Jenson Button stands on the precipice of World Championship glory.
The Interlagos circuit in Brazil has been the purveyor of many a Formula One world championship in recent times. On Oct. 18, it may well serve as Button’s coronation.
To achieve motorsports' highest honor on his own merit, all Button needs do is finish on the podium.
You would be forgiven for thinking this is seemingly manageable task.
Recent statistics suggest otherwise, Button has only delivered one podium finish in the past eight Grand Prix. So remarkable is the decline he has only accumulated 24 points since his last victory in Turkey four months ago.
Button is literally limping to the title.
A litany of sub-par performances has been punctuated by disastrous weekends in Singapore and Belgium.
Button may have left Suzuka empty handed over the weekend had he not been the immediate beneficiary of Adrian Sutil’s moment of over-exuberance.
Despite a catalogue of unimpressive performances, most recently this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, Button remains remarkably upbeat.
"We obviously want the best result possible, which is to win races," he said after finishing eighth and seeing his points lead narrowed. "But it's about not making mistakes, that's the most important thing."
The statement was indicative of his championship approach, Button's strategy is defined by one word—caution.
The driver seems unwilling to take fate into his own hands, preferring to take a pragmatic approach and mathematically guide himself to the 2009 championship, slowly but surely.
Messrs Mansell, Alonso and Schumacher would, no doubt, have been left infuriated by such a lackluster performance and would be very vocal in their dissatisfaction. Button, however, is seemingly incapable of such raw outbursts of emotion.
On the contrary, he remains the consummate optimist throughout his dwindling form and lead.
Unless Button scores nine points or more in the final two races, his points total will serve as the lowest championship–winning points haul since 1999 (incidentally at a time when there were only 16 races on the F1 calendar and no points were bestowed upon seventh and eighth places).
Surely that would be a damning verdict of his championship credibility.
This, like other criticisms, is of no consequence to Button and he remains solely motivated by finishing in front of his rivals.
A championship founded upon a wonderful start to the season, Button was presented with a supreme machine and, for the first seven races, excelled without match.
Yet the successive eight races have demonstrated that when presented with a car not congruous with his own expectations, Button struggles. This point most optimized by Rubens Barrichello out pointing Button 36-24 in the past eight races.
British racing supreme Nigel Mansell said it best when he accused Button of "tightening up."
Button seemingly suffers from a condition that great champions appear immune—the paralysis of fear.
When faced with a challenge and a championship opportunity, Mansell, Schumacher, Senna and, in recent times, Alonso never failed to raise their game. They achieved what was necessary, but in doing so, drove with a flair and boldness that will define their legacies.
Button may not be outspoken or as captivating as the great champions of yesteryear and Flavio Briatore’s damning assessment that his character "resembles a concrete roadpost" may appear vindicated.
But he has an opportunity he most certainly will not be presented with again.
Button could win the World Championship in two weeks after edging out both Vettel or Barrichello. Or he could stamp his authority on this World Championship by capturing it after blowing his rivals away.
This year’s championship will be remembered for its scams and scandals and two of the sport's most influential figures forcibly detaching themselves from F1.
It also may have been the dawn of a new era, where parity amongst cars seems to have been brought to the fore.
Will it be remembered for the year Jenson Button exorcised his demons and became World Champion?
Unfortunately, I think not.
Although I feel Button cannot fail to win the World Championship. I worry that when the 2009 Formula One season is documented in the annals of motor-sporting history and we look back, Jenson Button’s achievement will warrant nothing more than a whimsical footnote.