F1: European Grand Prix liveblog

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarSunday, August 23rd, 2009

 
 

The first F1 race for a month and suddenly the form book has been rewritten – McLaren have seemingly overcome the development problems that wrecked the early part of their season and shut out the front row.

If Heikki Kovalainen really is fighting for his job, then he couldn’t have done much better.

Behind them, on what promises to be a blistering-hot day on the Valencia waterfront, Rubens Barrichello has found some much-needed speed and level-headedness to put his car third. Despite pessimistic noises coming from the Red Bull camp all weekend, Sebastian Vettel joins him in fourth.

In contrast to Barrichello, Jenson Button couldn’t get himself any higher than the third row, where he is joined by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Both his title hopes, and those of Mark Webber in ninth, may take a blow today.

The fourth row is occupied by Williams’ Nico Rosberg and Renault’s Fernando Alonso who many believe may be making his last appearance in front of his home crowd with his current team.

Rounding out the top ten alongside Webber is BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica who will surely be far more concerned at this point with a demonstration drive for any team principals with seats to fill than anything concerned with this benighted season.

Elsewhere on the grid, Toyota’s Timo Glock managed to salvage a little dignity from a terrible weekend with a 13th place. Force India had high hopes for today that were only partly realised in qualifying, with Fisichella in 16th and Adrian Sutil in 12th.

Renault’s Romain Grosjean put in good work in his first ever F1 qualifying session to post the 14th-fastest time and will be hoping for a trouble-free race. But it’s questionable whether Luca Badoer can leave Valencia with any consolations whatsoever after putting in one of the worst performances that Ferrari has ever seen.

We’ll be liveblogging today’s race all the way. Stick with us, watch the telemetry in the widget on the right by choosing menu/drivers — and don’t forget to keep refreshing to make sure you’re seeing the latest.

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Post-race: Ross Brawn’s biggest post-race concern? How England are doing in the cricket. That’s one cool dude. As it happens, things are quite encouraging… Hamilton in the press conference: “These things happen…” Button says he is worried about Spa where Red Bull could be fast. What a terrible decision Ross Brawn could be looking at soon…

Lo and behold, Whitmarsh rounded up to answer questions and says that the pitstop was incidental – Brawn always had greater race pace and the race was theirs. He gives a long and not terribly convincing explanation that involves the order of the pitstops being swapped around. But this isn’t good enough, Mr Whitmarsh.

Delighted to see Rubinho, one of our favourite drivers, on the podium. But Questions Should Be Asked (yet again) about how McLaren managed to piss this one up the wall.

Barrichello moves into second in the drivers’ championship as a result of the non-scoring Red Bull drivers. On the podium he’s doing the happy dance to beat all happy dances. And having a little cry as the Brazilian national anthem plays, bless him.

Button has actually come away from that with a slightly increased championship lead over Red Bull. Rubens sobbing into his radio. Ross Brawn: “Just like the old days…” The whole pitlane is out to applaud him as he comes back in.

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Lap 57: Hamilton has the gap under four seconds but it’s too late. Great that Brawn GP has recovered its mojo, especially on a weekend that saw Red Bull so disadvantaged. But now Button needs to recover his. Final order is Barrichello, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kovalainen (just), Rosberg, Alonso, Button and Kubica.

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Lap 56: Looking good for the Brawn GP/Barrichello win. It will be Rubens’ first victory since China in 2004.

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Lap 55: Speculation that Button’s in trouble with some kind of problem and is having to coast to ensure he comes away with at least two points. Or he could just be saving the engine. Meanwhile, at the front, Rubens’ lead down to five seconds.

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Lap 54: Rosberg is having a charge onto the back of Kovalainen but we all know how easy it would be for him to pull off an overtake in the late stages of the race, especially here. However there are some hints of brake trouble from the McLaren – dust flying out of the front wheels. Could we have an upset?

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Lap 53: Lead is now 5.5 seconds which mean Hamilton is catching but doesn’t have much time to make anything stick.

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Lap 52: Button is catching Alonso every lap but is probably in the dirty air now. And Alonso will be a sod to get past. Brawn team radio warns Rubinho to watch out for the speeding Hamilton.

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Lap 51: Hamilton is now 5.9 seconds behind Barrichello which mean’s he’s pulled a bit back. Especially since he’s pulling away from Raikkonen as he does it.

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Lap 50: The cars have to go round this godforsaken circuit another eight times and then we’re free of it. Perhaps for another year. Perhaps for 18 months if they manage to get their date change. Hopefully, however, we’ll never have to sit through this again.

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Lap 49: As you were.

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Lap 48: Hamilton is about six seconds behind Barrichello, with about seven to Raikkonen and then five to Kovalainen.

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Lap 47: About the best strategy McLaren can come up with now is trying to pressure that wily old fox Rubinho into a mistake. Good luck with that.

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Lap 46: Barrichello nearly seven seconds up the road from Hamilton. 11 laps left after this – a long circuit.

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Lap 45: Looks like Buemi had some kind of horrible lock-up thanks to brake failure. At the front it’s Barrichello, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Rosberg, Alonso, Button, Kubica and Webber after their final pitstops. Behind them are Sutil, Heidfeld, Fisichella, Trulli, Glock, Grosjean, J-Alg, Badoer, Nakajima. Buemi is the second retirement of the race.

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Lap 44: Rosberg pits – seven-second stop. A spin out on track looks like Buemi. Webber pits for a eight-second stop and comes out ninth – it looks like he’s fallen behind both Button and Kubica.

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Lap 43: Button, almost touching the back of Webber, pits. 6.0 seconds. Alonso also in. Button comes out ninth.

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Lap 42: Button is about to make his stop with the mechanics out. . Back in the pack, Raikkonen has cleared Kovalainen. Here’s an order: Barrichello, Rosberg (unpitted), Hamilton, Alonso (unpitted), Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Webber (unpitted), Button (unpitted), Heidfeld (unpitted), Kubica, Sutil, Fisi, Trulli, Grosjean, Glock, Algersuari, Badoer, Buemi, Nakajima.

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Lap 41: And Nakajima potters out on track, adding nothing to the sum of the race as he does it. His mishap did not lead to the safety car.

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Lap 40: McLaren say the Hamilton pitstop was “a late call”. Barrichello putting in 1:38.9s. Nakajima’s rear tyre shreds and sticks debris all over the racing line. As Christian Horner said at the beginning, we could be lookng at a safety car. But only a yellow flag so far. Barrichello pits which suggests Ross Brawn is thinking the same. Very fast stop – 6.8 seconds – and he comes out ahead of Hamilton.

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Lap 39: Barrichello sets a fastest lap and Ross Brawn looks like he’s having three Christmases at once. Kovalainen comes in for an eight-second stop and comes back behind Alonso in sixth.

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Lap 38: Barrichello starts lap 38 in the lead. Hamilton’s suffering from a disastrous 13+ second pitstop that has possibly ruined his race. Tyres not even out of their blankets in what looks like another McLaren strategic fuck-up. Hamilton fights with Rosberg for fourth and doesn’t succeed with his heavy car and cold tyres. Rubens told to put in “five qualifying laps” Anthony Hamilton pictured in the garage with a face like thunder.

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Lap 37: Hang on – Barrichello has taken a bit out of Hamilton. Lead is 3.6 seconds. Hamilton pulls his finger out and gets it back up to four. A big conference going on at the McLaren pit wall. Hamilton pits.

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Lap 36: Hamilton does seem to be keeping the necessary distance from Barrichello. The Brawn GP driver needs to halve the gap to the McLaren and he doesn’t look to be doing it. Badoer beaches the car somewhere out on the far reaches of the circuit but manages to recover and press on, with presumably hideously flat-spotted tyres.

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Lap 35: Brawn GP very politely encouraging Button on the radio to have a crack at Webber. Go on, my son!

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Lap 33: Glock pits. With Fisi out of the way Button is closing on Webber but it doesn’t really feel all that threatening, to be honest.

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Lap 32: Another procession. Come on, Bernie, give this race back to a decent circuit. Fisi pits, Button now the prospective recipient of a single lonely little point. Alonso catching Rosberg a bit in fifth and sixth. Badoer given a drivethru, poor sod, for that pitlane incident. He’s a bit like one of those cats that loses control of its territory to such an extent that other cats come through the catflap and into the kitchen to steal its food.

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Lap 31: A procession.

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Lap 30: Hamilton’s lead is 4.1 seconds over Barrichello. Kovalainen is 4.8 seconds behind him and another five seconds or so to Raikkonen.

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Lap 29: Errr… didn’t Grosjean just take Badoer in the pitlane? Hello Mr Steward and goodbye several thousand euros. It’s actually the Ferrari driver who is tricked into possibly putting a wheel over the line. It comes as a relief to know we’re at the halfway point.

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Lap 28: McLaren are reportedly worried that Barrichello will overhaul Hamilton. Apparently he must stay above 1:39.7 to stay safe. Kovy and Raikkonen in the 1:40s along with Rosberg.

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Lap 27: Barrichello lost seven-tenths to Hamilton in that laps. Lead now 4.2 seconds.

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Lap 26: Track temperature is 50 degrees Celsius. More than one driver reporting hot brakes.

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Lap 25: What’s the betting that Renault has just lost its engine supply contract with Red Bull next year? Hamilton has got 3.6 seconds on Barrichello. Kovalainen in third and starting to catch up with the Brawn GP driver once more.

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Lap 24: Hamilton being told to go easy on his braking foot due to temperature problems. Sutil and Heidfeld emerged from the pits in 12th and 13th. Vettel, who is counting the pennies when it comes to his Renault engine supply this season, has lost his second in a weekend – now that’s just careless. He comes to a halt out on the circuit. Yellow flags.

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Lap 23: Brawn, in contrast to McLaren, are really struggling with the soft tyres and are being forced back onto the harder variety. Heidfeld and Sutil have pitted.

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Lap 22: Order is Hamilton, Barrichello, Heidfeld (unpitted), Sutil (unpitted) Raikonnen, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber, Fisichella (unpitted), Nakajima, Kubica, Trulli, Alguersuari, Vettel, Badoer, Grosjean, Glock and Buemi.

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Lap 21: Rosberg inherits the race lead. Always nice to see a Williams out front – guess they think so too :D Barrichello has come out in second place and not that far behind Hamilton, having taken one McLaren and really caught up time to the other on that pitstop Webber pits, emerges and stays in front of Button. Fisi has found himself as the meat in the sandwich in that little battle and he’s on a long fuel strategy – another nail in the coffin of Button’s race.

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Lap 20: Raikkonen pits and Barrichello goes through to start lap 20. His pitstop is sub-nine seconds and he re-emerges behind Sutil. Button blinks first and pits before Red Bull are ready to bring in Webber. Barrichello pits.

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Lap 19: Barrichello leads and he has to fly in order to make the most of this. Webber right on the back of Hamilton and Button has caught up with Webber. Vettel in the pits for more than 10 seconds, huge fuel load, but he’s still apparently on a two-stopper for reasons of tyres. Vettel has dropped to 16th and Button struggling hard to pass Webber.

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Lap 18: Vettel’s had a refuelling problem which means no fuel went into his car. He’s got to come in again and his race has been wrecked as a result. Did he get enough to get back to the garage? Button back in the points and Kovalainen pits from the lead.

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Lap 17: Kovalainen leading the race. Super-soft tyres for Hamilton. Vettel pits and Hamilton rejoins between Alonso and Webber, in sixth place in other words. Kovalainen able to match the pace of Barrichello but Button in eighth place is fastest on track.

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Lap 16: Looking increasingly likely that Barrichello will win out in the pitstops and depose Kovy. But never underestimate the ability of Brawn GP to mess up his race strategy… Vettel is very close to Raikkonen in fourth. McLaren mechanics out and Hamilton pits.

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Lap 15: We are now going into the window for the first pitstops. Hamilton’s light car is leading to a succession of fastest laps. Barrichello catching Kovalainen slightly. BBC commentators are drawing comparisons with the state of F1 at Silverstone. It’s certainly all changed since then.

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Lap 13: Red Bull are grumbling that Kovalainen is deliberately backing up the field to free up Hamilton. Gosh, they are sourpusses today! The answer, chaps, is to make sure your cars qualify a bit higher next time so you can have more effect on the race strategy. Just saying…

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Lap 12: Apparently Hamilton can still mathematically win the championship. Quick! Stick a quid on..

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Lap 11: This could have the makings as one of the briefest liveblogs we’ve ever done, such is the slot-car nature of this track. And that’s insulting to slot cars. Hamilton is nearly six seconds ahead of Kovy who is hanging on a second or two ahead of Barrichello. Vettel is slowly catching up with Raikkonen.

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Lap 10: Button nearly two seconds down on Webber. He was apparently told to surrender a place to Webber. Disaster!

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Lap 9: Grosjean slides – brief yellow flag after he loses the back – a good recovery and he’s on track once more.

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Lap 8: Shows what we know – Button’s just put in a personal best lap.

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Lap 8: Hamilton now four seconds clear of his team-mate. Already he’s comfortable enough to cruise rather than pushing to the limit. Until the pitstops we predict that it’ll be processional and dull. Now Kubica monstering Button. Will the Brawn GP driver even make it to the end of this race, or are we looking to an end to Brawn’s legendary reliability and the car back in the garage before very much longer?

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Lap 7: Lewis Hamilton in his shorter-wheelbase car has put in a fastest lap of 1: 39.8 – a second quicker than Kovy. Apparently Whitmarsh has revealed that weight distribution was the problem with the car.

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Lap 6: Order is Hamilton, Kovalainen, Barrichello, Raikkonen, Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Webber and Button. Speculation that Button has been told to let Webber past on the controversial chicane-cutting rule.

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Lap 5: Gosh, how exciting the racing is at Valencia. Not.

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Lap 4: A processional lap as everyone calms down, surveys their losses and gains from the start and adjusts their strategies accordingly. Hamilton has a 2.6sec lead over Kovy, who is 2.1secs down the road from Barrichello.

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Lap 3: Button has put a little bit of breathing space between himself and Webber. Replay shows Button got alongside Vettel and out of shape at turn five as a result.

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Lap 2: A Renault – Grosjean – has come in for a new nose following that little contretemps at the start. Toyota’s Glock also in. That would seem to explain it then. Raikkonen on the back of Barrickello for fourth. Sebastian Buemi also needs a new nose. And the front starts to spread out as Hamilton builds a lead on Kovalainen and he similarly pulls away from Barrichello. Raikkonen is on the Brazilian’s rear bumper. Behind them are Vettel, Rosberg and Alonso then a small gap to Button and Webber.

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Lap 1: Hamilton and Kovy off like a couple of rocketships. A fantastic start for Kimi Raikkonen gets him up to fourth. A bit of a bang near the back, Toro Rosso and Toyota? Or maybe Grosjean’s Renault? Button is down to eighth but Barrichello has hung on to third. Button has a fight with Alonso but can’t make it stick and was nearly passed by Webber in ninth in the process. The Australian is looking really aggressively at his title rival.

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Parade lap: And everyone is off with no problems. Don’t forget that Trulli is due to start from the pitlane after his horrible qualifying.

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Grid walk: Ross Brawn says the whole race will depend on who can make their tyres last.

Christian Horner says Webber has difficulties with the car set up as it relates specifically to thias track. He says he expects the option tyre to be a popular choice and predicts an interesting afternoon involving the safety car.

Sebastian Vettel looks like he’s being baked in an oven – and that’s before the race starts. He seems quite subdued by his normal standards.

Rubens Barrichello says he would rather deal with the hand of cards he has been dealt than speculate about things like different fuel weights. Brundle asks if he will still challenge for the title. He says he wishes Jenson all the best but has had too much history with team orders to really want to dwell on the subject. He demonstrates his groovy cool jacket for the camera.

Next on Brundle’s target list is Heikki Kovalainen who has seen Brundle coming and fled off the grid. He reports the grid temperatures and humidity are equal to Bahrain. Bernie dodges questions and leaves Brundle talking to someone important via a translator who says Valencia will be the best grand prix inthe world. No, don’t laugh, it’s unkind.

Bernie in the background. But Brundle is more interested in Ferrari fan Eric Clapton who says he doesn’t know what to make of the decision of putting Badoer is doing in the car. Clapton acquits himself very well, sounding knowledgeable and challenging Brundle’s opinions.

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Pre-race: The Thoughts Of Jense up next: Lee McKenzie is beaming at him. He predicts a very, very competitive season with challenges from Red Bull and McLaren. He seems to be saying that he would prefer a straight fight with Red Bull rather than having to factor the Woking team into the calculations. He says he hasn’t given up in the title.

Whitmarsh states his priority will be bringing the win home this weekend without making any mistakes. He speaks of how unlikely a McLaren one-two seemed at the first half of the season. “There’s no magic formula – you just have to work hard.” He goes out of his way to praise both drivers and says the next challenge will be to get the car working well at a high-spead circuit – Spa.

Suddenly Hamilton is very interesting again – and very willing to give smiling interviews. Huge package featuring him on the BBC now. “I’m happy, the team’s happy, we’re all happy.” What a contrast from a month or two ago. Unfeasibly tall Jake Humphrey is pictured being tortured in the McLaren gym.

BREAKING NEWS from Autosport: Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has warned the owners of Donington Park that the venue has until the end of September to prove funding is in place to host the British Grand Prix in 2010, or lose the race altogether. Read it here: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/77913

Hilarity on the BBC coverage after Eddie Jordan, clad in alarming moss-green trousers, dodges into the Ferrari garage while his colleagues attempt to do a piece to camera over some impressive engine roar. He emerges with his arm around… Michael Schumacher! That’s his salary earned for the season, then.

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