His progress may have been tortuous over the last few races of his campaign, but at the Brazilian Grand Prix Jenson Button finally silenced the sceptics by putting the 2009 World Championship beyond the reach of rivals Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel.
He thus follows Lewis Hamilton in clinching the title by finishing fifth – in a Mercedes-powered car numbered 22 – at Interlagos. Not since Sir Jackie Stewart followed Graham Hill in 1969 have two British drivers won back-to-back championships.
Button’s path to the title was an unusual one. After winning six of the first seven races he looked set to put the issue beyond doubt well before the end of the season. But following a spectacular performance at Turkey in June, Brawn’s form fell away as the team struggled to get its tyres to work.
That coincided with Barrichello getting a massive confidence boost after the team changed his brake set-up, and it was the Brazilian who was subsequently able to get more out of the package. Aside from finishing runner-up to Rubens in Monza Jenson edged towards his goal with an astonishing run of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places.
At times he didn’t look convincing, and his form led to suggestions that he was struggling with the pressure of having the title within his grasp. But while his qualifying performances were often below par, there could be no doubting his commitment in the four races from Monza to Interlagos. He pulled off crucial early passing moves – belying suggestions that he was too cautious – and put in quick stints when it really mattered. The way he bounced back from his qualifying nightmare in Brazil was particularly impressive.
“Obviously he was starting a long way back,” said Ross Brawn after the race. “He knew he had a lot to do but he drove a sensational race. He arrived in a determined mood this morning. He was destroyed yesterday but the strength of the guy is that he slept on it, thought about it, and came in this morning and said ‘don’t worry, it’s going to happen’. He dealt with that himself. I think that today in the race he showed he is a World Champion. His driving today was fairly exceptional.”
In the end it was those six early wins that counted, and many World Champions – including Hamilton – have succeeded with a lower total. Button extracted the absolute maximum from the car at that stage, and he still won even when Red Bull arguably began to have a more competitive package.
“He’s been incredibly strong,” Brawn CEO Nick Fry told Motor Sport. “He’s shown that he can win from the front when the car was exceptional at the start of the year, but he can also defend. Championships are made of the situation where the car isn’t the best one and you plug the points in. That’s made the difference, that he’s always been there, always scored points. When he had to do it, he did. He really did pull out all the stops in Brazil.”
The celebrations at Interlagos were made all the sweeter by Brawn’s victory in the constructors’ championship. Nevertheless the team remains focused on ensuring that it is still at the front next year, when Mercedes is expected to come on board as a full partner.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Fry. “It’s just a fantastic achievement and great teamwork – not just this year, but everything that’s led up to this. I thought that if we could survive then we’d have some good results. At the beginning of the year if someone had said sign up for two or three wins, we would have taken the money. No one could have imagined where we’ve got to.
“The objective has to be to do it again. Next year we will be at the other end of the pitlane, which must be the biggest reversal in Formula 1 history! But Ross and I were always determined not to be one-hit wonders.
“We’ve managed to preserve the resource that’s been working on the 2010 car, so we haven’t actually stolen too much from that to work on this car. And that’s very important. The situation at Ferrari and McLaren at the beginning of this year demonstrates what happens when you’re forced to put all your resources into trying to win one championship.”