A good day for tall drivers sees Mark Webber win the Brazilian Grand Prix for Red Bull Racing; Robert Kubica come second and Jenson Button finally become Champion of the World.
In many ways the Brazilian Grand Prix was the perfect scenario: a crazy grid, different setups and unusual strategies; a local hero on pole and two championships at stake. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
The first five laps lived up to the billing. Carbon fibre everywhere, a fire, a fight, a safety car and more overtaking than the rest of the season put together. Then everything settled down and Mark Webber calmly cruised to his second victory of the season. Jenson Button became the new World Champion while Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton demonstrated great prowess to recover from lowly starting positions. It was breathtaking. Without doubt, the best race of the year.
At the start, Kimi Räikkönen had got a flyer and was up into third, when he tagged his front wing on the back of Webber’s car going into Turn Four. Adrian Sutil, tucked up in fourth, slowed, giving Jarno Trulli a chance. He went to the outside but was squeezed off the track by Sutil, punting the Toyota into the wall and sending the Force India careering across the grass. Sutil slewed back onto the track and collected Fernando Alonso’s Renault. The safety car came out, and Trulli, having decided Sutil had actually tried to kill him, attempted to return the favor. To add insult to Trulli’s near-injury, the Stewards decided the event was only a racing incident but they did fine Jarno $10,000 for his tantrum.
With the safety car out, several drivers pitted, the McLarens among them. Shortly after Kovalainen entered the pits, the limping Ferrari of Räikkönen followed. Heikki pulled away with his fuel hose still attached, fuel sprayed across the pitlane and was ignited by the red hot Ferrari a few metres behind. As with most pitlane flash fires, it looked more dramatic than it was, but even the Ice Man probably raised an eyebrow at driving in the middle of a fireball. Lesser men might have called it a day, but Kimi is made of sterner stuff. McLaren picked up a fine of $50,000 for that one.
Rubens Barrichello, incidentally, still led, followed by Webber, Nico Rosberg, Kubica, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Kamui Kobayashi and Romain Grosjean. Happily, Interlagos remains the holy grail of overtaking opportunities: a slow corner followed by an enormous straight followed by a downhill braking zone into another slow corner. If you can’t pass here, you can’t pass anywhere. Kubica was the first of many to make a positive move stick at Turn One as he slipped past Rosberg.
Button moved into the top eight with some very aggressive driving; first passing Grosjean and then Nakajima. Vettel followed suit. Their charge stalled being Kobayashi. The young Toyota driver did a fair imitation of teammate Trulli and soon had a gaggle of cars behind him. Toyota chose to describe it as a resolute performance; other drivers suggested the rookie swerved around a bit too much.
Barrichello’s day started to go wrong when he pitted in at lap 20. He rejoined alongside Vettel and was soon behind. It slowed him down enough for Kubica, pitting on lap 24, to sneak ahead. Meanwhile, Webber set fastest laps on 24 and 25, pitted on 27 and emerged well in front. After that, nobody was going to catch him.
Button meanwhile had to come in on Lap 30, which left Vettel in second behind Webber until he stopped on Lap 38, to rejoin in seventh, just behind Button. Kubica began to close on Webber, but the Pole pitted first. Webber, five laps later, he had the luxury of an easy pitstop that kept him in the lead.
Meanwhile Hamilton, on what had effectively become a one-stop strategy was hounding Barrichello for third – a long battle which Hamilton eventually won, using his KERS power to dive past on Lap 63. It wasn’t entirely clean: the McLaren received a broken end-plate on its front wing and Barrichello picked up a slow puncture.
‘We’ve done ourselves very proud as a team’ – Mark Webber
With Button running comfortably in seventh, third wasn’t going to be enough for Rubens, but the puncture extinguished even that faint hope. He pitted for a third time on lap 64. The last few laps were uneventful. Webber crossed the line 7.6 seconds clear of Kubica with Hamilton third while Vettel’s committed charge netted him fourth. Button was fifth, Raikkonen sixth, Buemi seventh and Barrichello staggered home for the final point.
“I was able to control the gap to Robert at about five seconds and then backed off a bit towards the end. So that gave me a nice run home,” said Mark. “It’s been a fantastic day for the team; we’ve had quite a few victories this year off the back of some tough seasons at Red Bull. Obviously we weren’t good enough over the whole season to win any championships but we’ve done ourselves very proud as a team, as a unit.”
For once the race winner wasn’t the man of the moment. With Brawn clinching the Constructors’ Championship and Button becoming World Champion, the attention was rightly with them. “He’s been bricking himself for the last few weeks, so hopefully he can relax a bit now and enjoy Abu Dhabi…” said Webber of Button. The truth is the whole field goes to the final race in a relaxed mood – as usual affairs have been settled in Brazil.