Jenson Button of Brawn GP put in a composed drive to claim a maiden Formula One drivers’ title on Sunday thanks to a fifth-place finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.
In a race won by Mark Webber of Red Bull, Button powered his way up the field after starting from 14th on the grid while his closest rival and teammate Rubens Barrichello could only manage eighth despite starting from pole. Brawn also took the constructors’ crown.
Button now has an unassailable 89 points with just the final GP in Abu Dhabi to go.
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who managed an incredible fourth behind Robert Kubica of BMW-Sauber and Lewis Hamilton after starting from 16th, lies second on 74 points, two clear of Barrichello.
“It’s really amazing, especially after the last races I’ve had,” said an emotional Button afterwards. “I never expected to be world champion in F1 because F1 drivers are different than you, but I’ve done it today.” Team principal Ross brawn also expressed his delight as Brawn moved on to an unbeatable 161 points in the constructors’ standings, followed by Red Bull on 135.5.
“This has still got to sink in, it’s going to a while,” said Brawn. “It’s special, very special.” Vettel said Button and Brawn deserved their titles because of the team’s performances over the entire season.
“There is a guy happier than me today,” said the German.
“Congratulations, all in all I think they did the best job this year.” It could all have been so different as Barrichello made a superb start from pole but in an incident-packed opening lap Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and Fernando Alonso all crashed out in the same incident while Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pit after damaging his front wing.
With the safety car out on track, Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen both pitted but the McLaren-Mercedes driver took off with the fuel hose still attached, leaking fuel which briefly caused Raikkonen’s car to catch fire.
Button took full advantage of the chaos taking place in front of him, driving with confidence once the safety car left the track to pass both Romain Grosjean of Renault and Williams driver Kazuki Nakajimi and move up to seventh.
However, as Barrichello continued to lead from Webber, Button struggled behind the Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi with the Briton’s only other championship rival Vettel also having problems keeping pace in ninth.
Barrichello was the first to pit with 50 laps remaining, returning in eighth, but returned in traffic and was immediately passed by Vettel to lose a further place.
The Brazilian’s race took a further turn for the worst when Kubica, who was the next of the leaders to pit, returned in front of him while Button finally passed Kobayashi on the pit straight with 47 laps remaining.
Webber pitted two laps later, returning in top spot, followed by Button, who made his first stop with 42 laps to go, although he almost took a knock five laps later when passing Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso.
Vettel was the last of the championship hopefuls to pit, but a slow tyre change saw the German come out just behind Button.
Barrichello made his final pit stop after 51 laps while Button came in with 16 laps to go, returning behind Kovalainen, which allowed Vettel to come out ahead of him following his stop.
Hamilton managed to leapfrog Barrichello into third with 10 laps to go and the home crowd’s hopes of seeing the local hero remain in contention ended two laps later as the Brazilian had to pit because of a puncture.
Webber comfortably held off Kubica to win the race but all eyes were on Button as he crossed to line to become the successor of fellow-Briton Hamilton, who won the 2008 title in dramatic fashion in Sao Paulo when the Brazil race was the season-ender.