Jenson Button has claimed his second career victory in an almost faultless drive from pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Following Button across the line for second was team mate Rubens Barrichello who managed to come back after a start-line issue resulted in places lost for the Brazilian. Jarno Trulli came home in third after starting from the pitlane with fellow Toyota driver Timo Glock also scoring after making his way through the field.
The start of the race was difficult as all the drivers headed down to the first corner all vying for position. Rubens Barrichello struggled off the line as his anti-stall kicked in. Barrichello recovered quickly and got away but already the damage had been done. After the opening lap Rubens found himself down in seventh and a damaged front wing. The damage came about as Barrichello attempted to recover into T1. Rubens has said that he was knocked from behind, which forced his car sideways and into the path of the Red Bull of Mark Webber. Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld got caught up in the melee as well.
As the first lap unfolded Heikki Kovalainen was spotted travelling slowly around the back of the circuit and retired that lap. The problem with the McLaren was front suspension related and would seem to indicate that Barrichello’s Brawn was indeed tagged, even though replays suggest otherwise. Also in the pits after the first tour of Albert Park was Heidfeld with a resulting puncture and Mark Webber in the Red Bull who needed a replacement nose and wing. Adrian Sutil also visited his team for some cosmetic work to his Force India.
Barrichello opted to continue though despite his front wing looking a little damaged. At the front, Jenson Button managed to extend his lead and was pulling out a gap to Sebastian Vettel now in second place thanks to Barrichello’s issues. The Brawn team, like most others, chose to run the first stint on the medium compound, hoping that they could all get through with two sets before having to change to the super-softs in the final few laps of the race.
The Ferraris though both opted to start on the super-soft tyre, as did Sebastien Bourdais, Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton. By L10 though, the super-soft compound was starting to fall away and into the pits came Bourdais, Raikkonen and Trulli, each switching to the harder medium compound. On track, Nico Rosberg started to make up ground and passed Raikkonen before the Finn pitted, and Nico was quickly followed by Barrichello. Unfortunately, Barrichello’s attempt didn’t go quite as cleanly and the pair gently touched, causing more bodywork to fly off the front of the Brawn.
Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa pitted on lap twelve for the medium tyre and Sebastian Vettel began to stabilise the margin between himself and race leader Jenson Button. By L16, all drivers were on the medium tyre, although a problem with Nico Rosberg’s wheel cover meant his stop was drawn out longer than it should have been. Moments later though the safety car would be deployed.
Kazuki Nakajima found himself hitting the retaining wall on the sweeping exit out of T3. It appeared that Nakajima simply lost the back of his Williams as he rejoined the track after running over the run-off area – something most drivers do at that particular corner. The accident was fairly heavy and left debris on the circuit. After consideration of a lap, race control deployed the safety car. Barrichello pitted the following lap and received a new nose and wing for his battered Brawn.
The timing of the safety car deployment caused a few problems for the field though as it seemed to take a long time before Button, who pitted close to Barrichello, could catch up with it. The resulting confusion of letting other drivers by lead Felipe Massa to gesture towards Bernd Maylander as the Brazilian appeared to be unsure of what to do. Eventually though, Jenson closed in on the similarly-powered machine and backed the pack up in preparation for the restart.
Whilst under the safety car control, several drivers made their pitstops, including Giancarlo Fisichella who managed to miss his garage. Team members were forced to roll the Force India back to allow the Italian pilot room to turn into the box. From the spate of silly errors witnessed through the field, you could tell it was the first day back at school.
As soon as the safety car pulled into the pitlane, Albert Park saw its third retirement in the shape of a spinning Renault. Nelson Piquet was complaining of failing brakes and as he ran down to the first corner, defending his line to the advancing and recovering Williams of Rosberg, Piquet appeared to dab the stop-pedal only to find the back of the car coming around to join the front. The Renault spun, avoided the barrier and other drivers and came a rest in the gravel. Also having fun on the restart were both Force India pilots, who found themselves in a tussle for position.
The middle stint of the race passed without too much drama. Button retained his lead after the pitstops shook out although Vettel and Kubica remained a threat. Toyota gradually made their way up through the field as well, and Sebastien Buemi was having a great time in the lower points scoring positions. Lewis Hamilton continued his charge and a dual between himself and the Ferrari of Felipe Massa was a joy to watch. It was just a shame it wasn’t for the lead.
Timo Glock made his first error of the race when he spun at the end of the lap, allowing Kimi Raikkonen through. However, Raikkonen wouldn’t avoid his own embarrassment as the Finn also lost control of his car a few laps later. While Glock managed to not hit anything, Kimi did take a swipe at the wall. Both drivers continued from their potentially race-ending incidents.
Button’s final pitstop from the lead of the race was his only real error of the 58 laps completed. Speaking in the press conference after the event, it was revealed the Briton had pulled into the box in second gear, and thus neutral couldn’t be engaged. Eventually Button managed to shift down and then pop the Brawn out of gear, but it added a few seconds to his overall stop.
As Jenson came in for his stop, he followed a slow moving Ferrari. Felipe Massa retired his F60 on L47 with some sort of mechanical issue. Felipe wouldn’t be the last of the retirees though as the race entered its final stage. Nico Rosberg found some incredible pace in his Williams and Robert Kubica wasn’t about to give up his chances of making up a place or two. Sebastian Vettel was gaining on Button, as was Kubica and Rosberg on Barrichello (who remarkably managed to get back up to third).
Rubens was forced into making a splash-and-dash stop on L52, which resulted in a demotion to fifth behind Rosberg. Barrichello made a move on Rosberg and it stuck and set about chasing down Kubica. Jarno Trulli also passed Rosberg, the German beginning to struggle with fading soft tyres. Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel were now running very close together in second and third. The pair made contact in a rather late attempt at overtaking, the BMW forcing the Red Bull off the track as both drivers headed for the run-off area.
Initially, both drivers were able to recover and continue, albeit with substantial damage. Moments later though, with little grip at the front of the car, Kubica glided off to the outside of a corner and thumped the barrier. Vettel continued around the lap, although his left-front wheel was completely shot – the German was running on three tyres.
As Kubica released himself from his BMW, the medical and safety cars were once again deployed to allow the marshals to clear up the mess – presumably the medical car was sent out as a precaution. There were only three laps of the race left to run. Vettel continued to drive around in the hope that under the slower speed of the safety car, he may be able to collect a point still. However, either he or the team decided that the Red Bull should be retired before race control forced the retirement.
At the same time as Vettel pulled his car over to the side of the track, Kimi Raikkonen stopped at his garage in the pitlane and vacated his F60. The reason for the second Ferrari retirement is as of yet unknown. On the final lap, the safety car peeled into the pitlane and the field roared across the start/finish line as a formality. Jenson Button took the victory from Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.
The race was typical for the first of the season; full of surprise and incident. In 2008 there were many spins and retirements as the field of drivers got used to the loss of traction control, and it would seem the reduction in downforce caused a similar number of issues this time around. Ferrari once again leave the first race with a double-DNF and Brawn leave with a perfect result. Lewis Hamilton did well to recover to fourth and was very pleased to have scored some points, notably more than any Ferrari driver, although looking at the Scuderia’s reliability record thus far, perhaps it isn’t the Ferrari drivers who will be challenging Hamilton’s title.
Both Toyotas scored after starting the race from the pitlane. The disqualification from qualifying due to the TF109’s rear wing flexing wasn’t the greatest of starts for Toyota’s season, but a third place for Trulli and a fifth for Glock certainly isn’t bad. Even before the disqualification, the pace of the car meant a grid start of sixth and eighth. Toyota can leave Melbourne with a healthy tally of points.
Fernando Alonso showed great fighting spirit in the Renault, although it is clear that the R29 is not competitive. Alonso had a relatively anonymous race, but sixth place is rewarded with a deserved three points. Nico Rosberg has been electric all weekend and showed great promise in the FW31. It is a great shame that his strategy didn’t work out, but looking at the lap times (Rosberg managed the fastest lap), the Williams looks good.
The final point went to rookie Sebastien Buemi. After out-qualifying his team mate Sebastien Bourdais, the Swiss driver had a great race and spent much of it in and around the points-paying positions. Buemi outraced Bourdais all weekend and the point earned not only puts Scuderia Toro Rosso ahead of Force India, but also ahead of the factory team, Ferrari (who supply engines to STR).
So Brawn take 18 points away from Melbourne and head to Malaysia for round two leading the constructors title and dominating the top two positions in the drivers. They’ve already eclipsed their total tally of points in 2008 and the team can be proud of their efforts. The diffuser issue still hangs around the sport, but at least Brawn know they’ve built a winner, and they have a couple of winners driving.
The race result can be viewed here: Australia 2009: Race Result.