“Free to Race” Might Hurt Button and Barrichello and Brawn

What Happens When What’s Best for the Sport May Not Be Best for a Driver or a Team

3:01pm EST — With only four races left in the 2009 Formula1 season, the driver’s championship fight is down to four men: Brawn GP drivers Jenson Button (80 points) and Rubens Barrichello (66 points), and Red Bull drivers Sebastain Vettel (54 points) and Mark Webber (51.5 points).  At the same time, it is mathematically possible for Red Bull (105.5 points) to beat Brawn (146 points) to the constructor’s championship, but unlikely.  Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has said that the team’s championship hopes had been dashed before Monza’s one point result because of poorly performing engines and engine penalties, even as Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has vowed to “keep pushing and [remember that] until it’s mathematically impossible, nothing’s out of the question,” while waiting for Brawn to make some sort of misstep.  With some of the upcoming circuits likely to be more harmful than helpful for the Red Bulls’ setup and with their current engine woes, Brawn need only collect points to maintain a healthy lead in the championship.

However, it will become increasingly difficult for the team as a whole and the drivers as individuals to collect these points when Button and Barrichello are dueling for the championship between themselves.  Not to suggest that one driver be forced to make way for the other because of team orders (though not allowed by the FIA rules), but there is much more at stake for the team now than if there were a clearer leader within the team.  Button has won more races this season (six to Barrichello’s two), but Barrichello has been stronger in the past three races (two wins and seventh to Button’s seventh, DNF, and second).

Fighting between teammates for position can be harmful, even when there is no championship on the line.  Take, for example, Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock during Sunday’s Italian GP.  Trulli was fighting with Kaz Nakajima of Williams for position, when Nakajima forced him a little wide and stayed in front.  Glock quickly dove under his teammate, continuing to dice for position and forcing Trulli into a gravel trap.  This infighting allowed Sebastein Buemi of Toro Rosso through on Trulli, and could have easily resulted in Trulli crashing out or becoming stuck in the gravel and ending his race entirely.  This fighting from a team who needs the best result possible for both cars to encourage parent company Toyota to give them a place in the budget for the 2010 season.  Imagine the championship results if that were to happen between the Brawns in Singapore, a circuit notorious after one year’s existence for a heightened ability to crash out cars, even of the non-deliberate variety.

The sporting freedom for Button and Barrichello encouraged by Brawn boss Ross Brawn with a reminder that “they are old enough to deal with it” is a most excellent public position for a sport lately beleaguered by allegations of race-fixing, particularly when espoused by a man who regularly forced Barrichello and other drivers at Ferrari to make way for champion Michael Schumacher.  Still, the team must be careful in encouraging the drivers to race each other, with Vettel and Webber and Red Bull waiting in the wings for a miscalculation.  Brawn GP, Jenson Button, and Rubens Barrichello would do well to remember that one point made the difference, nearly forty seconds after the leader crossed the line at the final race in Brazil, in determining the winner of the driver’s championship just last season.


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