No stopping Button

Published : May 02, 2009 00:00 IST

The Brawn GP driver continued his superb form in Bahrain to post his third victory of the season. By Maurice Hamilton.

Jenson Button effectively won the Bahrain Grand Prix in the first two minutes even though he finished the first lap in fourth place. The second row of the grid had been a disappointment by Button’s recent high standards but even more worrying was the presence of Lewis Hamilton, as an improvement in performance had allowed the world champion to qualify fifth. Button was aware that if Hamilton used the McLaren’s power boost to jump ahead at the start, then his race would be ruined if the Brawn remained stuck behind a potentially slower car for the remaining 56 laps.

The bottom line was that he needed to deal effectively with the world champion if he was to remain free to attack the Toyotas of Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, and the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, starting ahead of the Brawn-Mercedes.

It was bad news when a clutch problem contributed to a slow getaway for Button and, predictably, Hamilton rushed alongside. But an equally unspectacular start for Vettel meant the winner of the Chinese Grand Prix was overtaken by Hamilton and Button as they reached the first corner. With Vettel temporarily dispatched, Button could focus on getting back in front of Hamilton, a difficult task thanks to the McLaren, unlike the Brawn-Mercedes, having the Kers power boost control that would give Hamilton an extra 70 bhp for 6.5 seconds per lap.

When Hamilton made a small mistake at the end of the first lap, Button drew alongside but he knew that as soon as the pair crossed the start/finish line, Hamilton’s Kers system would be recharged for another lap. Sure enough, the McLaren suddenly surged ahead. It would have been game over had Button not pulled off the bravest of moves by diving down the inside of the McLaren at the first corner to snatch back third, this time for keeps.

The Toyotas, meanwhile, were making good their escape thanks to running with less fuel than anyone else. The tactic might have paid off had Toyota not made the curious decision to fit the harder of the two types of tyre available for the middle stint of the race. With each driver having to use both types of tyre at some stage during the race, the majority of the field had chosen to run the hard tyre in the less critical third and final phase.

“That was a difficult race,” said Glock, who slipped to a disappointing seventh. “I was surprised to have been able to take the lead from Jarno and the start. We were the first to stop but, when I went out on the prime (harder) tyre, I don’t know how many seconds I lost in the first two laps because I was really struggling for grip. I couldn’t get any heat into the tyres and I really lost the race in that second stint.”

When Trulli had similar problems, Button saw his chance. Running four laps longer with a car which was made even more competitive by being light on fuel, Button set a succession of fast laps, made his first stop and emerged in the lead.

Button’s priority switched to looking after his car and dealing with the heat as the temperature in the cockpit reached 50°C. On the experience of running in similar conditions during practice, the Brawn team knew that overheating could be a problem, particularly now that the regulations prevent the cutting of extra cooling ducts in the bodywork, the usual practice when dealing with hot conditions.

With the cockpit tightly packed with electronics, Button found that a red-hot control box was burning his left buttock. Trulli complained that the pedals on the Toyota had become so hot that they were scorching his feet through the soft leather soles of his flameproof driving boots.

With Button controlling a 12-second lead, Trulli was busy chasing Vettel and attempting to regain a second place lost through the Toyota’s tardy middle stint on the harder tyre. “I’m a little disappointed, to be honest,” said Trulli. “I thought we had a chance to take Toyota’s first win this weekend.”

Hamilton’s fourth place, his best result so far discounting the contentious third place in Australia which is the subject of an inquiry, was a fair reflection of the improvement made on his McLaren-Mercedes.

Such has been the topsy-turvy nature of the season so far that sixth place for Kimi Raikkonen gave Ferrari their first points in 2009. Their disastrous start to the year was summed up when a collision between their cars caused a pit stop for Felipe Massa at the end of the first lap. Massa, lapped by Button, finished 14th on a day when there was just one retirement, a tribute to the drivers’ fitness and the preparation of their cars in such torrid conditions.

The fifth round of the championship will be the Spanish Grand Prix on May 10.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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