The maths is clear. All a certain Jenson Button need do, this weekend at what is currently a sodden Suzuka track, is finish a paltry five points ahead of his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. He would then be world champion – a dream that only a year ago, seemed further away than Pluto.
On paper it looks like a relatively easy task for the man from Frome. He is in the same equipment as Barrichello – a legacy of earlier this season, when Barrichello’s murmurs and then outbursts served to guarantee him of mechanical parity for the remainder of the year. Button will not get special treatment, but neither would he want any. Set-up aside, the hurdles will be the same for both.
Suzuka, moreover, is a track where Button is a known specialist. He has produced some of his best drives there – third in 2004, fifth in 2005 and fourth in 2006 – all in cars which were not usually capable of such positions. It is a flowing circuit that rewards fluidity and smoothness, qualities Button has in abundance. He spoke yesterday of how he admired Alain Prost’s feats at the circuit; he may yet come to emulate the great Frenchman, with whom he shares a driving style, by taking the title at the circuit.
But to some observers there are more reasons why Button may not take the championship this weekend. The biggest is the presence, and the form, of that Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello is a man driven by the smell of a dream he has had since he was a child – and one that looked like it would be unfulfilled until luck and regulations gifted him the very warmest of career twilights. He has been in championship-winning cars before, but not on equal terms; he has equal equipment and the last chance he will have now, and he can taste the glory. The form man, Barrichello will drive like a man possessed this weekend.
More variables, thrown into the mix, provide evidence of why the maths will not fall for Button. Sebastian Vettel has not yet given up, and remains a very strong bet for the race win. He will take a lot of beating this weekend – as could his team-mate Mark Webber or even last weekend’s victor Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen might also spring a surprise – he loves the track too, and seeking to convince McLaren of his burning ambition might give him extra impetus. The Ferraris and the Force Indias, cars that excelled at Spa (a similar track to Suzuka) ought to go well for sure. The front of the grid is so competitive now that anyone could win.
Rain throws another potential spanner into the works, as does the far from certain prospect that the Brawns will be competitive. As Murray Walker says, “anything can happen in Formula One, and it usually does.” This means that Button could well win the championship, in theory. But many will wait to back him, if only because of the prospect of a Rubens Barrichello at full steam.