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The Brazilian Grand Prix Preview - Button so close, yet so far 15 Oct 2009

Jenson Button (GBR), Brawn GP, Brawn BGP001, Italian Grand Prix 2009, Monza, Friday, 11 September 2009. © Martin Trenkler Rubens Barrichello (BRA), Brawn GP, Brawn BGP001, Italian Grand Prix 2009, Monza, Sunday, 13 September 2009. © Martin Trenkler Sebastian Vettel (GER), Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Racing RB5, Belgian Grand Prix 2009, Spa-Francorchamps, Friday, 28 August 2009. © Martin Trenkler Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 1 November 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, 1 November 2008

All Brawn GP’s Jenson Button has to do to become world champion at this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix is finish third, regardless of whether title rivals Rubens Barrichello or Sebastian Vettel wins. On his early season form that would have been easy, but his last podium finish was at Monza last month and neither Singapore nor Japan yielded much in the way of strong points-scoring results.

With 85 points to Barrichello’s 71 and Vettel’s 69, and a maximum of 20 points up for grabs in the final two races, the odds favour him. If either Barrichello or Vettel does win this weekend and Button places third, Rubens or Sebastian would move to 81 or 79 points, but Jenson would have 91.

That would place him out of Vettel’s reach even if the Red Bull driver also won in Abu Dhabi, and while Barrichello might then win there and draw even if Button failed to score in the final race, each would have 91 points but Button would take the title by virtue of six wins to Barrichello’s four.

That’s assuming mechanical reliability or accidents don’t intervene.

Barrichello goes home hell bent on winning, for national pride and to keep his title hopes alive. Button just needs those six points to get him to the top of the mountain. It’s Vettel who is under the greatest pressure. But he’s the one whose car will feature updates. Brawn took their last changes to Singapore and Japan, but Adrian Newey is continuing to develop the RB5, and that may be a factor.

The Milton Keynes-based team still hope that Vettel might be able to ‘do a Raikkonen’, and snatch the title at the 11th hour as Kimi Raikkonen did with Lewis Hamilton in 2007 when he came from 17 points behind. Team principal Christian Horner has pledged that attack is the only policy, and believes that Vettel’s head will prove stronger than either Button’s or Barrichello’s.

“Both of our guys are very strong,” Horner said, referring also to Mark Webber who, though he is no longer in contention, could still significantly influence the title outcome if he scores well in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. “They are great competitors. Very hungry to win. And I think they are mentally stronger. To me, Jenson’s tightened up, like (England footballer) Stuart Pearce taking a penalty. He is the most vulnerable.

“I’ve known him since he was 11. He won lots of races in karts, but not many championships. He’s got everything to lose, and that can’t not play on his mind. At this level all of these guys are phenomenally talented, so it comes down to mental strength. It’s like golfers. They can all hit their strokes, so it’s all down to what they do with the fine points.

“If it comes down to a street fight, my money would be on our two boys. Both are very strong in the head and they’ve both pulled off some really good moves this year.”

Vettel is not the type to give up, either.

“We are here to fight, so let’s see,” he says. “Anything is still possible as you can see. It can change quickly. As I’ve said many times already, I will fight until the end, until the last breath.”

A defensive leader with a big points advantage; a national hero racing on home ground; and a hungry outsider on a winning streak: the odds for the Brazilian Grand Prix are very nicely stacked.

The Autodromo Juan Carlos Pace, was built on uneven ground and features several changes of elevation. It is unusual in running anti-clockwise, has 15 corners, 10 left and five right, and a mixture of fast straights, high-speed corners and slow hairpins. It’s a relatively high-downforce track which tests engines but is easy on brakes, and is notoriously bumpy.