clear up.
Q3 was fun. All the cars were on intermediate tires and no one bothered to change tires during the session. So we had ten cars running around and trading fast laps. Provisional pole traded hands so many times that you weren’t really sure who would be on pole until all the cars crossed the line. Hell, Adrian Sutil was the last man to complete his final lap and even he was in with a shot at pole. Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Jarno Trulli, and even Sebastien Buemi had the fastest lap for a time in Q3. In the end, it was hometown boy Rubens Barrichello who won the pole… Not that it helped him in the end.
A quick silly season update amid all the news from this race weekend. Robert Kubica has signed with Renault to be the de facto replacement for Fernando Alonso. Williams is likely to have Rubens Barrichello running for them next year alongside Nico Hulkenburg. Barrichello’s replacement is expected to be Nico Rosberg. And USF1 apparently has activities ongoing at its factory. Speed Channel will be filming a feature there to show progress on next year’s car. The German press said that there were only computers at the USF1 factory in Charlotte, NC but we might find out otherwise.
Toyota rookie Kamui Kobayashi sure opened some eyes with his race today. He may not have finished in the points but he looked good for most of the race. He was pressured by Button for countless laps but never made a mistake. Button managed to get by at one point but Kobayashi watched as the World Champion-to-be outbroke himself and took the position back. Despite spending the better part of the race in contention for points, he finished 10th. Still, he took a big step to getting a full-time ride with Toyota in 2010 which just might help push the Toyota Board of Directors into keeping the team around for another season.
You can’t keep a cheating man down. Flavio Briatore is taken his fight for reinstatement from the press to the courts. He will officially challenge the FIA’s lifetime levied against him and will also seek €1 million in damages. His lawyers are going to base their challenge on European Union law and the principles of the European Human Rights Court. Flavio also says he will throw a big party when he wins. His buddy Bernie Ecclestone says that Flavs should have gone to the FIA Court of Appeals because all the FIA will have to do in a civil court is say that Nelson Piquet could have died as a result of the crash and he’ll lose.
I hope common sense prevails and Flavio is allowed to at least manage drivers so he can earn a living. The FIA is denying the man the ability to earn a living with its ban. And when common sense prevails, I hope Flavio invites me to his party. I had your back all along, Flav.
Two more weeks until the final round of the season. It will be the first F1 race at Abu Dhabi. The Yas Marina Circuit plays host to the race. It’s about 5.5 km long, has 21 turns and will run along a marina of the man-made island. It will also run underneath a hotel built inside the boundary of the circuit which means that folks will have a tough time getting sleep before the early flight out the next day. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s going to be a twilight race. It will start at sunset and end at night for the first time in F1 history. It will be interesting to see how the teams adapt to an issue that is standard in NASCAR which runs a couple of races that start in the day time and end at night.
If I had to pick a favourite for this race, I would have to go with Red Bull. They’ve been strong on the other Hermann Tilke circuits so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be strong in Abu Dhabi.