Italian Grand Prix 2009 Review: Brawn Again


The title chasing Brawn GP squad returned to form in Monza as Rubens Barrichello led home a 1-2 finish as strategy won the day.

Though there was heavy rain overnight the race was run entirely in dry conditions, despite several teams predicting rain at some point during the race.

When the lights went out to start the race, the power of the KERS cars immediately showed. As the field tried to organise themselves into the first corner cars were three or four abreast, with Raikkonen, challenging for the lead, amongst those who were pushed on the grass flanking the circuit. Though the Ferrari man's attempt fell flat, he was still second into the Rettifilo chicane, behind pole-sitter Hamilton.

Sticking resolutely to the inside of the track, as he had been encouraged to do so by his engineer on the formation lap, was Adrian Sutil, who looked capable of leading into the first corner before the extra power of the Ferrari and McLaren told. However, he became the first F1 driver to test the car launching properties of the newly raised Monza kerbs, seeming to get completely airborne before coming down and continuing without a problem.

The rest of the pack filed through similarly unscathed, with Glock forced to take his Toyota for an early trip down the escape road, and so it was that the field rounded Curva Grande and headed for the second chicane.

The incident that followed may be crucial by the time the F1 circus gets to Abu Dhabi.

As the midfield filed round the left-right combination, Mark Webber's Red Bull ended nosed into the wall outside the second element. Having gone into the left hander side by side with the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica, wheel to wheel contact followed and the Australian was spun across the BMW's bow and out of the race.

“The car was undamaged, but I couldn't get it out [of the gravel trap] and back onto the track,” described Webber later.

Not even a lap completed and one of the title contenders was out of the race.

Kubica soon followed Webber into troubles, the left endplate of his front wing, hanging off and appearing to scrape along the track. There was no obvious cause for the problem, with even the team and driver at a loss to explain it, but, perhaps mindful of the darker racing moments of the summer, it summoned the rare F1 appearance of the black and orange 'meatball flag' to come in and have a new wing fitted, and Kubica was back in the pits permanently soon after, the team retiring the Pole with “an oil leak in the gearbox.”

Back at the head of the race it was still Hamilton's McLaren leading, but his teammate was suffering. Kovalainen, on a heavy fuel load that had him as a pre-race favourite, was losing places and time that could not be put down to simply to the extra weight.

After starting a promising fourth, he would slide to seventh, citing a lack of grip from his medium compound tyres, especially exiting the two chicanes.

Upfront again and the two stop strategies of the first three cars were starting to wind up. First Hamilton, then Raikkonen and Sutil came in for stops, to be deposited back on the track in the traffic of the midfield.

Now was the time for the pace of the Brawn pair, first and second after the leader's stops, to show. Constantly updated as to the pace of their rivals the sight of the two white and day-glo yellow cars lapping together was reminiscent of the early races of the season, that must seem far longer ago than five months to the team after their more recent problems.

liuzzi

However, as two one stop strategies were coming good, another was coming to a halt after the Roggia chicane. That was the heart-breaking story for Tonio Liuzzi, who arguably turned in performance of the day in qualifying. Coming out of Curva Grande the Mercedes engine in his Force India let out a blood curdling scream as it over revved as the driveshaft cried no more. The Italian was able to coast through the chicane, before pulling off the track and being pulled behind the guardrail and into retirement by the marshals.

Back with the Brawn machines, it was time for them to make their stops. Barrichello from the lead was the first to come in, and out with error. Then came Button. Again, in and out without error, but lost time to his teammate as the pair rejoined in fourth and fifth.

The race settled again, everyone back to aiming for specific pace the men on the pit wall calculate will work for their strategy.

Then it was time for the second stops of the front three. The moment that would undoubtedly decide the race.

Hamilton was in first in, and safely out. Behind both Brawns, surely Raikkonen and Sutil would do the same. The two came in together nose to tail, just as the Finn and Fisichella had done in Spa, the Ferrari pulling into its pit as Sutil continued down to the far end of the pit lane. Raikkonen's pitstop went well, until he stalled momentarily as he tried to pull away. Could Sutil leapfrog the Ferrari?

At the far end of the pit lane further drama was unfolding. Sutil got on the brakes a little too late and slid luridly sideways into his pit stall, knocking several of his pit crew off their feet (and losing his right mirror in the process). All the men were unhurt but the delay ensured that Raikkonen's error went unpunished.

Of course all of that meant that the Brawns were never in danger and the scene was set for a pair of chases to the flag.

toyotas

But that was only after the Toyota's had supplied some light relief. Jarno Trulli who had been stuck behind Nakajima'a Williams for much of the race, and admitted he was “getting a bit bored to be honest”, decided to try a move into the first chicane. That saw the Williams man cut across the chicane and Trulli reprise Sutil's launch routine from the start in more spectacular fashion. That left him side by side with his teammate and when, half a lap later the two attempted to go though the first Lesmo in formation Trulli came off worst, bumping across the gravel on the outside, losing a place to Buemi's Toro Rosso.

Meanwhile Sutil and Raikkonen were reprising their own performance. Just as Fisichella had done in Spa Sutil was clearly faster than the Ferrari, only to see it disappear under acceleration with its KERS power.

KERS was having its say further up the field too. Faced with the task of having to catch and pass the Brawns on track in order to win Hamilton was going all out, and gaining on second placed Button.

On the final lap as Hamilton, to use his own words, “was pushing incredibly hard to try and get close to Jenson and use KERS to pass” he ran wide out of the first Lesmo, and just as Johnny Cecotto Jr. had done in Saturday's GP2 race Hamilton found himself spinning across the track and making violent contact with the inside barrier, with the force captured by the camera mounted on board the Englishman's MP4-24.

For the second day running a race at Monza ended under safety car conditions, with Brawn recording their first 1-2 result since Monaco in May.

Raikkonen finished third, the first KERS car in a race they were expected to dominate, followed by Sutil, scoring his first Force India points, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld and Vettel, whose single point was a footnote in the title race on a day when Brawn gained 16 points.

In the drivers' title race Barrichello's win trimmed Button's lead by two points to 14 with four races remaining.

“Monza has always been a great track for me and it feels just wonderful to win here again,” said former Ferrari man Barrichello.

And after a fortnight of hype and speculation Ferrari's newest driver endured an unspectacular race from 14th on the grid to come home ninth.

podium