Rubens Barrichello took his second victory in three races at the Italian Grand Prix, heading home team mate Jenson Button. It was a beautifully judged performance all weekend from the 37 year old, to put his team mate in the shade. Whereas Button hit the ground running at the start of the season, since Turkey it has been all Barrichello.
Today was Barrichello’s third win at Monza and the first time that he has headed Button in a Brawn 1-2 finish.
It moved him to 14 points behind Button in the championship and with the Red Bull pair of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel pretty much out of it now, it looks very much like the title fight will be between the Brawn drivers. It also looks like the team will clinch the constructors’ championship before the end of the season, possibly in Japan.
The pair started the race in 5th and 6th places on the grid, but made the most of a one-stop strategy to come through and pass pole sitter Lewis Hamilton as well as Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil, all of whom two-stopped. Hamilton was set for a third place, but crashed on the last lap while pushing hard to catch Button. This gave Raikkonen a podium.
Adrian Sutil scored his first points in F1 with fourth place, but it could have been third had Sutil not hit one of his mechanics on his second stop, losing some time in the process. He set the fastest lap, but spent the whole race behind Raikkonen’s Ferrari, who again drove a canny race, using all his skill and guile, not to mention his KERS button, to keep the faster car at bay.
Barrichello won the race again by having the edge over Button on pace when it mattered in qualifying and by his consistency in the race. He also survived a gearbox worry before the race. He made an excellent start to pass Kovalainen and move up to fourth place.
He had an extra lap of fuel compared to Button, and also he made a decision to start the race on the hard tyre, where Button started on soft. Both tyres worked well on the Brawn, but it meant that Barrichello had better pace immediately after the pit stops and was able to open a margin over Button.
“It feels great, it is a winning year whatever happens, ” said Barrichello. “We mustn’t forget that not long ago we had no jobs. We have a fantastic car, engine and the team is doing a fantastic job. We both had different tyre strategies and the car was good. I’m going to give my best it’ll be a good and healthy fight.”
“It’s nice to be back here in second position,” said Button. “Rubens did a better job. He’s my closest rival and that’s good.”
Ross Brawn was delighted with his fourth 1-2 finish of the season and says that he doesn’t mind which of his drivers wins the world title from here, “I demand they do it fairly and openly, everything has got to be fair and open. We will leave them to it. They are old enough,” he said.
“Jenson was beating him (Rubens) consistently at the start of the season but Valencia was a great race for Rubens and he has a steely look about him at the moment.”
Hamilton looked good in the early stages, but his ability to open up a big enough gap to cover the Brawns fell apart in the middle stint. By the time he pitted for the second time on lap 35 he was nothing like far enough ahead of the Brawns and they jumped him.
Heikki Kovalainen had a disappointing day. I posted yesterday that he should win the race, based on his car pace and his strategy and grid slot. He had a similar strategy to the Brawns and started ahead of them on the grid. But he lost ground at the start and faded off the pace. At the end he was 60 seconds behind Barrichello and was 57 seconds behind Hamilton on the last lap.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh recently put the spotlight on Kovalainen’s wavering race pace and today will have been a hammer blow to his hopes of retaining his seat. He simply should have done a lot better.