Cooper Straight

Rubens Barrichello finally broke his 2004 duck with a magnificent victory at Monza, achieved after circumstances allowed Ferrari to switch him to a three-stop strategy. It was a great comeback, but as Adam Cooper reveals, he did it despite not passing a car on the track. In fact, Rubens was actually overtaken by three other drivers

Cooper Straight

This win meant a lot to Barrichello, and I was left in no doubt of that when I hooked up with him on Sunday night in Milan. He was certainly in the mood to celebrate, and he did so not with his current team-mate, but with his old Jordan pal Eddie Irvine and the rest of the Brazilian driver contingent.

It was certainly a fantastic effort by Rubens, but how he did it takes some explaining, especially as he survived an early unscheduled tyre stop. The perplexing thing is that despite falling as low as ninth he didn't overtake another car on the way to the top of the podium. In fact Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and none other than Antonio Pizzonia all passed him fair and square, albeit in circumstances where due to tyres or fuel they should have been quicker.

After the morning rain, the teams had an agonising decision to make. While the sun was out and the track was drying rapidly in the minutes before the start, it was still damp enough to make intermediates a sensible choice for the first few laps. And that was especially the case for those on Bridgestone, since as we know the dry tyres always take time to come in. With the puddles keeping them cool, they would not be much use in the slippery bits.

The additional problem for Rubens was that as leader, he would be the first man to sample the state of the track at each corner. If he got it wrong he could easily go off or leave himself vulnerable to attack. If he went for intermediates, he could sprint himself out of trouble, try to open a lead, and see where it left him.

"I was starting from pole," he explained, "and the others could actually see me braking and then take a gamble where to brake and turn into the corner. If I was first with the slick tyres into those wet first corners it would have been very difficult. I could have spun and somebody could have gone straight into me. So the decision was made purely on that."

In the end Barrichello, Massa and Bruni went for inters, while of the Michelin runners only Coulthard did so, a decision that seemed utterly unfathomable at the time. Of course, he was in for dries at the end of the reconnaissance lap...

Barrichello's decision was quickly vindicated by the way he pulled clear of the pack, while his team-mate got involved in two incidents of the kind Rubens had feared.

This is how things unfolded:

Lap 1: Leads by 6.943s
Lap 2: Leads by 8.265s
Lap 3: Leads by 6.613s
Lap 4: Leads by 2.831s
Lap 5: Passed by Alonso, pits at end of lap

"I must say I was quite surprised at how quickly the track dried out. I knew that I could take a five second gap on the first lap, and maybe 10 seconds on the second. But by the second lap, the thing was drying out too quick. I should have come probably on lap four instead of lap five."

Indeed it seemed pretty obvious that it was time to pit, and Rubens actually announced that he was going to come in. Later he would say that he didn't because of "radio problems," but the truth was far simpler.

The rule at Ferrari is that when the driver makes a call on coming in, he mustn't actually do so unless he gets confirmation from the pit wall. Incredibly, the team simply forgot to give him one - a message was passed to the crew to get ready, but not back to Rubens himself. So he stayed out, and was passed by Alonso. A rare slip...

Rubens was especially disappointed because he achieved his qualifying lap despite being fuelled to go a long way. The unscheduled tyre stop meant that he would never be able to prove to the world that he was so heavy - indeed after the race the likes of Patrick Head remained convinced that he had been light and even aiming for a three-stop schedule all along.

"The lap yesterday was so special because I was carrying a lot of fuel, so it was a bit of a shame just to throw it away, come into the pits, and put in even more."

So when would he have stopped relative to Michael? It's not Ferrari policy to reveal details unless necessary, but Rubens couldn't help himself.

"Very close to him, very close to him. I cannot really tell you because it would be unfair, but it would have been very close to him...a lap away from him."

Meanwhile Rubens just got on with the job. He now had the right tyres on, but he had a very heavy car. Indeed he emerged from the pits with what turned out to be a fuel load for 24 laps, while those around him were just a few laps away from their first stops. This is what unfolded as the others came in:

Lap 6-10: P9
Lap 11: P10, passed by Schumacher
Lap 12: P9, Klien pits
Lap 13: P8, Webber and Trulli pit, passed by Pizzonia
Lap 14: P6, Sato pits, Raikkonen retires
Lap 15: P6
Lap 16: P4, Schumacher and Pizzonia pit

All Rubens could do was push as hard as he could and see what happened.

"I had a feeling that the qualifying lap was magic, and when it's like that, you feel like you should just concentrate, do your normal job, and you'll win the race. Maybe it's your day tomorrow. When I had the first lap I thought, OK, six seconds in front, maybe it's my day. Then all of a sudden I saw P10, and people were ahead. There was a point in the race where I thought it was all over...

"It was incredible, the whole race was incredible. The first lap I thought, OK, I've won the race. The sixth lap I thought, 'Oh my god, I lost the race completely.' On the 10th I thought things are not looking good, but by the 11th, it was looking better. There were a lot of emotions going on through the whole race that made it very special.

"Ross was telling me on the radio to keep on pushing because maybe we could change things around. It was down to him and to the team to take the decisions."

Lap 16-28: P4, behind Button, Alonso and Montoya
Lap 29: P4, makes second and final stop

With all the stops done, Barrichello was in a solid fourth behind Button, Alonso and Montoya. We couldn't be quite sure what Ferrari was up to, but in fact he now had two stops to come, while the others only had one. For a few laps he was stuck behind Montoya and unable to make progress, until finally coming in on lap 29.

As discussed, he had just done a 24-lap stint since his unscheduled early pit visit. There were now exactly 24 laps to the finish, so the possibility was clearly there to fuel him up and send him to the flag.

In fact Ross Brawn decided to split that segment into two parts of 13 and 11 laps respectively. Despite the extra time in the pitlane relative to everyone else, he now had a car he could really sprint with.

Lap 30-33: P6
Lap 34: P3, Alonso, Montoya and Sato stop
Lap 35: P2, Button stops
Lap 36: P2
Lap 37: P1, Michael stops

Rubens was now in the lead with, as it turned out, only five laps to his third and final stop. If he could open up a big enough gap, he could emerge from that still ahead of the BAR. Here is how the margin to Button progressed through a sensational series of laps from Rubens after Jenson stopped:

Lap 36: P2, + 10.044s
Lap 37: P1, + 12.103s
Lap 38: P1, + 14.596s
Lap 39: P1, + 16.882s
Lap 40: P1: + 19.663s
Lap 41: P1, + 22.373s
Lap 42: P1, + 21.835s as he slows and crosses the line entering pits.
Lap 43: P1, + 4.807s

He'd done it! In fact on lap 42 Michael had passed Button on the pit straight, so he was now in second place, just 3.2s behind Rubens.

"All in all it was such a good feeling after the third stop when I was asking, 'Where am I?,' and they said, 'Calm down, you're P1.' Unbelievable. The car was fast and I was able to change things around a little bit, the things that I could change, and then they changed a little bit the angle of my front wing. So at the end of the day the car was unbelievable, like I had for qualifying."

The remaining 10 laps were reeled off like a demo run, with the Ferraris running in formation. Not that either man had given up, because Michael kept the pressure on all the way to the flag. One interesting aspect of all this was that Rubens was running more downforce than his team-mate, as had been suggested by the difference in their straightline speeds in qualifying.

"Up to a certain point I wasn't running more wing, but when they started to tell me that it could rain on Sunday...I made some tests with more wing last week, and it wasn't bad. I think it wasn't quicker for a lap, but it could have been quite good in saving the tyres and overtaking, even though I was 3-4kph slower. So it paid off. My car was unbelievably good under braking, and I was a bit slower. As you could see Michael just passed me with more speed on the straight [on lap 11], and I could do nothing."

Rubens has won at Monza before, but the 2002 victory was more of a demo run, with Michael dutifully remaining in second and allowing his team-mate a home win. This time, Rubens had to fight for it.

The gap got as close as 0.842s on lap 49. Bear in mind that Michael was over 30s behind the other Ferrari before Rubens pitted for dries on lap four, and you'll agree that the world champion did a pretty good job with his two-stop strategy. All that mattered to Rubens was the result.

"I'm always in tears. I'm relieved more than anything, because I had such a phenomenal lap, and it was a pity to come into the pits five laps into the race, because I had so much more fuel to go on. But I think everything paid out.

"It was just the fact that people support me so much, the tifosi. It was an unbelievable day. On the podium it was quite as good as the last time, so I hope can win more of those.

"So now I can go to Brazil and say, 'You won this year already, now relax and try.' It would have been a shame to get to Brazil and try to win the first race of the season in a place where everybody says that I'm unlucky. I'm not unlucky at all. We'll try to win Brazil and hopefully it will come. Now that I've won here I'm so relieved I will probably win the last three races! I'm only joking - I hope I can win the last three races...'

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