In a nutshell, BBR creates an explicit model of the network pipe by sequentially probing the bottleneck bandwidth and RTT. On the arrival of each ACK, BBR derives the current delivery rate of the last round trip, and feeds it through a windowed max-filter to estimate the bottleneck bandwidth. Conversely it uses a windowed min-filter to estimate the round trip propagation delay. The max-filtered bandwidth and min-filtered RTT estimates form BBR's model of the network pipe.
The message delivery delays were triggered by a dual network failure. This is a very rare event in which two separate, redundant network paths both stop working at the same time. The two network failures were unrelated, but in combination they reduced Gmail’s capacity to deliver messages to users, and beginning at 5:54 a.m. PST messages started piling up.