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Rubens finds his place in the sun

india Updated: Aug 26, 2009 00:46 IST
Steve Slater
Steve Slater
Hindustan Times
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For Rubens Barrichello, victory in Valencia was a moment to savour. It came after a five-year absence from the winners' circle and for Barrichello — so long the bridesmaid, never the bride — it was just the tenth victory of a career spanning 281 race starts.

As in his six years at Ferrari, it looked this season as if once again the Brazilian would play the role of understudy to his teammate. Like with Michael Schumacher in the past, Barrichello seemed fated to once again follow in the wheel tracks of championship leader-- Jenson Button.

This time, however, it was Button who faltered, a mistake in qualifying meant he started fifth on the grid, two places behind his teammate. Then he got forced further down the pack in the opening lap melee. On a track, which seems purpose-built to prevent overtaking, Button was lucky to salvage two points with his eventual seventh place.

The race though, turned out a lot better for the Brawn team than their closest championship rivals. Red Bull simply never looked like winners all weekend and come the race, things went from bad to worse, with neither Mark Webber nor Sebastian Vettel scoring points.

Worse still, Vettel suffered not two engine blow-ups during the weekend, one in practice and second in the race. Vettel has now used seven of the eight engines in the season, which the 2009 regulations allow before penalties are invoked.

At the start of this race, I commented that the Grand Prix of Europe was potentially McLaren's to throw away. And, guess what, they did. The silver cars were undoubtedly the fastest on the track and Hamilton led for more than half the race, before a pit-lane bungle dropped him to second place.

Once again, Kimi Raikkonen was back on the podium for Ferrari, with third place in a car, which clearly still struggles early in the race on full fuel tanks, but steadily improves as the race goes on. The improving fortunes of the Ferrari team were hardly reflected by their second car however.

Test driver Luca Badoer's return to a F1 starting grid after a ten-year absence, sadly looked more like a nightmare than a dream come true. Despite being a veteran of thousands of laps of testing, he blundered around the track, not just off the pace, but seemingly overawed by the experience.

With the Belgian Grand Prix coming up next, it seems that Ferrari have little option but to stick with Badoer. Meanwhile, a revitalised Barrichello could even start to hustle teammate Button, for the title.

(The writer is Formula One commentator for Star Sports)