How Brawn GP Shocked The 2009 Formula 1 Grid

The full story of the 2009 F1 season that saw an underdog takeover. 

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The 2009 season was uniquely shaped by current events. Naturally, its reach made it’s mark on the most expensive traveling circus on planet Earth – Formula 1. 

Cost cutting procedures were put into place to combat the effects of the financial crisis which crippled many industries. On top of that, major aero changes were instituted to improve the aerodynamics of the cars. There was no doubt to be an effect on the discretionary income of Formula 1 fans globally that fueled the sport – and ticket sales. Changes like…

  • The introduction of the KERS system and slicks… as well as …
  • Taller rear wing setup that was more narrow while simultaneously dropping the front wings down & widening them out…

These, along with a few others were meant to make overtaking a more common occurrence. 

F1 as a business was surely to be hurt but so were the teams individually. None more so than Honda. The financial collapse brought the automotive industry to it’s knees with Honda fully immersed in damage control. They were forced to suddenly pull out of F1 late in 2008 as the grid was forming for the 2009 season. 

They had two experienced drivers ready to race and a highly developed car. The team lead by former Honda technical director, ross brawn, scrambled furiously to put Ruebens Barrichello and Jenson Button on the grid.  

Months went by while the team and factory waited to learn if they had jobs or not, let alone be building a race winning car. It wasn’t until march of 2009 that Brawn GP was formalized after a management buyout (MBO) saw Brawn and Nick Fry takeover the team.

The Honda RA109 became the BGP 001. The Honda team was on a string of poor performance grabbing:

  • 6 points with three in-the-points finishes in 2007 and
  • 14 points from four in-the-points finishes including one podium at Silverstone in 2008. 

Brawn was announced technical director of Honda in late 2007 closing the books on rumors of his move to Red Bull to lure in Alonso. After taking 8 constructors titles already in his career, the expectations were high. The poor results were all the more reason for the focus to shift towards the impending regulations that were set to shake up the grid.

Having buried so much into the car, Brawn was keenly aware of the performance it was capable of. But after Honda’s exit, they naturally were left without an engine. 

The newly branded Brawn GP opted for the mercedes engine. having taken Mercedes up on their engine deal, didn’t have much time to adapt the car to the new engine. They also had to forgo their originally planned implementation of the KERS system as Honda was set to be one of the first. Brawn thought it best to focus on the aerodynamics and what would be the talk of the seasons and arguably the most critical element to the success of the BGP 001:

The double diffuser.

The double diffuser was fitted on the cars of 3 seasons that year: 

  • Williams FW31
  • Toyota TF109
  • Brawn BGP 001

These rear diffusers were protested by the other 7 teams on the grid. The system leveraged the rear crash structure as a means for incremental downforce. 

The official protest over the double diffusers was launched on race week of the opening round which is right where we pick up the action. 

Brawn GP Opens Beautifully

The Brawn team had already dropped some jaws in preseason testing putting their cars at the top of the time sheets. But when Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello led every session and took a front row lockout with Button on pole, it was confirmed the pace was real, and they had the edge.

And while it was the perfect start of the season, Barrichello’s start of the race was less than perfect. This was one of many incidents throughout the race that would ultimately lead to what was at the time the 2nd ever finish under safety car. The other notable collision was Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica. After the two touched, both continued on but both suffered from their loss in downforce.

Vettel would be considered in the wrong as well as being fined $50,000 for carrying on at the end of the race seeing as how he was still in the points. Red Bull’s woes would continue despite having one of the best cars on the grid as Webber would be the only car of the field to be lapped. 

The other notable incident was between Trulli and Hamilton. Trulli was accused of passing under the safety car that was brought out after Vettel’s debris was unable to be cleared with enough time. Initially Trulli was found to have breached Article 40.14 of the 2009 sporting regulations and given a firm 25 second penalty. A deeper investigation later overturned the initial ruling and Trulli would eventually have his podium reinstated.

It was confirmed that McLaren had ordered Hamilton to let Trulli by – consistent with the Italian’s initial defense as well as Hamilton’s initial comments but it was revealed Hamilton & McLaren conveyed a different message to stewards later which led to Trulli’s infraction. The later investigation had obtained audio evidence McLaren had instructed Hamilton to let Trulli by and Hamilton was DSQ from the race. 

Barrichello may have fluffed the start, but he recovered beautifully and would get his highest finish since the controversial 2005 US GP Farce. 

The team converted their front rock lockout to a 1-2 finish. A rookie team hasn’t accomplished this feat in over half a century – the last being the Great Fangio’s win at Mercedes debut outing at the 1954 French Grand Prix. 

“After everything that our team has been through over the past four months, this is quite simply a sensational result.” – Ross Brawn

Results after Round 1 Australia for both constructors’ and drivers’ championships were as follows:

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 10
  2. Barrichello: 8
  3. Trulli: 6
  4. Glock: 5
  5. Alonso: 4

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 18
  2. Toyota: 11
  3. Renault: 4
  4. Williams: 3
  5. Toro Rosso: 3

Button Keeps Winning

The second round of the season would be cut short due to torrential rain. After a poor start, Button made up the places he had initially lost as both Toyota drivers would get the conditions just right and continue their impressive start to the season remaining at the top of the field. Trulli especially nailed down the intermediates and many would follow suit. The rain would begin on lap 19 and the race would be officially called off on the 33rd lap, classifying drivers after their full completion of the 31st lap.

Button would continue his dominance translating another pole into a subsequent race win. This would mark the second time in history a new constructor would win it’s first 2 consecutive grand prix. Another rarity would be the grid would receive Half points for just the 5th time in history. 

Results after Round 2 Malaysia for both constructors’ and drivers’ championships were as follows:

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 15 1.
  2. Barrichello: 10
  3. Trulli: 8.5
  4. Glock: 8
  5. Heidfeld: 4

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 25
  2. Toyota: 16.5
  3. BMW: 4
  4. Renault: 4
  5. Williams: 5

The RB5 Disrupts Brawn 

The Chinese grand prix would be the first time Brawn would be absent from the top 3 after qualifying as the Red Bull pair would be split by Fernando Alonso. The rain would continue to make weekends difficult as the race start under safety car for the first 8 laps.

The poor conditions would remain throughout the race and would lead to a number of errors and incidents. In the end, Red Bull would finish 1-2 as Vettel would would slow the Brawn dominance and Webber achieved his best result of his career with a P2. Button would not be denied a podium though as he finished P3 with his teammate Barrichello just behind him. 

Results after Round 3 China for both constructors’ and drivers’ championships were as follows:

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 21 
  2. Barrichello: 15
  3. Vettel: 10
  4. Glock: 10
  5. Webber: 9.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 36
  2. Red Bull: 19.5
  3. Toyota: 18.5
  4. McLaren: 8
  5. BMW: 4

Brawn Unable To Shake Vettel

The weekend began beautifully for the Toyota’s of Trulli and Glock as they locked out the front row. A poor pit strategy settled them behind Button where they would stay for the duration of the rest. Jenson would go on to win his third race of the season while Vettel would move up a place to finish P2. Trulli would convert his pole to a podium completing the podium.

Ferrari broke their streak of failing to finish in the points as Kimi grabbed 3 points for his P6 efforts after starting 10th on the grid. The Scuderia’s start was eerily similar to their season following their ‘79 double where it took 4 races to score. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 31
  2. Barrichello: 19
  3. Vettel: 18
  4. Trulli: 14.5
  5. Glock: 12

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 50
  2. Red Bull: 27.5
  3. Toyota: 26.5
  4. McLaren: 13
  5. Renault: 5

Button Ends The European Stretch On Top

Spain and Monaco saw teams begin to bring more upgrade packages but they still were no match for Brawn, especially Button who took a commanding lead in the drivers championship being 16 points clear after his back to back wins. The Brit was in rare air as he recorded the third best start in history at the time through 6 races notching 5 wins and a P3. This was only outdone by Mansell in his ‘92 FW14B and Schumacher in his ’94 B194. He did this all with a single engine. 

Brawn had back to back 1-2 finishes and was now more than 2x clear of the nearest constructor. Kimi would finally give Ferrari their first podium of the season in Monaco. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 51
  2. Barrichello: 35
  3. Vettel: 23
  4. Webber: 19.5
  5. Trilli: 14.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 86
  2. Red Bull: 42.
  3. Toyota: 26.5
  4. Ferrari: 17
  5. McLaren: 13

Webber Moves Up

The Turkish grand prix would begin to see the RB5 start to gain some ground as Vettel would claim pole leading all 3 parts of the qualifying session. His team mate Webber would be separated by both Brawn’s. 

Button would capitalize on a mistake from Vettel and take the lead position. Barrichello would not have the best start this time having issues with the clutch. Webber would move up into second position behind Button with Vettel in P3 which is how the race would end. 

Button would now be only the 5th drivers to win 6/7 races with the likes of:

  1. Alberto Ascari
  2. Juan Manuel Fangio
  3. Jim Clark and 
  4. Michael Schumacher

All of whom would go on to win the drivers’ title. 

Hamilton, the reigning world champion, would be lapped by Brawn as there was no doubt this was not the strongest McLaren ever designed. Hamilton and Kovalainen would finish P13 and P14 respectively. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 61
  2. Barrichello: 35
  3. Vettel: 29
  4. Webber: 27.5
  5. Trilli: 19.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 96
  2. Red Bull: 56.5
  3. Toyota: 32.5
  4. Ferrari: 20
  5. McLaren: 13

The Reigning World Champ Keeps Fading

As the on-track action intensified, off-track chatter was growing louder as the conflict between the FIA, Formula 1 Teams Association (FOTA), and Formula 1 Management (FOM) was intensifying. At this point, the 2010 budget cap was increasingly becoming more and more of a sticking point and breakaway talks were becoming more substantial.

On track, Red Bull would continue to be strong as they brought substantial upgrades to the track which resulted in Vettel on pole and Webber in 3rd split by Barrichello. Vettel would go on to win the race while Webber would make up a position to second for a 1-2 finish. Barrichello would complete the third spot on the podium.

Ferrari would take 6 points as Felipe Massa finished P4 & his teammate Raikkonen P8. Rosberg drove to an impressive 5th place finish as Button would have his worse race of the season thus far in P6. Hamilton would again be lapped finishing his home race in 16th place. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 64
  2. Barrichello: 41
  3. Vettel: 39
  4. Webber: 35.5
  5. Trulli: 21.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 105
  2. Red Bull: 74.5
  3. Toyota: 34.5
  4. Ferrari: 26
  5. McLaren: 15.5

The RB5 Comes To Life

Another Red Bull would dominate the weekend but this time it would be Mark Webber’s. He took a highly contested pole with both Brawn cars following him closely. Vettel would be on the second row with Jenson with both McLaren’s paired on the third row. 

Despite some early clashing Webber would recover to ultimate win the grand prix separated by nearly 10 seconds from his teammate Vettel. Red Bull earned another 1-2 finish as Massa and rRosberg displaced the thus-far dominant Brawn duo in P3 and P4, respectively. Button and Barrichello would finish ahead of Alonso in P7 as Kovalainen grabbed the last point in P8 and his teammate Hamilton, falling back to dead last being lapped after dealing with an early puncture. 

Both Red Bull drivers would jump Brawn’s Barrichello relegating the Brazilian to P4. Red Bull also cut the constructors gap to under 20 points. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 68
  2. Vettel: 47
  3. Webber: 45.5
  4. Barrichello: 44
  5. Massa: 22

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 112
  2. Red Bull: 92.5
  3. Toyota: 34.5
  4. Ferrari: 32
  5. Williams: 20.5

Massa’s Scare

The weekend began on somber note with Felipe Massa having a very serious incident in the qualifying session. The Brazilian was knocked unconscious with his foot still on the throttle as he lodged his Ferrari into the barrier. The culprit appeared to be a piece of debris that fell off or Barrichello’s suspension that struck him in his helmet. 

Alonso and Vettel would go on to start on the front row with webber and hamilton filling out row 2.  Massa would not return for the session or for the race so all drivers outside his initial P10 start moved up. Pole sitting Alonso would retire from the race after losing a wheel only to try to get back to racing when a fuel pump issue ended his race. Vettel too would be forced to retire the car. 

As a result, Hamilton would run away with the race and win his first grand prix of the season and since the 2008 Chinese grand prix. Kimi would be runner up with Webber taking 6 points and complete the podium. Rosberg would would move up a position and finish an impressive P4 while Button would finish a lowly P7 and Barrichello out of the points in P10. As such Webber would swap places with Vettel and Rosberg would slide into the top 5 in WDC. 

Massa would eventually make a full recovery but was diagnosed with a skull fracture and forced to sit out the remainder of the season.

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 70
  2. Webber: 51. 5
  3. Vettel: 47
  4. Barrichello: 44
  5. Rosberg: 25.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 114
  2. Red Bull: 98.5
  3. Ferrari: 40
  4. Toyota: 38.5
  5. McLaren: 28

Barrichello Reinvigorates His 2009 Title Chances

The grid would head to Valencia for the European grand prix. Romain Grosjean would replace Nelson Piquet junior after he was released from Renault – which would officially kick off a swirl of controversy months    away before it would begin to boil over.

Red Bull showed signs of slowing thanks to the heat and were way down in pace in practice sessions. A Brawn would lead the first two parts of qualifying then the reigning world champion would step in and take pole position with his teammate Kovalainen on the front row with him ahd Barrichello just ahead of a surprise 4th for Vettel who had engine problems from the heat but overcame for a 2nd row start. 

The heat persisted and the Brawn car seemed to be the better car suited – but Button’s P5 start left him in a difficult place needing to get around Vettel. This would be an especially difficult day for Jenson who had a poor start. Consistent with the practice session, the Red Bulls were not a threat in the race and Vettel would see his engine nightmare come to fruition as he had an issue on lap 23 forcing him to retire. Webber was also unable to add to the team’s tally as he finished P9. 

Barrichello was the star of the show as he overtook Hamilton in the pits and was helped by a pit error from Hamilton’s team not having his tyres out of the blankets. Barichello would go on to defend his lead through the race and take much needed points for himself and the team. Brawn extended over Red Bull and Barrichello put himself back into the fight. Capitalizing on the Red Bull woes, he jumped both Vettel and Webber in Drivers’ championship to take back P2 trailing his teammate by 18 points.  Hamilton and Raikkonen both earned another podium finishing P2 and P3 respectively. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 72
  2. Barrichello: 54
  3. Webber: 51.5
  4. Vettel: 47
  5. Rosberg: 29.5

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 114
  2. Red Bull: 98.5
  3. Ferrari: 40
  4. Toyota: 38.5
  5. McLaren: 28

And Then There Were 3

A first lap incident would take out Hamilton and Button. Barrichello would lose three positions during the race and Webber was handed a costly drive through penalty for unsafe release. Raikkonen would go on a tear and move from P6 up to race leader and ultimately take the victory. Fisichella would only drop 1 place and finish P2 with Vettel just behind him. 

This put Sebastian just 3 points behind Barrichello and Kimi now in 5th place. 

Monza would see a return to form for the Brawn GP team and would be a crucial one in their title hunt. They were helped by other’s misfortune as well as some solid performances of their own taking their 4th 1-2 finish of the season. Despite starting 5th and 6th, their one stop strategy helped them cruise to a victory. Hamilton’s 2 stop strategy had him stuck behind Button in P2 and Barrichello leading into the closing stages of the race. Hamilton in a desperate attempt to get track position and challenge, went off and debris brought out the safety car which was unable to catch Barrichello who crossed the line for Brawn GP for the 8th time that season.  Hamilton’s wreck officially knocked him out of contention for the title – as was Raikkonen now mathematically. 

The Singapore grand prix was the first race all season a Red Bull nor a Brawn was on the podium. The race would start with Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg leading and Hamilton holding onto his advantage successfully converting it to a victory. Glock’s Toyota would be P2 and Alonso completed the podium and went on to dedicate his achievement to Flavio Briatore on the 1 year anniversary of Crashgate which had come to light and been heard by the world motorsport council after the conclusion of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 84*
  2. Barrichello: 69*
  3. Vettel: 59*
  4. Webber: 51.5
  5. Raikkonen: 40

*chance to still win the WDC

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 153
  2. Red Bull: 110.5
  3. Ferrari: 62
  4. McLaren: 59
  5. Toyota: 46.5

Vettel’s Dominance Emerges

With only 3 drivers left in the championship battle, it was now going to be about who could make the least amount of mistakes. Button control of the championship and enjoyed a 15 point lead over his teammate and a commanding 25 points clear of Vettel. 

But Sebastian was not out just yet. He would take pole position as his teammate would start from pit lane after a chassis change. Trulli and Hamilton would complete the top 3 times in qualifying and sebastian would essentially lead start to finish with only a handful of challenging moments on the opening lap. The top 3 would hold their positions and finish the race this way. Kimi and Nico Rosberg would finish P4 and P5. The Brawn cars would take the final two points positions. Unfortunately for Webber, he would be a regular in the pits – frequenting on 3 separate occasions over the first 4 laps.

After the Japanese Grand Prix, Jenson was now 14 points clear of Barrichello and 16 points clear of Vettel. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 85*
  2. Barrichello: 71*
  3. Vettel: 69*
  4. Webber: 51.5
  5. Raikkonen: 45

*chance to still win the WDC

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 156
  2. Red Bull: 120.5
  3. Ferrari: 67
  4. McLaren: 65
  5. Toyota: 54.5

Barrichello’s Final Stance

A moment that would have been truly magical for Barrichello if he could seize it. With Massa taking victories for his home country in 2006 and 2008, Barrichello looked to take a win for his home country for the 3rd time in four seasons. A win would inevitably set up a more dramatic conclusion in abu dhabi, the final round of the season.

Button simply had to limit mistakes and Vettel had to win or be runner up to remain in the championship fight. But this is Interlagos. Nothing goes to plan.

The qualifying session was chaos.

It was the first time almost every team had representation in the knock out stages of the qualifying session. Williams was the only team that would put both drivers through to the final round. Of those left in the title fight, Vettel was knocked out of Q1 and button Q2. Barrichello would go on to take pole. Button would start P14 and Vettel P16.  With everything going according to plan, Webber would join Barrichello on the front row. A first lap incident saw Sutil and Trulli mix it up but the incident leading to the retirement of them both.  The safety car would be deployed after further damage had Sutil collect Alonso and end his race. These incidents all the while allowing the likes of Button and Vettel to improve up the field – the former was now in P9 by the end of lap 1 alone. 

Vettel himself successfully evaded damage after almost making contact with Kovalainen – an incident for which Kovalainen would need to pit for. His team would end up releasing him from his pit box with the fuel hose still attached. Raikkonen who was also in the pits lights up the fuel trail for good measure. With many of the drivers crucially switching to a 1 stop strategy, Barrichello’s pace began to slow and Webber began to pull away. Webber would control the rest of the race and take the victory. Kubica would make a return to the podium finishing P2 and was joined by Hamilton in P3.  Button’s 5th place finish was good enough to secure his first world championship and Barrichello’s P8 helped Brawn secure their constructors championship.

Though the title was clinched, Vettel still needed to protected the P2 honors he just earned in the WDC after Brazil. He was just two points ahead of Barrichello, 74 vs 72, going into Abu Dhabi. Another good battle for third in the constructors championship needed to be settled between McLaren and Ferrari who were separated by just a single point. 

Drivers’ Championship

  1. Button: 89*
  2. Vettel: 74
  3. Barrichello: 72
  4. Webber: 61.5
  5. Hamilton: 49

*chance to still win the WDC

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Brawn: 161
  2. Red Bull: 135.5
  3. McLaren: 71
  4. Ferrari: 70
  5. Toyota: 54.5

The Final Shootout

The early sessions looked like Red Bull and McLaren, specifically Hamilton, would be leading the way as far as pace goes. Hamilton would confirm the pace from practice sessions to lead all three qualifying sessions. He was followed closely by Vettel who would start on the front row with Hamilton. Vettel’s teammate Webber would start next to Barrichello and button rounding out the top 5. 

The race was relatively clean with no many incidents. Hamilton got off to a good start but not exactly what his dominance all weekend suggested his gap would be. Vettel kept close enough that he would overtake him in the pits and position himself well. Hamilton would end up retiring after his car was reading an error in the right rear brake. 

Vettel would go on to finish the race 17 seconds ahead of the next car which was his teammate making that red bull’s fourth 1-2 finish of the season. After a fierce final lap battle, button would be forced to settle for P3 in the race but his drivers’ title still remained intact. Barrichello’s P5 would officially put him third in the drivers championship and confirm Vettel as splitting the two constructors championship winning brawn cars for second place.

A Short Lived Fairytale

The 2009 season saw highs, lows, and firsts. 

It gave us controversies. Thrills.

It kept us guessing, proving F1 elite can lose. 

But more than anything, it gave up hope that F1 glory isn’t reserved only for a couple of teams. Formula 1 may experience periods of where it appears there is no hope for a shakeup. 

But then the Brawn’s happen to show us F1 elite can be reclassified. 

And while the world was celebrating The Cinderella story that was Brawn GP, F1’s next champion was lurking…

Stalking… waiting for his next chance to strike.

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