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Brawn’s “Virgin” on ’09 Success

March 29, 2009

As the first race of the new Formula One season took the chequered flag, the 2009 World Championship was officially under-way. And while it was the Brits who triumphed again in Melbourne, it wasn’t the Hamilton-McLaren domination of 2008. No, this year it was the turn of Jenson Button and Brawn Mercedes…

 At 7am local time, as the lights went green on Melbourne’s Albert Park, 20 men hit their accelerators and went racing.  

Leading them was Jenson Button, who three weeks ago, didn’t even know if he would be racing this season, following the Honda Racing team’s pull-out from F1.

The new kids on the grid, Brawn-Mercedes, fronted by the brains of Ross Brawn, managed an astonishing result in their first ever Grand Prix. The team started the race on Sunday with Button on pole and Rubens Barrichello in P2, and despite Sebastian Vettel dominating second place throughout the majority of the race, the British team managed to bring home a one-two, the first time a new team has qualified and finished a race at the top since the French Grand Prix in 1954 when Mercedes-Benz first entered F1.

For entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group, the move to sign a sponsorship deal with the Brackley-based team proved to be the right thing to do as Brawn-Mercedes have dominated since qualifying on Saturday. Branson has revealed he may take over the naming-rights and identity of the team within weeks.

The reigning world champ Lewis Hamilton, who qualified 15th in his McLaren MP4-24, started from 18th on the grid following his first penalty of the season after the Woking-based team changed his gearbox as a precautionary measure. 24-year-old Hamilton perhaps gained the most in the season opener, after finishing in fourth place, following a dramatic end to the race after Robert Kubica in the BMW Sauber and Vettel in the Red Bull collided and crashed-out three laps from the chequered flag.

Hamilton’s Finnish teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, who started the race from twelfth, failed to finish the race after a first-corner collision with the Red Bull of Mark Webber, after Barrichello failed to get away cleaning from the grid. The Brazilian’s anti-stall had kicked in allowing Vettel and Kubica, the Williams of Nico Rosberg, and the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen through, before getting caught up with Webber and Kovalainen and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld and Force India of Adrian Sutil. The Finn subsequently retired from the race.

Lap 19 saw the first safety car of the season after Kazuki Nakajima dropped his Williams and smacked into the wall. By then, Button had built a 47.7s lead over his closest rivals and he saw it reduced to nothing as the safety car remained in the race until the end of lap 24. New rules this year mean that the cars are free to pit during the safety car period and do not need to wait until Race Control open the pitlane, something Button took to his advantage when the safety car was deployed a few laps before his scheduled stop.

As for the Ferraris, neither managed to finish. Massa suffered mechanical problems later on, and Raikkonen retired following a shunt in the wall in the third half of the race.

At the start of lap 55 Vettel and Kubica, who were running second and third respectively, collided on turn three and Kubica subsequently crashed out. Vettel continued, despite his left-front tyre being mangled, but later parked his car on the grass. The safety car was again deployed and remained there until the end of the race.

Button took the chequered flag to claim the second win of his career, followed by teammate Barrichello, who had been fourth prior to the crash. Jarno Trulli, who along with his teammate had started the race from the pitlane, came through in third place in the Toyota, followed by reigning champ Hamilton in fourth. The second Toyota of Timo Glock came through in fifth, with the Renault of Fernando Alonso in sixth and Rosberg in seventh. Rookie Sebastien Buemi took the last of the points-paying positions in eighth.

Button’s victory marked the 200th Formula One victory for a British driver. In the press conference after the race he said the win was not just for him, but the whole team; he dubbed it the “fairytale ending” to their first race as a team.

 

Following the race, the stewards investigated an incident involving third place Jarno Trulli, who had run off the track behind the safety car in the final stages of the race. Hamilton had taken the position off the Toyota driver, who then claimed it back. The stewards handed Trulli a 25 second penalty for passing under waved yellow flags.

 

For the McLaren team, who have struggled with the grip of their car since testing, a third place and six points for Hamilton are a welcomed reward. For Brawn-Mercedes, the reward is huge considering their non-existence just weeks ago.

 

With the new season finally under-way, and with the grid mixed-up, this year is set to be more exciting than before, where it really can be anyone’s for the taking.

 

 

The next round is in Malaysia next weekend, with qualifying at 10am on Saturday and the race live on BBC One at 10am on Sunday.

 

 

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