2009 Italian Grand Prix report


“This time I got a good start, and it was vital I did, because the guys with KERS had 20 metres on us away from the grid. At one point Kovalainen was coming fast with the power button, but I managed to keep him back, and altogether had a great first lap – in fact, it really made my race.”

2009 Italian Grand Prix - Sunday

Monza brought another victory for the oldest man in the business, and, as at Valencia, Rubens Barrichello drove a beautiful race, hard and fast all the way, quite devoid of error.

This was the team’s fourth 1-2 of the season, but the first in which Barrichello finished ahead. “I’ve put a brave face on it recently,” smiled Jenson Button, “but actually I hate this guy! No, no, on the circuit we’re fierce rivals, but we’ve got a very good relationship.” Button, beaten by three seconds, at last added a decent number of points to his tally – but still saw his lead reduced by two, and at this stage of the game it seems a certainty that one of the Brawn drivers will be the World Champion of 2009. Red Bull had a truly dreadful time of it at Monza, Mark Webber being shoved into a gravel trap by Robert Kubica on the opening lap, and Sebastian Vettel scraping a single point after running in midfield all afternoon.

2009 Italian Grand Prix - Sunday

Fundamentally, this was a race between Brawn and McLaren – or, rather, Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren, for the sister car of Heikki Kovalainen was never in the hunt.

The two teams came at the task of winning the Italian Grand Prix from two very different directions, and in the end it was the Brawn strategy – one-stoppers for both cars – which worked out best. “As a team, we’ve worked well this weekend,” said Button. “On Friday I was only 19th quickest – but we were working for the race, we were running a lot of fuel…”

The true potential of the Brawns became clear only in qualifying, the practice sessions being dominated largely by the Force India of Adrian Sutil.

Force India people had stressed that their cars’ showing at Spa had been no fluke, that they anticipated more of the same at Monza: they were on the money. Giancarlo Fisichella may have been fulfilling his lifetime’s ambition in stepping aboard a Ferrari, and probably he wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world, but as he struggled to acclimatise to his new car (qualifying an eventual 14th) he just may have cast a wistful glance at what he had left behind.

2009 Italian Grand Prix - Sunday

Giancarlo, of course, started from the pole at Spa; Sutil didn’t quite manage that at Monza, but he qualified second, and his team was mighty happy with that. On Monza’s long straights, the Force India – the only car without KERS to make the first two rows – was like a bullet. Tonio Liuzzi, who last raced an F1 car two years ago, was an impressive seventh on the grid.

While Hamilton started from pole, and by some margin, when ‘the weights’ were published late on Saturday afternoon, his advantage was suddenly rather less clear-cut. Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen, second and third, were also fuelled light, and – like Lewis – clearly on a two-stop strategy, but Kovalainen, fourth, was a different matter. Carrying 30kg more fuel than Hamilton, he was only eight-tenths slower, and would be stopping only once. “Heikki,” Martin Whitmarsh murmured to him after qualifying, “I think you’re in very good shape for the race…”

So, too, seemed to be the Brawns, starting from row three – and also fuelled up, due to stop only once. Once again, Barrichello was quicker than Button, but this it wasn’t by much. “To be honest,” Rubens commented, “before the race we thought our main opposition would be Kovalainen…”

At the start, though, Hamilton may have raced away, but Kovalainen had a very poor opening lap, passed by both Brawns and the Force India of Liuzzi. A couple of laps later Alonso, too, was past and gone, and thereafter Kovalainen was never a factor, eventually finishing a distant sixth. The team’s disappointment was palpable, and Heikki’s future with the team, already uncertain, would now seem to be in serious doubt.

Given his light fuel load, Hamilton was expected to go like hell from the start, and this he duly did, but a succession of fastest laps, while impressive in themselves, looked to be not quite enough to give him the lead he needed at his first stop, which came on lap 15 – a couple of laps earlier than expected, thanks to the condition of his tyres.

2009 Italian Grand Prix - Sunday

Lewis was seven seconds up at this stage, with Raikkonen running second, trailed closely by Sutil. For Kimi the entire race felt like déjà vu, for, just as at Spa, he had a Force India in his mirrors from beginning to end.

When Sutil (17) and Raikkonen (19) made their first stops, Barrichello and Button took over at the front, Rubens leading by a couple of seconds, and although Hamilton ran third, he was losing half a second a lap. The Brawns’ only pitstops went without hitch, and they slotted in fourth and fifth, with Hamilton now leading again, with Raikkonen second, Sutil a constantly shadowing third.

On lap 34 – again earlier than expected – Hamilton was in for the final time, and three laps later both Raikkonen and Sutil were in – which of course propelled Barrichello and Button to the front once more.

And there they were to stay. In the closing laps Hamilton made a huge effort to catch Button, although it was clear that Barrichello was out of reach. On the very last lap Lewis, a second behind Jenson, set the fastest first sector time of the entire afternoon – but in the second sector, at the exit of the first Lesmo, he spun, and hit the inside wall. Although the impact was sizeable, Hamilton was quite unhurt, but there were bits of debris all over the road, through which the rest – including the still duelling Raikkonen and Sutil – had to drive.

Afterwards Rubens was asked how, after all those years of slavery at Ferrari, it felt to be able to do his own thing, to fight for a championship with no constraints up on him. “It means a lot,” he beamed. “I really enjoyed my years at Ferrari – usually we had the best car, after all – but this is better, for sure. I’m free to be…me…”

2009 Italian Grand Prix - Sunday

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