F1: Round 8 – Silverstone, Great Britain – 21 June

Every bubble has to burst sooner or later, and sadly for the home crowd – and for Brawn GP – Jenson Button’s bubble burst here at Silverstone.

At no time in the weekend did Button look like threatening Sebastian Vettel for the win; indeed, even a challenge for the podium relied on hot weather to help with heating up the tyres, and the hot weather never materialised: it meant that Button spent much of race day slogging around in 8th place.

Button’s start was compromised by getting stuck behind Jarno Trulli, while the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa used the massive advantage of their KERS (the only cars to run the system this weekend) to charge down the outside line. Button managed to overtake Massa in the early laps when the Ferrari briefly went off line onto the grass, but Massa recovered the spot at the first pit stops and was never threatened by Button again.

But it wasn’t a question of traffic that meant Button wasn’t a match for Vettel: his team mate Rubens Barrichello started second behind the young pretender, and ran the initial stint right behind Vettel, only to see the young German destroy the Brawn’s pace and pull away at a second a lap or more. It was a fabulous, peerless performance and from the end of lap one there was absolutely no question of the winner.

Barrichello retained second until the first pit stops, but Red Bull managed to pop Mark Webber out on track ahead of him and then Webber proceeded to do exactly the same as Vettel had previously – and stretched out a massive second per lap over the Brazilian who struggled to retain 3rd place from Nico Rosburg and Felipe Massa. Red Bull’s performance was as emphatic a confirmation as you will ever see in a Grand Prix of just how far one team is ahead of absolutely everyone else on track.

With very little happening at the sharp end of the field, attention turned to the battles up and down the running order. In the early laps there was some great close racing between Nick Heidfeld (with front wing damage) and Fernando Alonso (who had a terrible start and ended up behind his struggling team mate Nelson Piquet Jr for the first time in a straight fight in F1) for 12th, while Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton tussled for 14th; but while the new regulations had made it possible for cars to run closer and fight harder, it didn’t seem to make it any more possible to actually overtake in practice.

Kimi Raikkonen and Kazuki Nakajima both had impressive starts and ran high up during the early stint, but they had gambled on light fuel loads and pitted first on laps 17 and 16 respectively, a tactic that proved ill-conceived as they finished the race 8th and 11th whereas their team mates finished 4th (for Felipe Massa) and 5th (for Nico Rosberg).

Rosberg held off a late charge from Jenson Button, who after the traffic problems in the first stint had then endured handling problems in the middle part of the race. Button complained bitterly about understeer with the heavy fuel load the race strategy had lumbered him with, but got a big pay-off for his mid-stint suffering when the final pit stops popped him up two spots into 6th ahead of Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen and with the speed to cut the gap to Rosberg ahead by over a second a lap. In the end, Button ran out of time to pull off an overtaking move on Rosberg, but it gave the home fans much to cheer about in the closing laps.

Sadly, Lewis Hamilton did not have a good day, at one point spinning off the race track at Club after carelessly allowing a tyre to stray onto the grass. He did have a brief moment when he overtook his arch rival Alonso coming down the straight into Copse, but it was a short-lived one-lap affair before Alonso used superior straight line speed to take the position back. Hamilton’s team mate Heikki Kovalainen failed to make the finish, colliding with Sebastian Bourdais as he tried to fend off Frenchman who was trying to overtake him going into Club; it was the only on-track incident of the race and put both cars out of the running. It meant that McLaren failed to score a point again, for the fourth consecutive race – their worst dry spell since the early 1980s.

On the whole, the British Grand Prix provided good TV coverage of an actually very uneventful race where despite all the on-track duelling, precious little happened and the winner was never in doubt. But as uneventful as the race proved to be, the implications of it may yet prove to be seismic, with Red Bull’s form now simply so far ahead of anyone else that you have to believe that they will be dominating the second part of the season – and have a decent shot of running down the Brawn cars and stealing the titles that seemed to be all but guaranteed to Button and the team.

In so many ways, then – with respect to both the 2009 titles and the very future of Formula 1 – this weekend may prove to be the tipping point and some of the most crucial days F1 has ever seen. The race, by contrast, was fairly tame business-as-usual belying the underlying significance: except if you happen to be Sebastian Vettel, in which case this was one of the best days of your life and the day when no one could argue that you hadn’t arrived among the top flight of motor sport big names.

Race result

Pos  Driver        Team                      Time
 1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault        1h22:49.328
 2.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault        +    15.188
 3.  Barrichello   Brawn GP-Mercedes       +    41.175
 4.  Massa         Ferrari                 +    45.043
 5.  Rosberg       Williams-Toyota         +    45.915
 6.  Button        Brawn GP-Mercedes       +    46.285
 7.  Trulli        Toyota                  +  1:08.307
 8.  Raikkonen     Ferrari                 +  1:09.622
 9.  Glock         Toyota                  +  1:09.823
10.  Fisichella    Force India-Mercedes    +  1:11.522
11.  Nakajima      Williams-Toyota         +  1:14.023
12.  Piquet        Renault                 +     1 lap
13.  Kubica        BMW Sauber              +     1 lap
14.  Alonso        Renault                 +     1 lap
15.  Heidfeld      BMW Sauber              +     1 lap
16.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes        +     1 lap
17.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes    +     1 lap
18.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari      +     1 lap

Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:20.735

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                      On lap
Bourdais      Toro Rosso-Ferrari        25
Kovalainen    McLaren-Mercedes          24

World Championship standings after round 8

Jenson Button still has a huge lead in the championship, and Rubens Barrichello is still second, but those Red Bull boys are suddenly right behind them and have the momentum. As the BBC stats gurus said, for the last two years running the driver in 4th pace in the standings at this point has gone on to win the title. That should bring smiles to Aussie faces.

McLaren’s landmark pointless streak continues and means that Williams sneaks past them in the constructors’ standings.

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Button        64        1.  Brawn GP-Mercedes     105
 2.  Barrichello   41        2.  Red Bull-Renault     74.5
 3.  Vettel        39        3.  Toyota               34.5
 4.  Webber        35.5      4.  Ferrari                26
 5.  Trulli        21.5      5.  Williams-Toyota      15.5
 6.  Massa         16        6.  McLaren-Mercedes       13
 7.  Rosberg       15.5      7.  Renault                11
 8.  Glock         13        8.  BMW Sauber              8
 9.  Alonso        11        9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari      5
10.  Raikkonen     10       
11.  Hamilton       9       
12.  Heidfeld       6       
13.  Kovalainen     4       
14.  Buemi          3       
15.  Kubica         2       
16.  Bourdais       2 

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