Barrichello ends five-year wait

Published : Aug 29, 2009 00:00 IST

Lewis Hamilton, robbed of victory by a pit-lane fiasco, finishes second. Over to Maurice Hamilton.

Confusion during a McLaren pit stop may have cost Lewis Hamilton victory at the European Grand Prix, but it also helped Rubens Barrichello become a serious threat to Jenson Button’s championship hopes as the Brazilian scored his first win of the season on a day when Button finished a distant seventh.

Barrichello has moved into second place in the championship, the Brawn-Mercedes drivers separated by 18 points with six races remaining, Button’s only consolation coming when the Red Bull duo failed to score as Sebastian Vettel suffered an engine failure and Mark Webber finished out of the points.

Five months of pent-up emotion and frustration erupted when a tearful Barrichello won for the first time in five years. Barrichello had been forced through a mix of driving errors and misfortune to finish second best — sometimes worse — as Button won six races to lead the championship since the first race in Melbourne on March 29. Barrichello’s season seemed to have reached a particularly low ebb when he finished 10th at the last race in Hungary. The day before, an errant spring from Barrichello’s car had caused serious head injuries to his friend, Felipe Massa.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend that I will never forget,” said Barrichello. “After five years you don’t forget how to do it. I wish this moment could be with me forever. It’s an emotional day because I want to dedicate this win to my friend, Felipe, and wish him a speedy recovery. I spent an afternoon with him in Brazil and we talked about this race — which he won last year. He told me about some of the racing lines he used through some of the corners and I tried them this weekend. They worked.”

Every driver needs a share of good fortune and Barrichello received a sizeable chunk on lap 37. Hamilton appeared to have the race under control after leading from pole position and being supported during the first phase of the race by his McLaren team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen.

The McLarens led Barrichello by eight seconds when the first pit stops began on lap 16. By running for four laps longer than the McLarens — thanks to qualifying with more fuel on board — Barrichello was able to turn in a series of fast times to leapfrog Kovalainen as the Brawn stopped on lap 20.

Hamilton had chosen the softer tyre for the middle stint whereas Barrichello ran the harder version, a choice that appeared to be paying dividends as he closed to within 3.6 seconds of Hamilton. An attempt to eke more fuel from his car led to Hamilton being told to continue for another lap just as he reached the entrance to the pit lane.

“The first part of the race was very consistent,” said Hamilton. “But in the second stint, I was struggling with my tyres. It was difficult to keep at Barrichello’s pace in the high-speed sections; that’s where he was catching me. I had been trying to save as much fuel as I could. I was told to come in at the end of lap 37 but, when they suddenly said to stay out, I was just on my way in to the pit lane and was already committed. When I got to the pits, the guys were coming out with the tyres, still in their (electric) blankets, so I lost time right there. It was just unfortunate. We win or lose together and, after the fantastic amount of work everyone has done to improve the car, we cannot take second place for granted. But, yes, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get the win.”

“There were no operational issues,” said Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal. “Barrichello had the pace in that middle stint and we didn’t. We were trying to squeeze in another lap before the second stop but it just didn’t work out. It was no one’s fault. It was so close that it’s difficult to say who would have won had everything gone without a hitch.”

Barrichello ran for another three laps before making his final stop, by which time the Brawn crew knew Hamilton was unlikely to catch up and Barrichello was told there was no need to push hard during the final 17 laps. But that did not prevent Hamilton from reducing the gap from 6.7 to 2.3 seconds at the finish.

“My middle stint was fantastic,” said Barrichello. “It wasn’t just me; the car was perfect. The team were telling me to push at that time and I was able to be very consistent. It’s so easy to put a foot wrong on this track and slide into the wall. But I had the speed and the car to go quickly and I’m sure I would have been able to get ahead of Lewis even if he hadn’t had that problem at his final stop.”

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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