Buttons road to glory - how keeping the faith finally paid off 18 Oct 2009
There must have been moments in 2008 when Jenson Button felt like giving up. Honda had landed him with a car that gleaned him just three points, forcing him to watch a younger British driver, Lewis Hamilton, take the title he had long craved. Then the Japanese manufacturer pulled the rug out from under him, withdrawing from Formula One racing and putting the team up for sale.
On the back of an uninspiring season, and with a world financial crisis to contend with, Buttons prospects for 2009 were looking bleak. Ten months on, however, and Button has clinched his first-ever world championship with one race in hand after his storming drive to fifth place in Sundays Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hes been the favourite ever since Brawn showed their cards at the season opener in Melbourne, and although his title success comes a lot later than many had predicted back in March, for the British driver things couldnt have turned out better. Over two decades since he first sat in a kart, hed finally got his hands on motorsports supreme prize. And the achievement couldnt taste sweeter.
Its really amazing, he told reporters in parc ferme. After the last few races Ive had, this one makes up for it. Im world champion and that race deserves it!
After nine years of feeling hamstrung by inept machinery, Button was given an inkling of how quick the Brawn was during the winter tests and he was determined not to waste the chance. The car, fitted with its controversial yet legal double diffuser, was a dream to drive, and as the season got underway, Button was nothing short of sensational. The fairytale had finally come to fruition.
Wrapping up six victories (and one third place) in quick succession over the opening seven events, he looked so dominant that bookmakers reportedly started paying out on bets he would win the title back in June. He had certainly put team mate - and nearest rival - Rubens Barrichello firmly in his place during those early races, outpacing him at most meetings and outscoring him at all. The de facto champions lead in the standings seemed unassailable.
A glimmer of doubt, however, had already begun to creep into view. At Aprils cold and wet China race Button found it tricky to keep up with the dominant Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, while in front of his adoring home crowd at Silverstone the Briton, bettered by Barrichello, could only muster sixth. The first weakness in Brawn and Buttons well-crafted armour had been laid bare, and team members began to openly discuss the trials of getting adequate heat into their tyres at the colder races.
Unwittingly it seemed Brawn had dropped the ball and Red Bull (and a resurgent McLaren) were all too willing to pick it back up, with Sebastian Vettel, then Mark Webber, and then McLarens Lewis Hamilton seizing the advantage at June and Julys British, German and Hungarian Grands Prix. Before those events, Button had almost double the points of his rivals; after them they were much closer and catching.
Perhaps most worrying for Button was that by then Barrichello was firmly in the hunt too. At first the Brazilian been comparatively off the boil, but his aggressive driving style forced more heat into the rubber than Buttons distinctly smoother approach, and it started to pay dividends. With 300+ races under his belt, he was also much better equipped to eek the most out of the cars set-up over a weekend (and crucially himself during qualifying), and won his first 09 race in Valencia. Meanwhile Button made a silly mistake during Q3, thereby ruling himself out of the chance for a podium.
In Belgium Button struggled all the more with tyre temperatures and there were more and more mutterings in the press that he couldnt handle the pressure of a title campaign. Despite his lead in the standings, the crown was slipping from his grasp. A second place in Italy (behind Barrichello), a fifth place in Singapore and an eighth in Japan, did little to assuage those doubts.
And as the paddock arrived in Brazil, with everything still to play for in the title fight, it seemed like fortune was favouring Barrichello who took a dominant pole in front of his home crowd. Button was left bitterly disappointed in 14th. It was a devastating blow, and the only consolation was that Vettel (also still in the running albeit with a 16-point deficit) was in 15th. But it wasnt much.
Button, however, remained calm and collected in Sundays race. Seizing the advantage from the very start, he pulled off a series of early of amazing, title-worthy overtaking moves. Keeping both Vettel and Barrichello within his sights, he had all but secured the championship by the closing stages of the race and ultimately secured the crown with fifth place.
It had been the drive of a champion, and the title was his. Fittingly it came at the same circuit at which, as a fresh-faced Williams driver in 2000, he secured his first-ever Formula One points. Congratulations Jenson!