Jenson Button and the Brawn team took their third win in four races this afternoon at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, but the result could have gone either way. The two cars were very evenly matched. What made the difference was that Button was able to run in clear air and Vettel wasn’t.
The key moment of the race was the end of the first lap, where Button was able to pass Lewis Hamilton under braking into turn one. This allowed him to run in clear air ahead of Hamilton, while Vettel was held up by the McLaren driver, losing 10 seconds in the first 15 laps.
Vettel’s strategy was for him to run four laps longer than his main rivals, but he was not able exploit it because he was held up. This meant that he wasn’t able to build enough of a margin over Trulli in the four laps he had in clear air and when he rejoined after his pit stop he found himself behind Trulli. To make matters worse Trulli’s Toyota team had made a mistake on tyre choice and Trulli was on the hard tyre, which was a second per lap slower than the soft. So Vettel lost another ten seconds and lost his chance to fight Button for the win. Neverthless it was another strong result for Vettel and Red Bull. Vettel said afterwards that he hopes and expects to be able to challenge Button more closely at the next few races when he gets some more updates.
Button had some reliability concerns today. The team cut some holes in the bodywork to help the cooling and at times Button turned the engine down from maximum revs to protect it. He admitted afterwards that if he had had Vettel’s race, following other cars for most of the time, the car would have overheated and he would have had to drop back.
Three wins and a third place from the first four races is an impressive haul. Button has 31 points but it would have been 36 if the Malaysian race had gone the full distance and been awarded full points.
He may come to regret not receiving those points at the end of the season. Cerrtainly it looks like Vettel and Red Bull will be challenging him for the title and I think Hamilton and McLaren will too. Their rate of development has been stunning and they have the double diffuser to come in Spain.
Brawn have really capitalised on their performance advantage at the start of the season and even squeezed a win out here where they were not really the fastest car, either in race or qualifying trim. Toyota had the fastest lap in both, but Brawn was able to carve the win out of the opportunity Button gave them by passing Hamilton early on (the McLaren having eased past him at the start using his KERS button).
Button said after the race that he has no idea what the state of play will be when the teams reconvene in Barcelona, given that most people will have virtually new cars,
“We’ve got an upgrade (believed to be worth three tenths of a second per lap) coming in Barcelona. I just hope that it’s enough. Nobody knows. And the thing is that we can’t go testing either , so we don’t get that chance to get the feel for it. ”
This Brawn car is the result of over a year’s development, enormous investment from Honda and exploits a clever loophole in the rules that others are now free to copy. From here on it’s about keeping the developments coming. The team does not have the resources of the leading teams to spend on development, but it does have a year’s head start.