The 2009 Season Review - Part Two 06 Nov 2009
Continued from Part One
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone in June marked the start of the spiral that threatened Buttons title aspirations. Another update put Red Bull far ahead there as Vettel led home Webber, and with third place Rubens Barrichello began the second half of season form that made him the contender he had always claimed to be.
Webber won in Germany, his first Grand Prix success, then Hamilton in Hungary, Barrichello in Valencia and Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari in Belgium. That was where Buttons salvation lay, for nobody was putting together a consistent challenge. It was as if the world championship lead was an open goal, into which nobody could place the ball. Whereas in the opening seven races Button had scored 61 of the 95 points that would secure him the crown, in the ensuing seven he scored only 23. And instead of coming in tens they came as a dribble: three, four, two, two, eight, four.
He was the victim of his own uber-smooth Alain Prost style, for Barrichellos slightly more aggressive use of the Bridgestone tyres warmed them more. He would thus qualify and race better, adding Monza to his victory tally. Button would show race speed, but often gave himself a mountain to climb with poor qualifying pace.
Red Bull ever so slightly lacked the consistency to take the fight to Brawn at this stage, as Hamilton scored a great triumph in Singapore to set up the final four-way fight between Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber. The Aussies season simply fell apart after Hungary, where he was third, and he didnt score any points until his second victory came, beautifully yet in Buttons shadow, in Brazil.
But Vettels domination in Japan set him up to challenge for the title, just when it seemed he was out of the picture after a controversial drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding in Singapore had dropped him to a fourth place finish. Button scored one point in Japan, Barrichello two, so suddenly the fight was on. But when Barrichellos Brawn proved to lack the pace of Webbers Red Bull in Interlagos, Buttons task became easier. And there, after an appalling wet qualifying session had left him an apparently hopeless 14th on the grid, he drove a champions race up to fifth, ahead of Barrichello and just behind Vettel who had started 16th, to put the title beyond reach.
To rub in the season-long strength both teams had enjoyed, Red Bull scored another Vettel-led one-two in the finale in Abu Dhabi, with only Button able to challenge after Hamiltons dominant McLaren had retired with brake problems. The way in which McLaren turned around their season was one of the highlights, but there are still suggestions that eventually their marriage with Mercedes could be annulled as the manufacturer cast covetous eyes at Brawn, whose engines replaced Hondas.
Ferraris season was patchy, and very nearly tragic, and they were the dominant headline grabbers in the summer. That began when Felipe Massa, who more often than not had the upper hand over Raikkonen again, was hospitalised after being struck on the head on qualifying in Hungary by a suspension spring that had become detached from Barrichellos car. The Brazilian was placed in a medical coma, but thankfully made a full recovery and will race again next year. In his absence it was impossible to tell if Raikkonen did a good job, because his new team mates - Luca Badoer and then Giancarlo Fisichella - simply werent up to the job.
After Massas accident the possible return of Michael Schumacher was tantalising, but ultimately the former multiple champion was unable to regain sufficient fitness after sustaining a neck injury while racing motorcycles.
That summer story dovetailed with the bad news that BMW were also pulling out, leaving Sauber high and dry as they had not signed up to the new Concorde Agreement which had finally been hammered out in July, ending talk of teams staging their own breakaway series.
Continued in Part Three