After enjoying a blisteringly good start to the season Brawn and its leading driver Button had begun to move backwards, with little bites constantly being taken out of Button’s Drivers’ lead and big bites from Brawn’s Constructors’ lead.
The first practice session of the European Grand Prix (Valencia) saw Brawn achieve 1st and 4th with Barrichello topping the timesheets. McLaren also continued their good run with Hamilton 3rd and Kovalainen 2nd.
Red Bull had reasonable performance (5th for Vettel, 8th for Webber), and it is only a free practice rather than qualifying so only a limited amount can be read into it. Barrichello had an issue late into the session getting into gear and over the 90 minutes Button complained about both understeer and oversteer, problems which didn’t stop him coming 4th.
The race also sees the return of Ferrari’s Luca Badoer who last raced in Formula One a decade ago, and the debut of Renault’s replacement for Nelson Piquet: Romain Grosjean.
Only Brawn or Red Bull can win the Constructors’, and only Button, Vettel, Webber or Barrichello can take the Drivers’ title. Button still enjoys a healthy 18.5 point lead despite a string of poor performances.
If the first free practice session is a generally accurate indicator I think Button’s lead will either stay as is or increase after the race (ie, he’ll finish ahead of Webber and possibly Vettel as well). Hamilton seems likely to get a podium and possible a second consecutive win.
After this there are only six more races, so if Button can get a 20 point+ lead again it would give him an enormous advantage. Brawn may even win the Constructors’ where they lead Red Bull by 15.5 points. We’ll have to wait and see how the next two practice sessions, qualifying and the race goes, but come Sunday evening it should be apparent whether Brawn are back, or if Red Bull are poised to overtake Button and Brawn in the title races.