Was Jenson Button a Lucky World Champion?
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The last time a driver went on a winning streak as dominant as Sebastian Vettel’s current run of form was in 2009 when Jenson Button won six of the opening seven races of the season.
It is four years ago to the day today that Button sealed his one and only drivers’ title to date with a fifth-place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
But while only a fool would suggest that Vettel has been lucky to win the title this year, which he surely will do, such a suggestion has been made of Button’s title-winning campaign.
The Double-Diffuser Row
Much of the criticism of the 2009 F1 season was not levelled at Button as such but about his Brawn 001 car, which exploited a loophole in the regulations with its clever double diffuser that gave it a distinct advantage over the opposition, as highlighted by BBC Sport at the time.
Despite the regulations stating the height of the diffuser must be limited to 177mm above the floor of the car with no bodywork above it, Brawn incorporated their diffuser design into the crash structure to allow air to flow through it and thus create greater downforce and grip.
Brawn was not the only team to design their car with the system in mind, with Toyota and Williams also incorporating the feature when launching their cars in January. But when the other teams cottoned on to what was going on after Brawn dominated the opening two races, they were already well behind the eight ball.
Despite rivals taking the matter to the F1 Court of Appeal in Paris, the FIA declared the system legal and it would take Red Bull half a season to catch up.
The car is only part of the equation
Whatever people may have to say about the advantage that the diffuser gave Brawn over its rivals, Button still had to take full advantage in driving the car.
It must not be forgotten that Button also had a teammate with the same specification of car, and there were no team orders at the start of the year. And not only was it a teammate with the same spec car, it was none other than proven race-winner and highly experienced Brazilian Rubens Barrichello.
Having had to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, Barrichello was not going to take the same treatment lightly. But Button appeared the hungrier and more accomplished driver and drove the Brawn as if on rails for the first seven races as Barrichello could only muster three second-places.
Ever since Button burst onto the scene for Williams at the age of 20, he soon gained praise for his smooth driving style and ability to steer clear of trouble. With one or two exceptions, Button’s performances have stacked up favourably against many of his high-profile teammates, including the likes of Jarno Trulli, Jacques Villeneuve, Barrichello and even Lewis Hamilton at McLaren.
Yes, Button’s title owed almost everything to the advantage Brawn gained over the first seven races, and he would not win again after Turkey. But he was also under pressure to deliver and performed admirably.
Was Jenson Button a lucky world champion in 2009?
Had the season been 19 races long and not 17 as it was in 2009, Vettel may well have overhauled him to become champion, but that’s a moot point.
And if you must label Button a lucky world champion then must you not also have to say the same of Nigel Mansell in 1992 when his electric dream machine that was the FW14B had an advantage over the field that has not been seen before or since?
In the most technologically advanced sport on the planet, teams and their engineers will always try to push the boundaries and exploit loopholes to gain an advantage over the opposition, and it continues to this day.
To call Button lucky in 2009 not only takes away from the Englishman’s driving but also the industry of a team that simply did its job better than anyone else that season and interpreted the regulations accordingly.
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