>Wel, I’m smiling! Half an hour ago I would have been typing this through tears! As a Brawn fan I’d have been thrilled with either of the drivers winning, but as a Rubens Barrichello fan of some 16 years’ standing, I’m ecstatic that he’s had his first victory for the Brawn team. He hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since China in 2004, a year when he also won at Monza, but more of that later.
As I said yesterday, he was in a very strong position, being heavier on fuel and was in fact the true pole sitter once fuel weights were factored in. That’s easy to say but much more difficult to turn around when you are behind two cars which are running KERS.
At the start, the first three got away in order, while Jenson, in 5th had an absolute disaster – ending up way back in 8th and then 9th after Webber got past him. He briefly passed Webber back but because he’d cut across a chicane, he had to give the place back.
Kimi Raikonnen, on the other hand, had an excellent start, getting himself up to 4th place where he sat quietly and ended up getting past Kovaleinen. I’m not sure how, to be honest but I suspect it was in the pits.
The first question was whether Rubens would be able to get past the McLarens at the first round of pit stops, and he was in fact able to leapfrog Heikki Kovaleinen. At this point it looked like he had 4 more laps of fuel than Lewis Hamilton, opening up the possibility that he might be able to get past him, too.
Rubens rose to the challenge and started putting in flying lap after flying lap, setting fastest laps here, there and everywhere. The margins were tight, but it looked as if he might just do it. I’d been struck by his confidence and determination earlier when Martin Brundle chatted to him on his grid walk. He gave the impression of a man who knew this was his moment and he was going to get on with delivering the goods. He did absolutely everything he had to do, perfectly.
Then fate in the form of a massively cocked up pit stop by McLaren put Rubens in an unassailable position. McLaren had initially told Lewis to come in at the end of lap 37. They then worked out that they could leave him out another lap, but he had committed to coming in to the pits by that point. So, he appeared in his box, with no tyres ready for him. McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh reckoned that the mistake alone didn’t cost him the race because the cars weren’t fast enough. He may have been right, but we’ll never know, I guess. Hamilton’s pitstop took 13.4 seconds, almost double Barrichello’s a few laps later. That was so slick that I was scared for a while that they’d had the same problem with the fuel rig that they’d had at the Nurburgring last month and we’d see him coming in again on the next lap. I don’t think I breathed until I saw him drive past the pit lane entrance.
Those last laps with Rubens in the lead, being chased by Hamilton, were thrilling, but Rubens didn’t falter and drove like a demon all the way to the chequered flag.
It’s a sign of how popular a driver he is that the entire pit lane turned out to cheer him as he drove back in. He’s an emotional man at the best of times and I’m surprised he hadn’t drowned in tears by the time he took his helmet off. His team radio transmissions on his in lap were pretty much intelligible, but you were in no doubt he was happy. He wondered later if he had said “anything bad”, but to be honest, you wouldn’t have been able to tell if he had. Ross Brawn, on the other hand, sounded pleased on the team radio, but cool and calm as ever. He said it was “just like the old days” at Ferrari. Rubens had a fair few wins there too, despite the times when he so obviously did have to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher.
He was also keen to dedicate his win to the recovering Felipe Massa, which was lovely. He’d worn a helmet with a get well message to him all weekend.
The implications of his win is that Rubens is now the main challenger to Jenson in the drivers’ championship – and main rivals for the constructors’ crown, Red Bull, scored no points at all. Jenson Button was able to eventually get past Mark Webber, leaving him out of the points – so another triumph for the Brawn strategy people combined with Jenson also driving some stonkingly fast laps in the middle of the race.
Sebastian Vettel suffered another engine failure, which leaves him with 2 engines to last 6 races. He’s going to have to nurse them gently like they were orphaned puppies to make them last – but I don’t like his chances of doing that. None of the other drivers of Renault engines have suffered failures, so I wonder if it’s something he’s doing that’s pushing them too far.
While Kimi raced to the podium, the driver of the other Ferrari, Luca “Slower” Badoer lived up to his name – but also got himself into big trouble after a pit lane near miss with Renault rookie Roman Grosjean. He ended up going over the white line on the way out, which is a big no-no and ended up with a drive through penalty. He wasn’t last though, just – that honour went to Kazuki Nakajima who suffered a puncture in the middle of the second round of pitstops, for a moment making Anthony Davidson wonder if there would be a safety car.
Also worth mentioning is that the soon to be retiring BMWs got a point for Robert Kubica who, BBC rumour has it, is off to Renault next year.
For the first time ever, I deprived myself of the Brundlemeister’s commentary and decided to give Crofty and Ant at Radio Five Live. While I think Brundle is brilliant, I’m not keen on the chemistry between him and co-commentator Jonathan Legard. I know that a relationship takes a while to develop, but, to be honest, I think their’s is developing the wrong way. I’ve detected a fair bit of needle between them which is getting worse with every race. On the other hand, the banter between Brawn test driver Anthony Davidson and David Croft is very good. Their commentary is thoughtful, as it has to be for radio and they can be very funny. At one point, Ant was going through the drivers in turn speculating on what they would be doing next year. When he got to Badoer, he said “who knows, probably fishing.” They seem very comfortable with each other and it just seems to gel better. The only problem is the constant interruptions for football and cricket updates which annoyed me a bit, but not so much I switched back to the tv. I have Brundle’s commentary sky plussed, though so I may watch it again later to compare.
The BBC build up was fantastic – Eddie Jordan managed a real triumph by nabbing Michael Schumacher and getting him out of the Ferrari garage which wasn’t quite compensation for not seeing him race, but a bit of a coup nonetheless.
In terms of the future, this could well be the start of Rubens’ challenge for the championship. It’s not without the bounds of possibility that he could overtake Jenson and win. There’s only 18 points between them and 6 races to go. I can’t imagine the rivalry would make Ross Brawn do anything other than smile. Two team mates, cool enough headed not to do anything stupid, scrapping it out for every possible point, isn’t going to do his constructors’ championship bid any harm and if his drivers finish first and second, in whatever order, that’s a result.
Rubens has a fairly strong record at both Spa and Monza – he won Monza twice and finished on the podium twice in his time at Ferrari an even at Jordan and Stewart got a couple of fourths and a fifth. He’s been on the podium at Spa a couple of times as well.
If he is going to challenge Jenson for the title, then he needs to eat into his lead at these next races. By mid September we’ll know whether it’s game on.