Brazilian Grand Prix 2009 Part 2- 27/10/09

With the celebrations in full swing at Interlagos, and Jenson Button having been on fire as opposed to his ‘08 Honda, it was easy to forget what else transpired in Brazil. Excluding Michael Schumacher’s memorable charge through the Interlagos field during his 2006 swansong, the last time we saw such an impressive aggressive scalpel cut through the field was Nico Rosberg on his Bahrain debut in the same year. On the way to setting the fastest lap of the race, we were afforded a glimpse of a future champion, or so we thought. But is it fair to have expected Nico to have achieved more in the three and a half years since then?

This season has predictably been a case of horses for courses, and Williams’s constant early season chart-topping practice performances flattered to deceive. Having said that, Rosberg has produced a consistent string of good points finishes just short of a podium during a season where many teams have had flashes of frontrunning competitiveness. What is not in question is that having been fastest in Q2 and running in a podium position, Williams and Rosberg should have left Brazil with more than one broken gearbox and Nakajima’s crushed FW31.

Nakajima was helped into race and possibly career retirement by Toyota debutant Kamui Kobayashi, who despite that ‘racing incident’ had a promising weekend. His positive exposure was of course helped awfully by the fact that his most noteworthy battle was with the world champion elect, but Kamui didn’t disappoint. He fought Button without a hint of appearing out of his depth, not to mention having qualified in an accomplished 11th place. Toyota will have been eager to have Glock back in the car for Abu Dhabi as it will be the sort of track that suits his abilities. As Kobayashi remains in the Toyota, his undoubtedly impressed employers will ask for more care and courtesy in braking zones, Kamui has already made his point and his claim. It should not however be forgotten that Nakajima himself made an interesting debut at Interlagos not so long ago, and is now staring an F1 exit full in the face. Longevity and success in Formula 1 is about much more than a memorable debut, something Nico Rosberg knows all too well.

The second Toyota of Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil’s Force India were involved in another quite spectacular ‘racing incident’ very early on that also accounted for Fernando Alonso’s Renault. The resulting safety car rescued Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen’s afternoon. Hamilton was able to use a stop under safety car conditions to effectively eliminate the weaker tyre stage and move onto a strong one stop strategy. Starting 17th, finishing 3rd and passing a desperate Rubens Barrichello was also worthy of being called a champion’s drive. It’s a shame that Lewis’s pass on Rubens resulted in a puncture for the home favourite, effectively handing the title to Button. On the podium, it seemed that Hamilton was bereft of any joy amidst the realisation that he was no longer the world champion, no longer driver of car number 1.

Aside from world championships, big screen debuts, massive crashes and pitlane flash fires, someone actually won the race. Mark Webber qualified his Red Bull second with a strategic fuel load, allowed Rubens to lead the first stint and passed him during the pitstops while the entertainment unfolded behind him. Webber’s whole weekend and race victory was massive for him, but as events transpired, somewhat inconsequential in the closing context of 2009. This is a shame because as all eyes were elsewhere, he was quietly achieving what people had placed far above him throughout his career. Presumably, with a fully healed leg and race victories now under his belt, an improved 2010 Red Bull (Cosworth?) will be Webber’s last chance at a championship. One feels however that if the next Adrian Newey creation is a reliable frontrunner, it will be championed by Sebastian Vettel, who has silently transformed from a Little Britain-quoting darling of the paddock to a very serious and intense Formula 1 driver, worthy of all the fear and respect the others can afford.

Brazilian Grand Prix 2009 - 26/10/09

It´s the Brazilian Grand Prix and the home favourite, the title challenger, started on pole position. The Englishman in car 22 is within touching distance of his first world championship. Inevitably it ends in heartbreak for the thousands of Paulistas gathered there to cheer on He Who Would Emulate Ayrton. The Englishman in his British car and its German heart finished 5th, finally having passed the labouring but impressive and combative Toyota, but behind the flying young German wonderkid and his energy drink, the star of the future. That was 2008.

In 2009, history saw fit to shatter those collected hearts once more as Jenson Button driving a Brawn Mercedes joined Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren Mercedes on the champions´ list. This was no cruise-to-collect drive though, Button forcefully and purposefully overcame the obstacles of his own creation to seal the title in resonating fashion. Some called it a champion’s drive, and certainly pulling off that many aggressive overtaking moves with so much at stake, climbing from 14th to 5th in the process was the mark of a tremendous driver. However, in a slightly alternate championship context it could have been viewed so differently. After all, without Barrichello’s puncture, all 3 of Button’s title rivals would have finished ahead of him with Vettel even getting in front having started behind.

As it was though, the championship situation was such that Jenson only needed to come home with a handful of points to wrap up the prize, and instead he blasted his way through the midfield and into respectable points. Despite Rubens starting on pole and scampering away, despite Webber’s magnificent chase and overhaul of Barrichello, despite Hamilton’s incredible rise from 17th to 3rd, Jenson hogged the camera and thrilled with his textbook manoeuvres which is more than can be said for Trulli and Sutil, Rubens and Lewis, Kobayashi and Nakajima. Button’s recent woeful qualifying performances remain the sole question mark over an otherwise faultless campaign.

How deserving Button is of the title has somehow become a topic of debate in the latter half of the year. Undoubtedly, world champions in their hallmark season are expected to challenge for race wins at practically every meeting, but Button’s pace in qualifying has restricted him to midfield starts and mountains to climb on race day. A string of 9 races yielding only one podium stands in stark contrast to six wins out of seven races at the start of the season. Nevertheless, mountains he has climbed. Button has on nearly every occasion moved forward during the race and kept out of trouble, constantly putting pressure on his title rivals to push it as far as it can go because they know Jenson will always score points and barring the odd Grosjean, finish.

Facts are nice, they can support either side of the argument for a worthy champion. As well as the aforementioned downturn in race victories, the facts show that in his championship season Button has so far won more races and had more fastest laps than Hamilton did in 2008, he’s had fewer penalties, he hasn’t caused any controversial accidents or performed any questionable race antics. As expected, Hamilton’s qualifying record is better in his championship year than Button’s, 7 poles to 4. This season alone Button has twice as many wins as his nearest competitor (Vettel), the same number of poles and fastest laps as his nearest competitor (Vettel), but you know what they say about statistics. The overall picture, and fact, is that Jenson Button is the most deserving recipient of the World Championship this year. How that stacks up against previous world championship campaigns by drivers such as Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen however, is a different story.