Rubens Barrichello had an unbelievable afternoon in Melbourne on Sunday, which deserves a closer look. He started and finished second, but in between it was far from plain sailing, with two collisions, both of which caused bodywork damage. It is one of those, ‘How did he get there?’ races, so I thought I’d go through the race history and try to explain it.
At the start he bogged down when the anti-stall mechanism kicked in as he left the line. He was swallowed up by the cars behind him, and entered the first corner in amongst the cars from row 5 of the grid.
In the melee at turn one, with Webber, Fisichella and Heidfeld involved, his car was hit hard from behind, which broke a chunk of the diffuser off. He also tagged his front wing, losing one of the endplates. So some pretty important parts for creating downforce were missing from the outset.
At the end of the first lap he was in 7th place, behind Nico Rosberg. The pair were lapping relatively quickly at first, until they came up behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen on lap 5 and from there the pace dropped off by three seconds as Raikkonen struggled with the sudden deterioration of his soft tyres. Raikkonen pitted on lap 10. By lap 14 Rubens was back to 4th place, but still lapping two seconds slower than his team mate in the lead car. Rosberg was driving away from him. Rosberg pitted on lap 16 and Rubens came in two laps later. At this point he was 45 seconds behind his team mate.
It was a long stop as they replaced the front wing and in the 14 seconds he dropped there, he was passed by Buemi, Trulli, Massa and Raikkonen, all of whom had made their first stop and Piquet who was one stopping.
So he had sacrificed a lot of track position, he was now 10th, but at least he had a functioning front wing. Up to this point his best lap was 1m 29.6, whereas Button with an intact car and no traffic had done a best of 1m 28.0 and could have gone faster still.
At this point the safety car came out after Nakajima shunted the Williams. This gave Rubens back 40 seconds of the deficit to his team mate.
At the restart he passed Buemi and Rosberg, while Piquet flew off the road, so he was up to 7th and lapping at around a second per lap slower than Button. Trulli was three seconds ahead and gently pulling away. Massa and Trulli then pitted, which brought Rubens back up to fifth place. That became third on lap 40 after Kubica and Raikkonen pitted. At this stage he was back to 23 seconds adrift of his team mate.
Brawn had quickly realised from watching Ferrari that the soft tyre was a disaster and so at the first stops they had fuelled both the cars for a long middle stint, 33 laps in Rubens’ case, which would mean he would only have to do seven laps on the soft tyres at the end.
This strategy brought him up to third place by lap 41 and by now he was lapping at the same pace as Button, in other words Button had slowed down by a second a lap, he says because the tyres were losing temperature and grip (This almost cost Button the lead to Vettel, when he had his slow pit stop on lap 47.)
Rubens was essentially racing Trulli for 5th place at this stage, with Button, Vettel, and Kubica due to finish ahead of them. Trulli had the advantage in the middle phase of the race, but what lost him time was being stuck behind Fisichella after his second stop on lap 33. The long middle stint worked very well for Rubens and when Vettel and Kubica had their collision towards the end, Rubens picked up second place, putting him back where he started the race! He was 27 seconds behind Button, but it would have been a lot more if Button had been pushing.
Interestingly neither Brawn car really registered on the fastest lap chart. Barrichello had a damaged car, but Button’s fastest race lap was that 1m 28.0, only the third fastest lap of the day, behind Rosberg and Kubica. In contrast Button had been doing consistent 1m 26s in Friday practice.
He did what he needed to, win the race at the lowest possible speed. Smoothness of style isn’t the only quality he shares with ‘The Professor’ Alain Prost.
Barrichello was always dealing with traffic and Button wasn’t on the limit, so it’s very hard to say how much that diffuser is worth to the car. But it’s a lot.