Button races to 2009 World Championship in Brazil

Jenson Button’s championship winning drive at Interagos last Sunday was not perhaps as thrilling as last year’s Brazilian GP, but every bit as remarkable. The 29 year old was jubilant as he crossed the finish line in fifth place, pumping his fists and singing a rendition of Queen’s, “We Are the Champions” over the team radio. This reaction, of course, was entirely justified after what was surely one of the drives of his life.

Having produced a disappointing performance in qualifying, which saw his rival and teammate Rubens Barrichello clinch pole position on the grid, Button would have to start down in fourteenth place. Ross Brawn, his team leader, described his driver as ‘destroyed’ after qualifying, and it appeared the championship leader was struggling to deal with the pressure. Button has faced his fair share of criticism over his career, regarding his so-called playboy lifestyle but, more seriously, his lack of a killer instinct.

Any doubts as to Button’s credentials now, after such a ruthless and gutsy performance in Sao Paolo, appear laughable. Of course, he did benefit from a degree of luck in an eventful opening lap which saw him rise to ninth place. The most notable collision involved Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, who attempted to overtake Force India’s Adrian Sutil which resulted in both being forced to retire from the race in addition to Fernando Alonso of Renault. To add insult to injust, Trulli angrily confronted Sutil, earning himself a $10,000 fine.

Another driver to suffer in the first lap was Kimi Raikkonen, who found himself momentarily engulfed in flames as he attempted to leave the pit lane behind Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren, which left its box in the pit lane with the fuel hose still attached, leaving a fireball in its wake. This did not affect Button, however, who not only survived the hectic first phase of the race but greatly benefitted from it.

As the race progressed, Button produced some aggressive and skilful driving as he passed rookie Renault driver Roman Grosjean in the sixth lap and Kazuki Nakajima’s Williams in the seventh.

Barrichello, meanwhile, had emerged from the opening lap in control of first position but after the first round of pits, he found himself in third place behind Mark Webber‘s Red Bull and Robert Kubica’s BMW Sauber. The Brawn driver was also unfortunate late in the race when he was overtaken by 2008 F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and sustained a puncture in his left tire forcing him to make a pit change. This effectively rendered Barrichello’s title challenge over as he returned to the race in eighth place, where he was to finish.

It was, however, Button’s day as he completed another two passing manoeuvres before the race’s conclusion. In lap 24 he was able to surge past Kamui Kobayashi on the straight.

Ten laps later, he fearlessly broke late to squeeze down the inside of Sebastian Buemi’s Toro Rosso. Following Barrichello’s fall to eighth place, Button found himself three places higher in fifth and only just behind championship contender Sebastien Vettel, who had also produced a stunning drive to ascend by twelve places after qualifying. These efforts were not enough, though, as Button had secured his first ever Formula 1 championship in style.

“After the last few races, this one makes up for it. It was awesome.” Said Button. “I jumped into a kart 21 years ago and I loved winning. I never expected to be world champion in F1 but I’ve done it.”

Though Button has a comfortable lead in the championship and has won by a fear greater margin than Hamilton last year, there was a worrying spell leading up to this race and Barrichello has outperformed the Englishman in the second half of the season.

It was a spell of blistering form which saw him open up a large lead in the championship with six victories in the first seven GPs. Since the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, where he slumped to sixth, he has struggled to reach these great heights with only one podium in the remainder of the season at the Italian Grand Prix. Ultimately, though, he did what was needed in order to stay ahead and his stunning performance in Brazil proved that he had the stomach for battle and the mindset to be a winner.

Button’s detractors would note that during his dominant period, he had the benefit of the fastest car in the competition. That Brawn GP achieved a total of four one-twos during the season is perhaps testament to this. However, to argue that Button is not a worthy champion is to underestimate the difficulty of an F1 season. For a significant period of the season, the man was simply unstoppable.

The fact that the Brawn car achieved such a period of dominance is perhaps the most remarkable story. Button did not know if he would be able to race in 2009 until three weeks before the season due to Honda’s decision to withdraw from Formula 1 late in 2008. There were worrying signs for Button when Honda struggled to find a buyer but eventually Ross Brawn organised a buy-out and the team were set to compete as Brawn GP.

In an unprecedented maiden season as a team, Brawn GP has won both the drivers’ and the constructer’s championship. This was in spite of the fact that the car needed several last minute adjustments before the team could compete which meant having to fit a Mercedes engine into a car which was designed for a Honda. Nevertheless, as the season began, the car was dominant ahead of more established teams like Ferrari and McLaren who were surprisingly uncompetitive.

Of course, it can be expected that in 2010, Ferrari and McLaren, the two most dominant teams in 2007 and 2008 will again be a rejuvenated force. Assuming that teams such as Brawn and Red Bull remain competitive, fans of motor racing can expect an exciting season to come.


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