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Page last updated at 05:17 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 06:17 UK

Fast Ferrari close gap on Brawn

Monaco's Prince Albert and Brawn GP's Jenson Button

Monaco Grand Prix in 90 seconds

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Ferrari's recovery, suggested at the Spanish Grand Prix, was confirmed at Monaco. It is arguably the quickest turnaround in form of the modern era of Formula 1.

Ferrari's Monaco result of third and fourth was by far their best of the year. But it could have been yet better, and the Monte Carlo weekend strongly suggested that the Ferrari F60 was only a tiny fraction away from the performance of the Brawn, the season's dominant car to date.

Given how far Ferrari were off the pace at the beginning of the campaign, this has to be considered an extraordinary feat by the team.

"Putting aside the tyre war years when progress in tyres led to big competitive swings," said team boss Stefano Domenicali, "I cannot think of another instance in the modern era of F1 when a team has found over one second per lap of performance in the space of four weeks.

"That is the reality of what we have achieved.

"Consider also that this is in the era of frozen engine specifications and you see that it has all come from the aerodynamic and mechanical aspects of the car.

Felipe Massa

Ferrari take positives from Monaco (UK only)

"We are not yet where we want to be but we're working very hard indeed to get there and we will get there."

So just how close are Ferrari to the fastest?

Jenson Button's superb Monaco victory rather gave the impression on race day that the Brawn is as dominant as it has ever been. However, that was a misleading picture.

Had circumstances been only slightly different Ferrari could have been slugging this one out with Brawn.

Analysing the qualifying performances, Kimi Raikkonen was fastest of all in the low-fuel second Q2 session, the part of a grand prix weekend that is considered the most realistic barometer of pure pace.

However, there were extenuating reasons why Button did not figure prominently in this session - he was still tweaking the set up of his car to reduce its understeer and only got the balance he needed in Q3.

So let's look at Q3, bearing in mind the Brawns were fuelled to run two laps longer than the Ferraris.

Kimi Raikkonen

Monaco result 'good for the team' - Raikkonen

Raikkonen was second fastest to Button, a mere two-hundredths of a second slower with around 0.1s-worth less fuel - definitely slower, but by a margin that would be overcome by a slight missed apex or momentary locked brake, in other words.

Had Raikkonen been able to start from pole, there is every chance he could have converted that to victory, given how difficult it is to pass here.

Ferrari were quick enough in Monaco that Brawn's race day victory effectively hung on Button's near-perfect qualifying lap.

Button got his lucky break in the race when team-mate Rubens Barrichello, following close behind in second, and forming a barrier between Button and Raikkonen, suffered graining tyres 10 laps into the race.

The Brazilian's pace slowed dramatically but he stayed out for a further five laps. Given that Raikkonen couldn't pass, it gave Button a margin of 13 seconds, which he was able to simply monitor for the rest of the afternoon.

Barrichello was always there to thwart Raikkonen's efforts at getting in the fast laps in clear space needed to leapfrog past into second.

Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari set the race's fastest lap and he, too, might have leapfrogged Barrichello - had he not been stuck behind the newly refuelled and therefore slower Button when he needed to be banging in the fast low-fuel laps.

In determining the result, their positioning on the track at the critical phases of the race was much more significant than any performance difference between the two cars.

That positioning was a result of the very small but decisive pace advantage of Button's Brawn in qualifying.

Asked where that advantage was coming from, Massa said: "I think they have just a little more downforce than us. That's not hugely important at Monaco but I think it did allow them to use their tyres more flexibly in qualifying.

"That extra little bit of downforce allowed them to be able to do two-lap runs, with their fastest time coming on the second lap.


"We had to do three lap runs - and that makes you more likely to get traffic. Which is exactly what happened to me.

"My second lap was as fast as Kimi's second lap and I was expecting to do my time on the next lap, but at the beginning of it I was blocked my Mark Webber so the lap was ruined.

"Had we been able to get our tyres to work on the second lap it wouldn't have been a problem - and that's the difference that little bit extra downforce makes, I think."

"We're just not quite fast enough to win yet," said Raikkonen. Not fast enough to control their own destiny - yet.

But for a team that found one second per lap of performance in four weeks, it is not inconceivable that they will soon be the chased rather than the chasers.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books

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see also
Martin Brundle column
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Monaco Grand Prix race results
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Classy Button eases to Monaco win
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Fry praises 'special' Brawn win
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Hamilton fears continued struggle
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Ferrari take 'significant' step
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Monaco Grand Prix as it happened
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Monaco Grand Prix photos
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Superb Button steals Monaco pole
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F1 on the BBC
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