Webber Wins in Brazil, But Button is Champion
One year after he watched his Honda burn in the Interlagos pit lane Jenson Button climbed from his Brawn GP car to take his first steps as world champion.
Button crossed the line fifth (the same result that crowned Lewis Hamilton) under the chequered flag waved by Felipe Massa, one place behind Sebastian Vettel and more crucially three ahead of Rubens Barrichello as the crowd favourite could only finish eighth after a late race puncture.
However, this was far from Button lucking into a finish and ‘reversing’ into the world championship.
Starting from 14th, with Barrichello on pole it looked like Button would face a considerable struggle if he was to stop the championship chase from continuing to the final race in Abu Dhabi, but almost as soon as the now metaphorical green flag flew the race started coming to Button.
The first incident on an eventful first lap came as the pack rounded the second corner, when, after minimal contact from Vettel, Heikki Kovalainen span lazily round, Giancarlo Fisichella doing well to avoid the car as it slewed into his path, forcing the Italian to the grass on the outside of the circuit.
Meanwhile, up front the other Ferrari (and other Finn) was having his own drama. Having already jumped Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli from his fifth place grid slot Kimi Raikkonen was now looking for a way past Mark Webber down the back straight, but as Webber forced the Ferrari left to the grass the Red Bull clipped Raikkonen’s front wing, sending half of the structure flying and robbing the Ferrari of front downforce.
That damage, and the unorthodox entry the Finn had forced to commit to turn four saw Sutil staring at Ferrari diffuser, having to dart left as the pair rounded turn five. This all allowed Trulli to gallop up on the outside of the Force India, and as Sutil began to drift back to the normal racing line Trulli was left with less and less room.
Bouncing first over the kerb, then the grass the Toyota speared left, catching Sutil’s rear before going smashing into the Armco and shedding pieces all the way to the turn six run-off. Sutil was having his wild ride, sliding through the grass, the leading edge of his car lifting frighteningly as he crested the bumps.
He then slid back onto the track, catching Fernando Alonso’s rear wheel as the Renault driver tried to avoid everything (although he did well to avoid more substantial contact with the German).
This carnage called the safety car out, and allowed the Finnish walking wounded to pit and repair any damage, which is where it got momentarily scary.
In echoes of Singapore last year Kovalainen peeled away from his pits with the long silver fuel hose trailing from the car, as he pulled into the "running lane" the fuel left in the hose was dumped on the pitlane. And Raikkonen.
In a split second, probably igniting on the hot surfaces of the Ferrari the fuel ignited, flashes of flame licking the cockpit as Raikkonen made the beginning of a panicked dive towards the garages and safety equipment which he aborted once the flash fire (which also left a puddle of flame on the tarmac) burnt itself out and both drivers were able to continue the race, Kovalainen after some kind Brawn mechanics had pulled the errant hose out.
“I ended up with some drops of petrol in my eye, from the fuel line stuck on Kovalainen’s car and then I was engulfed in flames and blinded,” explained Raikkonen after the race. “I was going to stop, but luckily the flames soon went out. Even now, my eyes are still burning.”
With that drama complete it was time to draw breath and take stock of where the main players were.
Jenson Button had made his way up to ninth, with Alguersuari between him and Vettel, but Barrichello still led. It was time for Button brilliance.
Straight from the restart Button look eighth from Romain Grosjean, who then continued to reverse dramatically through the field. A lap later Button was in seventh, outbraking Kazuki Nakajima for the first corner, and quickly made his way to the back of debutant Kamui Kobayashi’s Toyota, and his progressed stalled.
Repelled by what may be politely called "robust" driving from the Japanese Barrichello, along with Webber began to pull away.
Time and time again Button tried to pass Kobayashi into the first complex of corners, time and time again aggressive driving from the Toyota driver kept him at bay, Button radioing his team complaining of Kobayashi’s blocking and weaving. A lap later Button was past, perhaps he had finally broken the Japanese’s defense, perhaps he had been warned about his blocking.
As Jenson Button continued to progress towards the title, Rubens Barrichello was progressing away from the lead of the race.
Having already made his first pitstop the Brazilian found himself dumped into the traffic just behind Button, and on the run down to turn four on his out lap he was pounced upon by Vettel. Things got worse when Kubica, who had also profited from the early attrition, pitted and managed to come out ahead of Barrichello, and the Webber took the lead after making his own pitstop.
The last of the pitstops were then interrupted by a crash for Nakajima at turn four, trying to pass Kobayashi, who had just made his stop, the Toyota man once more weaved, Nakajima clipping his rear tyre and cannoning into the barriers, sending a plume of dirt onto the track before skittering over the gravel trap and into the wall.
He joined Heidfeld, who had run out of fuel after a problem in the pits and his Williams teammate Nico Rosberg, who gearbox failure had removed from a promising position.
Barrichello was still struggling, questioning the team as to what had gone wrong with the car as Hamilton salivated lap after lap behind the Brawn.
The race settled into some sort of rhythm as first the one stopper, the two stoppers made what they hoped would be their final stops of the race.
Barrichello maintained third, separated from Button by both McLarens and Vettel, and when Kovalainen made a late second stop Button was lifted to sixth. With Webber and Kubica far in the distance it looked increasingly like Barrichello could only hope for third and some misfortune for Button.
Even more misfortune was needed when Hamilton KERS-ed his way past the Brawn on the pit straight being squeezed all the way to the pit wall.
Then came the final act in a dramatic race and world championship. Barrichello soon complained of a vibration, and the team soon confirmed a puncture on the left rear, where he had squeezed the McLaren just enough for Hamilton’s front wing to scar the tyre.
As Barrichello came in for a new set of tyres, you felt the disappointment of the crowd as the Paolista’s terrible results at his home track continued.
From there all Button had to do was keep going. The team warned him the first rain drops of the weather that many had predicted might be arriving, but if they ever did they bothered no one.
Webber crossed the line to take his second win of the season (and career), followed by a surprising Kubica and Hamilton.
“I’m happy with that,” said Webber. “It’s fantastic feeling to win again. As a team we’ve had quite a few victories this year off the back of some tough seasons, but today has confirmed second place for us in the Constructors’ Championship. We’re very proud of what we have achieved this year as a team.”
But, just like when Hamilton was champion, all eyes were further back.
On Jenson Button.
Across the line he came, celebrating as he crossed the line.
Raikkonen and Buemi took sixth and seventh, but it was, perhaps, fourth place finisher Sebastian Vettel who summed it up best.
“I think there is a guy at Brawn who is happier than me today.”
And that man was singing Queen numbers on his slowing down lap, oh, and the first person to congratulate him when Jenson Button climbed from the car.
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