The Italian Grand Prix gives you more mental pressure than any other race. And just as in his days at Ferrari, Ross Brawn turned that pressure to his advantage. Brawn gave Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button a strategy that allowed them to outpace the KERS-equipped cars that had a short-term speed advantage on the superfast Monza straights.
In Friday’s practice, Button and Barrichello had languished at the bottom of the timesheets. In fact, the Brawn drivers had been running with full tanks, as lightly fuelled rivals chased fastest lap times. From this, they developed a chassis set-up that allowed them to run with just a single pit stop.
In the final leg of qualifying, Brawn fuelled their cars with around 83 kg of fuel, more than the other cars in top ten. Barrichello and Button lined up on the grid fifth and sixth. They were far enough up the grid to avoid the inevitable lap one mayhem, yet carried sufficient fuel to stop only once, around lap 28. Three of the four cars ahead of them, Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren, Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen all carried lighter fuel loads, meaning two stop strategies.
That is precisely how the race panned out, with the added bonus of a poor start from Heikki Kovalainen. That allowed Brawn to move up to fourth and fifth on the opening laps. True to form, the three cars ahead of them opened a gap, but it wasn’t enough and when they duly began their pit stops around lap 15, the Brawns moved up their 1-2 position.
Not that it was been easy. To allow their tyres to last more than 20% longer than their rivals, both Barrichello and Button must have had to drive with a fine balance between pace and preservation.
Added to it, Button had to cope with a fast closing Hamilton in the closing stages. Button will now arrive at the Singapore Grand Prix with a 14-point advantage over his teammate and title rival Barrichello.
A single championship point for eighth in Monza for Sebastian Vettel and a non-scoring first-lap retirement for Mark Webber, means that neither Red Bull driver has a realistic chance of the title. With four races remaining, one wonders when the gloves will come off for a final title battle between the two rivals.
(Steve Slater is a race commentator on STAR Sports’ coverage of the Formula One.)