Barrichello Masters Monza


Although it remains one of the most exciting circuits on the calendar, thanks to its constant emasculation in the name of safety, not to mention the consistent failure of the powers that be to get things right when it comes to promoting overtaking, Monza rarely offers up the thrillers that fans of a certain age grew used to.

Those that remember the great slipstreaming battles of the sixties and very early seventies now have to get used to the fact that at the Autodromo Nazionale, like various other circuits on the current calendar, the race is very often decided at the first corner.

In terms of today's race, there are two factors that will probably decide the outcome, the weather and the first chicane.

As far as the weather is concerned, it is claimed that there will be no rain during the course of this afternoon's event. Then again, that what they said about yesterday's GP2 race, which was subsequently delayed by almost half-an-hour courtesy of a sudden storm of Monsoon-like proportions. Rest assured, when it rain in Monza, it really rains, as those of you who remember last year's race can attest.

As far as the first corner is concerned, the fact that four of the first eight cars on the grid is running KERS should mean a madder than ever scramble to the chicane. Sutil will enough on his hands holding off Raikkonen and Kovalainen, consequently it is unlikely that he will be in a position to give Hamilton a hard time. However, the length of the run to the first corner, not to mention the generous width of the track, means that we could see the cars four or five abreast as they filter into that narrow, unforgiving right-left complex that leads to the Curve Grande.

In terms of strategy, there appears to be little difference with the two tyre options - medium and soft - though, as ever, the softer tyre was the choice for the really fast lap in qualifying. Furthermore, there are no reports of graining or blistering.

It is clear that some drivers are opting for a one-stop strategy as opposed to two, and in a couple of cases, most notably McLaren, teams are putting their drivers on entirely different strategies rather than placing all their eggs in the one basket.

Taking all things into account, it looks as though this has to be Hamilton's race, though we expect his teammate to give him a run for his money - which is more than Kovalainen did last year when it came to challenging Vettel.

We remain unconvinced by Raikkonen, who has had a mixed weekend, but feel that at the end of the afternoon he'll be up there, along with Button, Barrichello, Sutil and possibly Alonso.

The Red Bulls haven't been convincing this weekend, and no doubt Webber and Vettel - who will no doubt spend the afternoon checking their mirrors for puffs of smoke - will be looking forward to Singapore, whose temperatures and track layout should suit the RBR5.

While we do not expect him to win, we do expect a strong performance from Button who cannot continue relying on his rivals to keep missing penalties. The Englishman has scored just 11 points in the last 5 races and if he is to keep his - and Brawn's - title hope alive he must rediscover some of his early season pace and self-belief.

With Red Bull unlikely to take a huge chunk out of Button's title lead this weekend, the Englishman's main challenge will comes from his Brawn GP teammate, Rubens Barrichello, who - despite being the oldest man on the grid and the most experienced - looks more than capable of mounting a successful challenge this year and for a few more years to come.

With only four drivers still in the hunt for the Drivers' Championship, attention must turn to where the money is, the Constructors' Championship, and while Brawn and Red Bull have the main battle sewn up there is a titanic battle between Ferrari, McLaren, Toyota and Williams for the best of the rest, though don't expect the latter two teams to shine here today.

It would be wholly wrong not to give Force India a special mention as the team continues to confound everyone, not least those rival teams with budget five or ten times what the Silverstone-based outfit is spending. Full kudos to everyone at Dadford Road for what they have achieved in recent weeks (months?), not least Adrian Sutil and 'new boy' Tonio Liuzzi. A fantastic turn around in form and just the kind of fairytale that F1 needs at this time.

At a time when F1 is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons - how many more times do we have to write this? - it would be good if the sport can provide 'man down the pub' with something special, especially on this most historic of tracks.

After his team opted to make a number of changes to his car - including removing a flap from the rear wing - Alguersuari, who qualified twentieth, is to start from the pitlane. Hard to believe that Toro Rosso qualified on pole here last year and went on to win the race.

As the cars prepare to head off on the warm-up lap, preceded by what sounded like the Portsmouth Sinfonia playing the Italian national anthem, the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38 degrees. It is bright and sunny with just a few wisps of cloud in the sky.

It's worth remembering at this stage that following a number of incidents during the three practice sessions, the Race Stewards have issued a stark warning to drivers driving behind (cutting) the kerbs at Turns 1, 2, 4 and 5, which have been raised significantly since last year.

They head off on the warm-up lap, Hamilton on softs, as is Sutil. Barrichello is on medium compound while his Brawn GP teammate is on softs.

They're away and in the mad run to the first corner one of the BMWs takes to the grass, as does Hamilton, while Glock misses the first chicane. Great starts from Raikkonen and the Brawns. Elsewhere, it's all over for Webber who has gone off into the barriers at the second chicane after clashing with Kubica.

At the end of lap 1, it's Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Barrichello, Button, Liuzzi, Kovalainen, Vettel, Alonso and Kubica.

Vettel is passed by Kubica as the Red Bull driver struggles for grip. While Sutil is all over the back of Raikkonen who is 1.8s down on Hamilton.

Kovalainen, who had a poor start, loses another position as Alonso passes the McLaren to take seventh under braking for the first chicane.
Rosberg pits at the end of lap 4, great clouds of brake dust billowing from his front wheels. The German switches from medium to hards.

Vettel is pressurising Kubica, while Heidfeld has Fisichella all over his tail. Trulli harries Nakajima for thirteenth.

On lap 6, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (25.354), as he extend his lead to 3.5s over Raikkonen. Sutil slips to 1s behind the Finn but maintains a 5s gap to Barrichello who is 2.4s clear of his Brawn teammate.

The black and orange flag signalling a safety hazard is hung out for Kubica who has a loose front wing endplate following his clash with Webber. The Pole pits at the end of lap 9 for a new front wing.

As he closes to within 0.8s of Raikkonen, Sutil goes quickest in the first sector. A strong final sector sees the German close to within 0.5s of the Ferrari.

"We have a hot gearbox," Grosjean is told, "please use second gear in turns one and two."

After 11 laps, Hamilton has an 11s advantage over Barrichello. He'll need that and more for that extra pit stop.

Asked for a balance check ahead of his pit stop, Hamilton reveals he has some oversteer. He's advised that he'll be switching to the medium compound when he pits. Meanwhile, Kovalainen is almost 1.5s off his teammate's pace. Not good if the Finn wants to keep his seat.

On lap 13, Hamilton posts another fastest lap, extending the gap to Raikkonen to 6.8s and the gap to Barrichello to 17s.

At the end of lap 15, bang on schedule, Hamilton pits. 7.8s later he rejoins the track in fifth, just ahead of Liuzzi and Alonso. Kubica drives into the BMW garage to retire, while Rosberg makes his second stop of the afternoon.

Sutil pits at the end of lap 17, rejoining the race in seventh after a 7.3s stop. The German rejoins the race immediately ahead of Kovalainen, and though the German mounts an assault he is unable to keep up with the Force India.

At the end of lap 19, Raikkonen pits. The Finn is stationary for 7.2s before rejoining in fifth behind Liuzzi but ahead of Sutil.

Therefore, after 20 laps, Barrichello leads Button with Hamilton 8.9s behind the Englishman. Liuzzi is fourth, ahead of Raikkonen, Alonso, Sutil, Kovalainen, Vettel and Heidfeld. Elsewhere, Alguersuari's race is over, his car is pushed into the Toro Rosso garage.

The Brawns are lapping around 0.5s quicker than Hamilton, Barrichello the quicker of the two Brackley drivers. This isn't just the Italian Grand Prix at stake for the Brawn duo, this is the 2009 title.

Hamilton is told that he needs "another three or four tenths" if he is to beat the Brawns. Meanwhile, Liuzzi's car has stopped by the side of the track at the second chicane. Replay suggests he lost drive.

As they remain around 2s apart, the Brawn drivers match one another lap after lap, Barrichello posting a personal best on lap 26.

Alonso pits at the end of lap 26, heading back into the race 9.9s later to rejoin in tenth ahead of Nakajima.

On lap 27, Barrichello posts a new fastest lap (24.999), as Kovalainen and Vettel both pit.

Button goes quickest in the first sector, before diving into the pits for his sole stop. 9.1s later he rejoins the race in fifth.

All eyes on race leader Barrichello who dives into the pits next time around. The Brazilian is stationary for 8.6s rejoining in fourth 4.5 ahead of his teammate.

Therefore, after 30 laps, as Fisichella pits, Hamilton leads Raikkonen by 5s with Sutil a further 1.4s behind, though all three have to make another stop. Barrichello is fourth, 14.1s down on the race leader, ahead of Button, Heidfeld, Alonso, Nakajima, Trulli and Kovalainen.

Asked which tyre he wants for the final stint Hamilton has no doubts, "prime tyre, prime tyre," he responds, referring to the medium compound. Buemi passes Fisichella to take thirteenth.

Grosjean, currently fifteenth, makes his first stop of the afternoon.

At the end of lap 34, Hamilton makes his final stop, rejoining in fifth behind the Brawns. At this stage it appears McLaren's strategy hasn't worked, a view clearly shared by Anthony Hamilton.

Next time around, Nakajima and Trulli pit, as Sutil posts a new fastest lap (24.739).

At the end of lap 36 Raikkonen and Sutil both pit. Both drivers have problems, Raikkonen with the fuel rig and Sutil clouting a couple of his pit crew. They leave the pits in the same order in which they arrived but now in fourth and fifth.

Replay shows the right-hand mirror falling from Sutil car when his crewman fell on to it.

Hamilton goes quickest in the first sector as he closes to within 2.7s of Button with 14 laps remaining. Following his pit stop, Glock is immediately immersed in a battle with his Toyota teammate.

On lap 41, Rosberg makes his third stop of the afternoon. Hamilton closes to within 1.8s of Button.

Sutil is all over the back of Raikkonen, much to Michael Schumacher's obvious frustration. Elsewhere, Vettel takes a long trip through the gravel at the second Lesmo.

Button posts a personal best on lap 43, while Hamilton goes quickest in the first sector of the subsequent lap closing to within 1.6s.

On lap 46, with 7 laps remaining, Button posts another personal best as he extends the gap to Hamilton to 1.8 and closes to within 4s of Barrichello.

It's Barrichello, Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Sutil, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel and Fisichella.

A battle royale between the two Toyotas ends with Trulli spinning at the first Lesmo. This follows a minor contretemps involving Trulli and Nakajima at the first chicane. That was one of the most exciting things we've seen this afternoon thus far.

With 3 laps remaining, Barrichello raises the stakes by going quickest in the first sector, as Hamilton closes to within 1.4s of the second Brawn. Kovalainen suddenly finds some pace, going quickest in the first sector.

On the penultimate lap, Hamilton posts a personal best, crossing the line at 24.802. Moments later, however, the McLaren driver spins and crashes into the barriers at the second Lesmo bringing out the Safety Car. However, Barrichello has already crossed the line to take the victory.

Replay shows that Hamilton appeared to suffer a technical problem as opposed to driver error. Either way, it means the Englishman leaves here empty handed while Vettel, who finished eighth, picks up a point that surely neither he nor Red Bull expected.

Having seen its strategy totally backfire McLaren will be gutted to be leaving here with just three points courtesy of Heikki Kovalainen, while Kimi Raikkonen, who was equally as unimpressive as his countryman, added six vital points to Ferrari's tally.

However, a fantastic performance from Brawn with a well deserved win for Rubens Barrichello and a return to form for Jenson Button.

Sutil and Force India will be disappointed with fourth, however, in truth, who expected to be writing such a comment just a few races ago. In truth, this has been another fantastic performance from the Silverstone-based outfit and a truly mature performance from its German driver.

While Alonso and Renault will be content with fifth, the French team has far more important things on it mind.

After a fairly miserable weekend, not least those engine failures in qualifying, BMW must be delighted with two points for seventh, hopefully the German team can use this to its advantage in terms of finding a buyer who will keep it on the grid.

A dreadful weekend for Red Bull, however, even eighth must have been better than Sebastian Vettel expected this afternoon.

Not the most exciting seventy-six minutes in F1 history, but a feelgood result at this particular time, especially in terms of the little man from Sao Paulo.

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    Published: 13/09/2009
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