Jenson Button’s route to the Formula One world championship

The 2009 Formula One season was a rollercoaster with changes to the regulations that provided breathtaking racing and the end to the traditional dominance of teams like Ferrari and McLaren.

The reborn Honda team had a near-perfect season after claiming both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. And, away from the race-track a succession of rows, scandals, splits and confrontations kept the F1 soap opera rolling along at roughly twice its normal speed.

Make yourself a cup of tea, find the biscuit tin and settle down to relive all the highs and lows of Jenson Button’s championship year.

First manufacturer pullout: Honda’s shock withdrawal
In December Japanese car giant Honda confirmed its withdrawal from Formula One, provoking fears that it would be the first of many. A year later, following the departure of BMW, Toyota and possibly Renault, there is a ring of truth to this. Team bosses Nick Fry and Ross Brawn were desperate to do the right thing by their workforce, reportedly considering offers from several buyers and government assistance for the car industry. But a management buyout was arranged to secure the future of the team and a large proportion of its workforce. McLaren offered its support by freeing up Mercedes to enter engine discussions. Ross Brawn’s was the name over the door, and the team was able to get its car to winter testing (see below). Button took a large pay cut. Observers wondered how this new privateer, albeit one that had enjoyed huge manufacturer resources for development, would fare.
Pre-season testing
As the teams lined up at Barcelona at the beginning of the year it became evident that the newly-minted Brawn GP would be able to join them after a winter of terrible uncertainty at Brackley. Imagine the surprise of F1 fans and insiders alike when the plain-white cars, unadorned with sponsorship, were suddenly topping the timesheets. Jenson Button’s career, which had been written off with Honda’s withdrawal announcement, was suddenly very much alive once more. Could he possibly…? Almost as big a shock was the dreadful performance of McLaren’s MP4-24 which was already, at this early stage, casting a question mark over Lewis Hamilton’s ability to defend his title.
Ron Dennis announces he will step down as McLaren team principal
The abdication of the man who had forged the McLaren race team into one of the giants of F1 had been long-expected – and Dennis announced at the beginning of the 2009 season that he would be handing the role of team principal over to his patient deputy, Martin Whitmarsh. Dennis’ plans at this point included concentrating on growing the business of a whole list of associated companies, including McLaren Automotive, McLaren Electronic Systems, McLaren Applied Technologies and the hospitality business Absolute Taste. He also intended to continue attending grands prix – for the time being.
Formula One is back at the Beeb
The BBC took over Formula One coverage from ITV in 2009, after a 11-year break from coverage of the sport. Familar faces such as James Allen, Louise Goodman and Steve Rider were replaced by Jake Humphrey, Lee McKenzie and Jonathan Legard. However award-winning commentator Martin Brundle and pitlane reporter Ted Kravitz were kept on by the Corporation. The iconic theme tune “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac was reinstated and the absence of commercial breaks in the race coverage was widely welcomed by fans. Often less popular were the idiosyncratic interventions of former team principal Eddie Jordan, employed alongside ex-racer David Coulthard as an expert summariser, despite often containing a good deal of insider insight. The BBC F1 team subsequently won a Royal Television Society award for the short film that opened the season coverage.
Australian Grand Prix
Jenson Button overturned all the certainties of F1 by winning from pole position, opening up clear space over Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica from the start but not securing the win until the pair crashed out with a handful of laps to go. His team-mate Barrichello had a torrid race, dropping down the field at the start when his anti-stall kicked in and causing a crash that damaged his front wing, eliminated Heikki Kovalainen and ruined Mark Webber’s chances in front of his home fans. Behind the Brawn cars, the field dodged wreckage from Kubica’s BMW and tried to work out how to pass Vettel as he attempted to bring his Red Bull home on three-and-a-half wheels – a reckless gesture that cost him a large fine and a grid penalty for Malaysia. With the safety car out, Jarno Trulli ran wide from third place and Lewis Hamilton was unable to avoid passing as the Toyota driver recovered. Trulli – who started the race from the pitlane after his qualification time was wiped by the stewards – took back his place, crossed the line third, and celebrated on the podium. But stewards later ruled he should not have re-passed Hamilton and penalised him 25 seconds, dropping him from the points positions and elevating the McLaren driver – who started 18th – to third.
Hamilton’s disqualification and its fallout
Hamilton was stripped of his third place after stewards reconvened and decided the McLaren driver and his team had deliberately misled the original investigation into how the race had finished. Jarno Trulli, who had crossed the line third but was punished by race stewards, was reinstated in his original position while Hamilton was removed from the race results altogether. It emerged that he gave interviews after the race in which he said the team had ordered him to let Trulli through, but gave different evidence to the original stewards’ inquiry – leading to their decision to punish the Italian. Review of radio transmissions also failed to support McLaren’s position. Hamilton, already struggling with a terrible car, took a huge blow to his reputation, making a tearful public apology and saying the incident represented a low point in his career. A FIA investigation was launched into McLaren’s conduct but, following the sacking of senior staffer Dave Ryan, a contrite and conciliatory approach from team principal Martin Whitmarsh and a reputed agreement to banish Ron Dennis from the paddock in future saw it given a three-race ban, suspended for 12 months.
Malaysian Grand Prix
Jenson Button took a second consecutive win behind a safety car after the race was red-flagged as undriveable due to heavy rain without having gone the required distance for full points to be awarded. Button lost ground at the start, being passed by Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Williams’ Nico Rosberg as the German breezed briskly into the lead from the second row and settled down there, seemingly for the duration. But the field was shaken up twice by fickle weather, almost everyone changing to full wets too early and then to inters just when it was no longer advantageous to do so. Finally the survivors were red-flagged in bucketing rain and near impenetrable gloom, being pushed into formation on the start/finish straight in case of a re-start. Some, like Hamilton, stayed in their cars, others emerged to talk with team strategists and the media. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen garaged his car, changed out of his racing overalls and hit the team snack bar for an ice cream and a can of cola. Eventually race controllers gave up on the idea of sending the field out behind the safety car to complete enough laps to allow full points to be awarded, and called it a day.
The diffuser row
In mid-April the FIA ruled on whether the development that became known as the ‘double diffuser’ was legal under the sport’s rules. Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota were all using the device to boost their aerodynamic performance while others including Ferrari, BMW and Red Bull were loudly protesting that it was illegal. A bad-tempered hearing saw Ross Brawn described as “a person of supreme arrogance” by a Ferrari lawyer with no apparent irony. And Brawn himself said the whole row could have been avoided if his pre-season suggestions had not been blocked by his fellow team principals. In the event the FIA ruled the diffuser legal and the seven teams not using them had to play catch-up – especially Red Bull, which had a particularly difficult-to-adapt car design.
Chinese Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel delivered his team a maiden victory for the second season running with a stylish and composed wet weather drive, leading home a Red Bull 1-2 ahead of Mark Webber in China after the team used fuel strategy and a short first stint to get rid of the unloved softer tyres and benefit from a longer run on better rubber. Behind the Red Bulls and the Brawns, poised at fourth and fifth on the grid and attempting to run long with their greater fuel loads, came the two McLarens, with Heikki Kovalainen shrugging off his previous failure to complete a single lap in the previous two races to lead home Lewis Hamilton. The defending world champion span repeatedly in the course of a race that also saw him overtake Kimi Raikkonen three times. The final points went to Timo Glock for Toyota, who started from the pits, and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi, whose impressive charge to the front was halted when he whacked the back of Vettel’s car – fortunately without causing lasting damage.
Teams adopt then abandon KERS
As the season progressed it became more and more clear that the Kinetic Energy Recovery System had not found favour with teams with the system’s weight thought to negate its performance advantage. Usage for 2009 was declared optional by the FIA and at the outset of the season McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and Renault were on board. Usage peaked at the Bahrain Grand Prix but then, one by one, the teams dropped it until the McLaren cars were the only ones with the power-boost button. Ferrari brought the system back, then Renault rejoined the party, and once McLaren had won two races in a KERS-equipped car the technology started to look a more effective proposition. It may well have a future, however – it is in the rules for 2010 and Williams F1 is pressing ahead with the development of its flywheel system and with a project to develop a related system for use in mainstream motoring.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Jenson Button took a confident win in Bahrain ahead of Sebastian Vettel and polesitter Jarno Trulli. Toyota’s hopes of turning Trulli’s and Timo Glock’s front-row start into their first-ever race victory foundered in the face of a poor race strategy that saw them on the wrong tyres at the wrong time. Instead Button made the most of an opening two laps where cars raced three-wide and overtook each other freely, recovering from losing a place to Lewis Hamilton and establishing himself as the top non-Toyota runner. When both lightly-fuelled Toyotas switched to the medium, slower, tyre choice for the middle stint and began backing up the rest of the field he was able to build a winning lead – and when the Toyotas were fastest in the final stint on super softs they were unable to get through the traffic to chase him down. Hamilton went on to finish fourth, some way adrift of Trulli and with Rubens Barrichello fast closing in on him.
Spanish Grand Prix
Jenson Button spoiled Rubens Barrichello’s party with a mid-race strategy switch that handed him a fourth season victory and consigned his team-mate to a puzzled and frustrated second place. The Brazilian gained the lead at the start and maintained it through the restart for an early safety car period, but lost it when Brawn GP switched Button to a two-stopper while keeping him on a three. The switch left observers confused over whether Ross Brawn was once again sacrificing Barrichello to protect his other driver’s championship. According to Brawn later, it was to protect Button from the possibility that he might get stuck behind Nico Rosberg when he came out of the pits. The team believed, he said, that they had left Barrichello on a race-winning strategy. Sebastian Vettel, starting second, was generally thought to have the best combination of car and fuel load, while the KERS-equipped Felipe Massa was expected to start well from fourth. But Massa proved unable to deploy his KERS system and could not challenge the Brawns. Vettel’s supposed advantage was further eroded by the second-corner pile-up and subsequent safety car. Hamilton finished the race ninth.
Teams threaten F1 boycott
The background to 2009’s racing had been an escalating row between the FIA and the teams about the conditions of entry in 2010. The FIA was looking to expand the grid and recruit several new teams, and had imposed terms including a cost cap that the existing entrants felt unable to sign up to. Ferrari filed an injunction with a French court an attempt to stop the proposed regulations from being implemented but it ruled that the team’s objections had no foundation. The Formula One Teams Association, formed in 2008, came to the fore in marshalling the teams into collective action. Six FOTA teams – Ferrari, BMW Sauber, Toyota, Renault, Red Bull and Toro Rosso – announced on May 10 they would withdraw from the 2010 championship. On May 15 a bid to reach a settlement with the FIA failed. The FOTA teams met on the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix and unanimously decided to withdraw unless the budget cap rules were changed.
Monaco Grand Prix
Button took an unruffled victory from pole in Monaco, on an engine that had completed three full race distances and won each time, leading home Barrichello for Brawn GP’s third 1-2 finish of the season. Hamilton, starting last after a crash in qualifying and a penalty for replacing his gearbox, spent the entire race among the backmarkers although a change of front wing did allow him to set some of the race’s fastest laps. Button’s triumph came despite a rare strategic blunder from the normally-astute Ross Brawn that put his drivers under pressure from about lap eight, when the super-soft tyres they began the race on began to deteriorate. Up until that point, Button and Barrichello had been running away from their pursuers, the Brazilian having beaten Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen away at the start. A mass charge to overtake was prevented by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in fourth, who was suffering even more from tyre wear but was able to keep the much faster Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen behind him for several crucial laps. Both Brawns pitted ahead of schedule and, with the worst of the tyres behind them, were never seriously challenged again.
Turkish Grand Prix
Jenson Button made the most of a first-lap mistake by Sebastian Vettel to sweep into the lead and off down the road to his sixth win from seven races and a 26-point lead in the drivers’ championship. Vettel had qualified on pole but was due to stop two laps before Button, setting up what was expected to be a tense strategic battle to emerge in the lead after the first round of pitstops. Instead he ran wide on turn nine, over-corrected onto the grass of 10, and could not recover in time to prevent Button from passing him, effectively ending his hopes of victory. His planned three-stop strategy gave him a lighter car during his middle stint and he was able to catch the Brawn GP car, cruising up to Button’s rear bumper by lap 23 – but he couldn’t get past, pitted a few laps later, and found himself behind his team-mate Mark Webber and destined for third place. Hamilton was lapped during the race but recovered to finish 13th as the final unlapped car. Barrichello had a dismal day, suffering a clutch problem on the start line and eventually retiring from the back of the field.
The 2010 entry
With the publication of the FIA’s 2010 entry list just before the British Grand Prix the issue of F1’s future really came to a head. Williams and Force India had stepped away from FOTA and submitted unconditional entries, earning themselves a period in the wilderness as a result. Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, McLaren, BMW Sauber, Renault, Brawn GP and Toyota submitted conditional entries but their attempts at imposing conditions were ignored by the FIA. New teams Campos, Manor and USF1 were chosen to fill the vacant grid slots, bypassing favourites Lola and Prodrive. Later, accusations would surface that only those prepared to use Cosworth engines were considered. A week later the split came – on the eve of the race the FOTA teams announced they would run a breakaway series in the face of FIA intractability.
British Grand Prix
Vettel poured a metaphorical bucket of cold water over Button and his 26-point lead as Red Bull scored their second 1-2 finish of the year on the Englishman’s home turf. Webber, blocked from the front row in qualifying, overtook Barrichello in the pitstops to take second place as the balance of power in the long battle for supremacy between Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn swung back towards the Red Bull designer. Barrichello survived severe back pain and the attentions of Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg to wrap up third place, calling it the best result that was possible given the pace of the Red Bulls. Button had a terrible start and struggled for pace all weekend before finally finding some speed in the final stint of the race. He was able to cruise up to the back of Rosberg by the final laps but had no time to look for a way past and finished sixth. His lead over Barrichello in the drivers’ championship was cut to 23 points, with both Vettel and Webber breathing down the Brazilian’s neck. Hamilton, whose qualification woes had left him stranded on the back row of the grid, fought a number of sharp-elbowed battles but ended up a horrible 16th of 18 finishers.
Breakaway threat averted – if Mosley quits
On June 24 a deal was struck preventing the breakaway of eight Formula One teams to form a new series. All currently competing teams announced they had committed to the FIA Formula One World Championship and agreed that there would be no alternative series or championship. An FIA statement announced the decision of Max Mosley not to seek another term of office. The F1 Commission, a body active from 2008 and set up to represent teams’ interests, was given more of a say in how the sport is governed. The FIA went on to confirm that the rules for 2010 onwards would be based on the existing 2009 regulations with further regulations agreed prior to 29 April 2009. It concluded by stating that all teams would adhere to an upgraded version of the governance provisions of the 1998 Concorde Agreement. The row rumbled on for a little while longer after Ferrari was ungracious in victory and Mosley took umbrage, but it simmered down long before the end of the season.
German Grand Prix
At the Nurburgring Webber shrugged off a drive-through penalty for his first F1 victory. In a dramatic start he side-swiped Barrichello as the pair battled for the lead then survive a surging attempt at a pass by the KERS-equipped Hamilton. The defending champion clipped Webber’s car as he passed it, suffering a puncture that forced him wide and left him a lap down, doomed to finish last. Barrichello, meanwhile, had taken the lead but could not build a safe margin over the faster Webber. The Australian was ordered into the pits for his penalty, but before he took it the Brazilian pitted, meaning Webber retained the lead. By the time Barrichello took his next stop, emerging seventh behind several cars out of position, he was bottled up behind Massa. The disadvantageous three-stop strategy and delays from a faulty fuel rig led Barrichello to make a brutal post-race attack on his team. Vettel came second and Button, held back by tyre management and his own three-stop strategy, finished fifth, leaving him with a 21-point lead. The first race of the season with no Brawn car on the podium helped both Red Bull drivers overtake Barrichello in the championship standings.
Bourdais out, Algersuari in
By now the writing had been on the wall for some time for Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais. Despite four consecutive titles in the US Champ Car open-wheel series he had been unable to translate his success to Formula One. During 2009 his disillusion with the team had become more public, not helped by the fact that rookie Sebastien Buemi was able to overhaul him as easily as Sebastian Vettel had done the previous year. Bourdais was released by Toro Rosso following the 2009 German Grand Prix and replaced by World Series by Renault driver Jaime Alguersuari who had served as Red Bull’s and Toro Rosso’s reserve driver. Alguersuari had a blessedly uneventful start to his F1 career and his success was seen as an endorsement of Red Bull’s young driver programme.
Massa nearly killed by head injury
Massa had a brush with death in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix after flying debris from Rubens Barrichello’s car struck him in the head, leaving him with a fractured skull. In the closing moments of the second session the Brawn GP car shed a heavy suspension spring which hit Massa’s helmet just above the visor with the force of a bullet. In scenes frighteningly reminiscent of Henry Surtees’ fatal Formula Two accident a weekend earlier at Brands Hatch, Massa’s car went straight on at the next corner and ploughed nose first into a tyre wall. However twin tyre marks on the Hungaroring Tarmac showed that Massa had retained sufficient awareness to brake. His injury was described by doctors as serious enough to be life-threatening but surgery and a spell in intensive care soon had him on the way to a remarkably full and rapid recovery. It was feared for a while that he had suffered damage to his left eye that would prevent him racing, but this proved not to be the case. Massa was keen to rejoin Ferrari as soon as possible but was not able to race again in 2009, instead waving the chequered flag at Interlagos. He has since successfully participated in a karting event.
Hungarian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton took a dominant victory in Hungary, the first by a KERS-assisted car, while Raikkonen and Webber survived post-race investigations to secure second and third. At the start Hamilton briefly seized second but could not hold it from Webber. Then, on lap five, he made what would ultimately turn out to be a pass for victory. Webber’s podium moved him to second in the championship and cut the gap to Button, who finished seventh, one position higher than he qualified. Barrichello hauled himself up to 10th by leaving his second pitstop as late as possible. Vettel retired with a heartfelt cry of “Something is broken! I can’t control the car any more!” Polesitter Fernando Alonso retired from the race after a poorly-reattached wheel came off following a pitstop and bounced along the track. Although he made it back to the pits, an unrelated fuel problem forced his retirement. Coming as it did a week after Formula 2 driver Henry Surtees was killed by a flying wheel, stewards took a dim view and banned Renault from the European Grand Prix, due to be held in front of Alonso’s home fans in Valencia.
The Renault appeal
Renault had been suspended from the European Grand Prix after an incident involving Fernando Alonso’s wheel not being fitted properly in the previous race. Stewards indicated how seriously thy took this by forbidding the team to race in Valencia. This was particularly problematic as it was a home event for star driver Alonso and due to be attended by numbers of his passionate fans, as well as being the focus of heavy promotional activity by the team. The decision was overturned on appeal following a decision from the FIA on 17 August.
The Schumacher comeback
With Massa incapacitated, Ferrari were clearly in need of a reserve driver – and faced with something of a dilemma. The Scuderia had no-one with recent race experience on the books and was highly reluctant to install any driver behind the wheel who could go on to impart technical knowledge about its car to the other teams. This led to inevitable speculation about the return of Michael Schumacher – which turned out to have a surprising amount of legs. Schumi tested in a modified F2007 but quickly announced that a neck injury sustained while bike racing made a return impossible. However he had tantalised and delighted his own fans and the supporters of drivers like Hamilton, Button and Alonso with talk of a possible comeback. He never made it onto the track in 2009 but Ferrari has hinted it would be prepared to run a third car for him if regulations allowed. The prospect of a 2010 grid containing Schumacher in a Mercedes car is also still making headlines.
European Grand Prix (Valencia)
Barrichello reversed Brawn GP’s sliding fortunes with his first win since 2004. Hamilton led away from pole with Kovalainen, slightly slower in a car with fewer upgrades, backing up Barrichello, Raikkonen, Vettel and Rosberg. Further back Button had lost places after being forced to abort an attempted pass on Vettel and was battling with Webber on the fringes of the points. Both McLarens carried less fuel than Barrichello and when they pitted he turned in a series of blistering laps in clear air, gaining enough ground to emerge from his eventual stop ahead of Kovalainen and within striking distance of Hamilton. Webber looked well-set to stay a place ahead of Button until the second pitstops. The Australian stayed out longer but still managed to drop from seventh to ninth. Hamilton’s second stop, taken from the lead on lap 38, was botched costing him the win while Vettel was forced to retire with his second blown engine of the weekend. Hamilton finished second, Button seventh and Webber ninth. Barrichello’s victory was applauded by almost the entire pitlane and Button’s championship lead was now 18 points with his team-mate in second place.
Brawn seals Mercedes tie-in
Brawn GP announced after the European Grand Prix that it was in business for the next three years and in a position to open contractual negotiations with its drivers. CEO Nick Fry told Autosport: “We have zero worries on funding for this year, next year, the year after, and the year after that… We’ve signed some nice contracts, and those will come out into the open when we launch the car next year, but we will see what happens. There is zero worry on our side.” Hindsight suggests that this could have been the point at which Brawn GP became destined to race for one year only and to transform into Mercedes GP as soon as the season ended.
Belgian Grand Prix
Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella had astonished the world of F1 by taking pole position at Spa – but Kimi Raikkonen had the KERS button and that was enough to win him his fourth Belgian Grand Prix, with the Italian coming second and kicking off rumours that he would soon stand in for Massa at Ferrari. Fisichella held the lead at the start as carnage erupted behind him. Raikkonen deployed his KERS to devastating effect on the restart, after the four-car incident that knocked out Button and Lewis Hamilton, and thus prevented Fisichella from scoring the unlikliest victory of the season. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel made his fuel strategy work to perfection, gaining places throughout the race to emerge in third and overtaking Webber in the standings. The Australian finished ninth with Barrichello, stranded at the start as his anti-stall kicked in, battling back to seventh despite a late-race mechanical problem. After this race Button led the championship by 16 points from Barrichello. Following weeks of rumours Fisichella eventually did replace the faltering Luca Badoer in Massa’s vacant Ferrari, having indifferent success and moving to a testing role with the team in 2010.
Piquet and Renault embroiled in cheating scandal
On July 29 Renault conducted straight-line testing at the Imperial War Museum airfield at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. In the car was reserve driver Romain Grosjean and it was made pretty clear that second driver Nelson A Piquet was now surplus to requirements. This seemingly innocuous test kicked off a chain of events that claimed scalps at the highest levels of the sport. By August 3 Piquet was officially dropped in an acrimonious departure from the team. By August 30 television news in his native Brazil was reporting that he had been ordered to crash during the previous year. It was immediately obvious that Singapore was in the frame and the FIA ordered an investigation. By September 4 Renault had been formally accused of interfering with the outcome of the 2008 Singapore race and conspiring with Piquet to Alonso’s advantage. Allegations of blackmail, mistreatment and possible criminal proceedings were flung about by both sides. On September 10 Piquet made a statement to the FIA and the text of an earlier statement was leaked. It revealed that Piquet claimed he had been told to crash by team principal Flavio Briatore and engineering boss Pat Symonds. Alonso denied knowing anything about it and was eventually absolved of any blame. On September 11 Max Mosley confirmed that Piquet would face no action and on September 16 the team announced it would neither contest the charges nor continue to employ Briatore or Symonds. Briatore was subsequently handed a lifetime ban from the sport, which threatened to bring down his business empire and which he is contesting in the courts, while Symonds was exiled for five years.
Italian Grand Prix
Button and Barrichello made a major step forward in Brawn GP’s bid for the drivers’ and constructors’ championships by finishing first and second at Monza as their rivals struggled. The Brawn pair started from row three but made their one-stop strategy work better than the two-stopping cars ahead of them, setting fast laps at the end of their first stint and ensuring their closest challenger, Lewis Hamilton, ended up behind them when he took his second stop. Barrichello made the most of his narrow qualifying advantage over his team-mate to get the better start and build an early advantage. Button recovered some ground, but never looked like overhauling the Brazilian. Raikkonen was the third man on the podium after Hamilton crashed on the final lap as he tried to chase down Button for second. He was classified 12th as the race finished under the safety car. Red Bull had a poor race with a first-lap retirement for Webber and a single point for Vettel in eighth. At the end of the race the two Brawn GP drivers were separated by 14 points.
Webber relinquishes title hopes
Red Bull’s Mark Webber scored his first-ever F1 race win in Germany during 2009 and challenged seriously for the drivers’ title – but, ever the pragmatist, he acknowledged on the eve of the Singapore race that his chance of winning was vanishing. As F1 threatened to implode around him, thanks to the Renault cheating scandal at last year’s race unveiled by a disgruntled Nelson Piquet Jr, he told Autosport: “The drivers’ championship is very difficult now. Jenson only has to get four or five points over us here and then it is all over. I am coming here trying to get the best result for me, but I am looking forward to Suzuka. There are some tracks coming up where we can get a good result, but I think the championship is very difficult for us now.” Team-mate Sebastian Vettel, however, took quite the opposite view, fighting on until the last moment and beyond, with a superb performance at Abu Dhabi that meant he secured a hard-fought second.
Singapore Grand Prix
Hamilton won, but Button moved a big step closer to succeeding him as world champion as their closest rivals all saw their races wrecked by errors and mechanical failures. The McLaren driver led home Glock and Alonso while Button made a remarkable salvage of a race which he began in 12th but ended by increasing his championship lead. Vettel and Rosberg were both prevented from seriously challenging by drive-through penalties following pitlane errors. With his two closest rivals disposed of, Hamilton was able to canter to a simple victory. Webber retired on lap 46 with brake problems but Vettel held off Button to take fourth, the championship leader drawing up to the back of his Red Bull rival on lap 56 of 61 before severe brake wear forced him to back off. Barrichello was suffering brake problems but had enough left to mount a late charge, closing a 10-second gap in the final three laps to finish right on his tail. Button’s fifth place ahead of Barrichello in sixth left him with a 15-point championship lead.
Japanese Grand Prix
Vettel kept up the pressure on Button and Brawn GP with a commanding win, surviving a start-line challenge from Hamilton in third to cruise to victory. He held off the KERS-equipped McLaren as Hamilton, finding second-placed Trulli unexpectedly hard to overtake, was unable to get a proper run on the leader. Trulli stuck doggedly behind Hamilton for the first two stints and was able to regain second place in the final round of pitstops. Button, who at one point dropped to 12th, recovered from a qualifying penalty and a bad start to finish eighth, a place behind Barrichello. The combined three points for the Brawn drivers left the team just half a point short of being crowned constructors’ champions. Webber started in the pitlane after missing qualifying, suffered a nightmare start that saw him pit three times in the first five laps, and drove a lonely race to a distant last place. After this race Button’s advantage in the drivers’ championship was down to 14 points over Barrichello while Vettel had closed to within two points of the Brazilian. And Timo Glock had raced his last for Toyota, after he crashed in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, injuring his spine and causing him to sit out the remaining races. In 2010, with Toyota leaving the sport, he will race for Virgin F1.
Brazilian Grand Prix
Webber won the Brazilian Grand Prix – but Button raced from 14th on the grid to finish fifth and become the 2009 Formula One drivers’ champion. For the second year running at Interlagos the podium celebrations were rendered irrelevant as a British driver with the number 22 on his Mercedes-powered car won the title by finishing fifth. Barrichello slipped back from pole to third during the race and was given a rear puncture by an overtaking Hamilton that dropped him to eighth and damaging his hopes of coming second in the championship. Vettel out-performed Button by driving from 15th to fourth but it wasn’t enough to keep his slim hopes alive – Jenson Button was world champion, baby, yeah!
Jean Todt wins FIA presidency
Before the FOTA row Max Mosley had declared his intention to stand for a fifth term as FIA president. However he eventually agreed to stand aside as part of the settlement of the breakaway row, despite once again declaring his options open in response to triumphalism from Luca di Montezemolo, and claiming he was under widespread pressure to continue. He publicly backed former Ferrari team principal Jean Todt as his successor. Todt was seen by the public as an establishment candidate, challenged by former rally driver Ari Vatanen, who claimed to represent change and a new start from the organisation. Vatanen made several claims that he was not receiving a fair shot under the secretive election proceedings, starting then abandoning court proceedings. But in the end he was comprehensively beaten, receiving 49 votes to Todt’s 135.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel led home a Red Bull 1-2 during a dull race at the new Yas Marina circuit that nevertheless secured him second place in the constructors’ championship, as Button finished third and Barrichello fourth. Polesitter Lewis Hamilton suffered brake problems almost from the start of the race and failed to build the early lead that had been widely expected. He was overtaken by Vettel during the pitstops and retired from the race shortly afterwards. But McLaren’s performance had been good enough during the year to allow it to best Ferrari in the constructors’ championship – albeit by a single point. A late duel between Webber and Button, in which the Australian successfully held off the faster Brawn GP driver, provided the only real interest during a race that was otherwise utterly devoid of tension. The unexpected star was Toyota rookie Kamui Kobayashi who made a one-stop strategy work to great effect by taking sixth place despite only qualifying 12th.
Brawn GP, Mercedes and the future of Jenson Button
With the season over, on November 16 German motoring giant Mercedes announced it would be shifting its weight from McLaren to Brawn GP, meaning that the season’s double champions would become the ultimate motorsport one-hit wonder. The manufacturer said it would “re-align” its existing relationship with McLaren, becoming merely an engine supplier to the team with which it won three drivers’ titles and a constructors’ championship since the partnership began in 1995. It would instead be running the former Brawn GP as a silver-liveried works team with one, and possibly two, German drivers and is expected to revive its Silver Arrows branding for the occasion. The existing management team of Ross Brawn and Nick Fry are still minority shareholders and will remain in charge of day-to-day operations. Jenson Button may have won the world championship for Brawn. But – unlike the formerly eponymous team principal – that doesn’t mean his services were considered essential for next year and, on November to the surprise of almost everyone including the Brawn GP bosses, he signed a three-year deal to partner Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. Thus a season that had been full of surprises went out with a bang.
 
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