Wonderfully aggressive, typically smooth, Jenson Button finally laid claim to a richly deserved world title in Brazil on Sunday with a performance of utter brilliance; a performance worthy of a Formula 1 world champion.
With millions watching back at home, Button repeated Lewis Hamilton’s feat of 12 months ago by silencing a vociferous home crowd at Interlagos to provide Britain with its first back-to-back world champions since Jackie Stewart succeeded Graham Hill 40 years ago.
If ever there was a display to end talk of mediocre championship years, of mental fragility, of stumbling over the finish line, this was it. From 14th on the grid, the Englishman, who believed his career might have been over 10 months ago when Honda pulled out of the sport, threw caution to the wind with the sort of abandon his detractors have been crying out for, risking all in a bid to make up the places necessary to secure the title with a race to spare.
In the event, fifth place proved more than enough thanks to Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello’s enduring bad luck at Interlagos. The Brazilian, who had started on pole but carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders, finished eighth thanks to a late puncture, but in truth he was already lying a distant fourth to Red Bull’s race winner, Mark Webber, by then.
At that stage, Button was just two places behind in sixth and cruising; it was only a matter of time before he stepped up to join the Stewarts and Hills of this world. Back in the Brawn garage his father, John, was watching with uncontrollable pride. “The last seven or eight laps, we were all crying like little girls,” he said.
“I’m all washed out at the moment. I’ve got to accept where [Jenson] is now, up there with all those great names. I haven’t got my head round it.”
Neither had Button. Having run around like a lunatic hugging anyone in his path for a time after the race, he was finally pounced on by a television crew and asked to report on the state of his emotions. “I’m world champion, baby,” he screamed. “That race deserved it. Twenty-one years ago I jumped into a kart and I loved winning – but I never expected to be world champion.”
It will be fascinating to see where he goes from here. Who knows? Perhaps multiple world titles beckon? In this sort of form, with a car to match, he can rule the world. Although he later revealed that he had been racked by anxiety, Button appeared outwardly calm on the grid where he was met by a chorus of boos from the assembled Paulistas who had turned up in their droves to cheer on Barrichello, a man previously derided as a Tortoise in his native town.
Chants of “Rubinho, Rubinho” rained down upon Button, but our man responded coolly with a grin and a wave. In fact Button was inspired from the word go. In a frantic opening lap that saw the retirement of three cars and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari burst into flames, he made up five places before the introduction of a safety car. When that departed on lap five Button was right back on it, passing Renault’s Romain Grosjean and then Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima on consecutive laps. Aggressive, full-blooded racing.
Toyota’s debutant, Kamui Kobayashi, provided unlikely resistance for 18 laps but he could not hold out forever and yet another brilliant passing manoeuvre on Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi lifted Button yet further up the race order. He was simply irresistible.
In truth Barrichello, who had to beat Button by at least five points to take the fight to Abu Dhabi, was a spent force by the time he was passed by Hamilton after Button’s predecessor as champion surged from 17th on the grid to claim the final podium place in a display to make the mouth water in anticipation of 2010.
Barrichello, like Felipe Massa last year, was gracious in defeat. “I’m pleased for Jenson as a friend and as a great champion,” he said. “He deserved it.”
That he did. Button’s “fairytale” season truly ended with a champion’s performance.