Jenson Button today took the drivers’ world championship, and his Brawn team the constructors, at the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He drove a measured race during which he impressed consistently, and becomes the second British champion in two consecutive years, the tenth ever.
The Englishman has been criticised in the latter half of the year for a perceived lack of dynamism, an over-conservative attitude which had frustrated his followers as much as spurred on his rivals. That was nowhere to be seen today – throughout his pace was good, his overtaking impulsive and effective, and the other pieces beautifully fell into place. His nearest rivals Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel failed to score the number of points required to prolong the championship, and Button capitalised.
In many ways the Frome flyer was a different character today. Although a disastrous qualifying yesterday had rendered his chances of taking the championship today minimal, he drove a passionate race. He was anonymous, cool, at the start, and was wonderfully incisive with overtaking after the Safety Car’s cameo role. He avoided a potential disaster with newbie Kamui Kobayashi, and kept up a regular rhythm providing exactly what was asked of him.
To be fair to the others, Fate played its part. An accident involving Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli, and Fernando Alonso, took out a fair number of the cars in front of Button. The retirement of Nico Rosberg was also advantageous, as was the speed of Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica.
Rubens Barrichello looked fast at the start, but rapidly was sucked back into dogfights with the field. He was unlucky to have the coming-together with Lewis Hamilton that eventually caused him to fall out of contention with a puncture, but never looked like bettering the third place that would still have handed Button the title. Barrichello’s performance was simply not at the level of his team-mate’s today, nor has it been over the course of the season.
Arguably, however, Sebastian Vettel’s was. The German was as dynamic as Button in the early stages, thrusting past car after car. Vettel was often quite simply the fastest man on the track, and probably would have if he had qualified better yesterday. He was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating Brawn and Button when his mind was surely on other things.
The race was otherwise characterised by great drives from drivers on top of their game. Mark Webber, the winner, was sublime from lights to flag and effectively won the race with room to spare. He was only ever going to be challenged by Vettel today, and qualifying yesterday ruled that out. Had fortune favoured the Australian in the last two months, though it rarely does, there is no doubt he could have still been in contention for the title at this stage.
Second-placed man Robert Kubica also showed what he can do with a fast car under him. The Pole took a deserved podium, as did karting rival Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was typically bullish throughout the race, effortlessly outperforming his team-mate and most of the field.
Another mention must go to debutant Kamui Kobayashi, unwittingly a player in the championship denouement. Although Button criticised Kobayashi for moving around in the braking zone during their battle, an impartial observer would probably judge the Japanese blameless in that case. Rather, it was a superb exhibition of defensive driving. His pace was also good, too, although it remains to be seen how much of that is down to Toyota’s inherent competitiveness this weekend. The one exception to the praise must be Kobayashi’s move on compatriot Kazuki Nakajima as the latter exited the pitlane; it was reckless and dangerous. Nakajima was lucky to escaped uninjured from the resulting crash; the debutant lucky to escape sanction.
As for the other incidents, Webber was a little forthright with his chop on Raikkonen at the fourth corner. The Australian has often been vocal about drivers weaving, yet this is the second time this season that his defensive moving has been too abrupt. Raikkonen escaped with a broken front wing. It had a knock-on effect. Trulli was quick to assign blame to Sutil for their smash, which immediately followed. His central allegation was that the German had not allowed him room; but Trulli was only barely visible to the roll-hoop camera, and would have been virtually invisible to an Adrian Sutil concentrated on Raikkonen’s limping Ferrari. Trulli and Sutil’s heated trackside discussion was entertaining, but the whole thing could have been much more serious, especially for Fernando Alonso, the innocent bystander taken out by the affair.
All that has been trumped today by the superb rags-to riches story of Brawn GP, Jenson Button and the 2009 world championships. A mere eight months ago they were the bottom of the pile – a cobbled together racing team abandoned by their manufacturer, with two racing drivers not really the best of the best. A large slice of the credit must go to the designers of that Brawn GP 001, which has been wonderful enough a design to be competitive throughout the season. But it must also go to Jenson Button, who took his chances over the course of the season. At season’s end, he will have won the most races, made the fewest mistakes, and dealt with all the pressure the best.
And he will be a thoroughly deserving world champion.