Jenson Button’s charge to world championship glory gathered pace today as he stormed to victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Brawn GP driver finished ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello and in doing so won his fourth race out of five this season.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber finished third ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who passed Felipe Massa’s Ferrari late on. World champion Lewis Hamilton finished outside the points in ninth.
This was the ninth successive year that a driver has won from pole position at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, but it was no procession for Button. After being passed by Barrichello on the run down to the first corner, Button and his team made the call to switch from a three stop strategy to two early on.
It proved decisive as the 29-year-old did enough when Barrichello made his three trips into the pits to again take the chequered flag at the end of the 66 laps.
Yet despite standing on the top step of the podium for the fourth time this year, Button’s lead is only 14 points over Barrichello.
The start to the race was marred by a four-car accident, bringing a swift end for Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella in his Force India, and the Toro Rosso duo of Sebastiens Bourdais and Buemi. Williams’ Nico Rosberg was the instigator as it was he who gently nudged Trulli off the circuit coming out of the opening chicane.
After running onto the gravel, it was evident Trulli had little traction as he made his way back onto the track as he slid into the on-rushing traffic. Unable to take evasive action, Fisichella rammed into the side of Trulli, sending both shattered cars careering onto the gravel.
It was remarkable that as passengers at that point they failed to collect any of their rivals because the Bourdais/Buemi encounter was a separate affair. Driving into the back of young Swiss Buemi, Frenchman Bourdais was temporarily launched into the air, running over the top of the 20-year-old, yet remarkably no driver was hurt.
With debris strewn across the track, world champion Lewis Hamilton was fortunate not to sustain damage, in particular to his tyres. Starting from 14th on the grid, Hamilton ran over a sizeable piece of bodywork at one point as he attempted to weave his way through, yet emerged unscathed.
However, it relegated him to 16th and last behind the safety car which made an inevitable appearance, and for the fourth race of the five this year given the various incidents that have unfolded.
Hamilton produced a credible drive from such a lowly position, but in finishing ninth, he missed out on what would have been another deserved point.
Instead, he finished a lap down on Button, who finished 13 seconds clear of Barrichello, with Webber in close attendance. Another mistake from Ferrari at Felipe Massa’s second pit stop as his crew failed to put enough fuel in his car, saw him relegated from fourth to sixth in the closing laps.
Massa was told to slow down to conserve fuel, otherwise he faced the prospect of running out before the finish. It allowed Sebastian Vettel to pass the Brazilian at the start of the 63rd lap to claim fourth, with Fernando Alonso thrilling his home fans with a round-the-outside manoeuvre on the final lap to claim fifth.
At least in taking sixth, Massa has now finally broken his points duck, although he will surely feel aggrieved as he knows he should have had more. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld and Rosberg completed the top eight of a 14-car field as McLaren and Ferrari suffered further woes.
Heikki Kovalainen retired shortly after the race resumed following the withdrawal of the safety car after it had run for four laps. As for Kimi Raikkonen, he ground to a halt on lap 18 as his engine lost power, just to add to the early failure of his KERS system.
In the constructors’ championship, Brawn GP now hold a 29.5-point cushion over Red Bull Racing, with Toyota 31.5 points adrift.