Sunday, June 28, 2009

Vettel cuts Button lead with British GP glory

Sebastian Vettel stole Jenson Button's thunder on the Brawn GP star's home turf to consummately triumph in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend, leading home a crushing Red Bull Racing one-two ahead of team-mate Mark Webber to prove that the energy drinks-backed outfit can win in the dry too – and demonstrating that it is very much game on for the 2009 F1 World Championship crown.

A textbook getaway from pole-sitter Vettel when the lights went out was almost bettered by that of Rubens Barrichello alongside, but the German kept his nose in front into Copse, with Webber slotting into third and Kazuki Nakajima moving up a place into fourth in the leading Williams. The biggest gain was made by Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, however, as the 2007 title-winner exploited his KERS power boost to maximum effect to storm down the outside – bravely brushing the grass en route – and vault up into fifth.

The Finn was aided along the way by a slow start from Jarno Trulli on the second row that dropped the Pescara native back to seventh and also compromised home hero Button, who found himself tucked up behind the Italian and with nowhere to go, falling back from sixth to ninth in the process, behind Nico Rosberg, Trulli and the second fast-starting Ferrari of Felipe Massa.

Trulli was desperate to find a way back past Rosberg on the first lap but found his efforts swiftly rebuffed, and after Button profited from a mistake by Massa to move back up into eighth, he again found himself frustratingly stuck behind the Toyota. Further back, there was a superbly opportunistic move by an inspired Giancarlo Fisichella into Stowe, as the experienced Italian took advantage of Nick Heidfeld and Fernando Alonso squabbling ahead of him to dive down the inside of both and into eleventh.

That left the tardy Heidfeld – nursing a damaged front wing and defying the advice of his team in not pitting for a replacement – doggedly staving off the earnest and energetic advances of Alonso, the sister BMW of a slow-starting Robert Kubica and defending F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton in an entertaining scrap, with the latter having had his own grassy moment on the entry to Stowe after getting held up by Alonso and complaining of no grip from his underperforming McLaren-Mercedes.

The real focus of the race, however, was up front, where Vettel was busy eking out a commanding advantage of a second a lap, helped by Barrichello's difficulties in warming his tyres up to temperature sufficiently quickly. Fastest lap after fastest lap carried the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner almost 15 seconds clear just 13 laps into the action, with Webber able to make little impression on the Brawn GP right ahead of him and seeing his chances of victory evaporating into thin air.

Nakajima unsurprisingly became the first man to pit on lap 15, releasing the duelling Raikkonen and Rosberg into fourth and fifth respectively, with Trulli, Button, Massa and Timo Glock similarly in attendance at the foot of the top ten. Raikkonen was the next to blink, promoting Rosberg to fourth, and the extra lap completed enabled him to leapfrog Nakajima in the process.

There was tension as Trulli and Button pitted together next time around, but unfortunately for British fans the status quo was maintained, and even worse, whilst Trulli was able to jump Raikkonen, the understeer-plagued Button was not – as the luckless Nakajima slipped behind all three of them following his excellent opening stint.

Barrichello was the next in, followed only a lap later by pursuer Webber, but whilst the latter's stop was longer, the Australian narrowly rejoined ahead – though there was a brief heart-stopping moment as the Red Bull emerged from the pit-lane and the Brawn GP stormed up behind him on the exit of Copse, with Webber just doing enough to stave 'Rubinho' off on his cold tyres. Interestingly, too, the two teams went in different directions on tyre strategy – and this time it was RBR that would prove to hold the winning hand.