Mark Webber won the Brazilian Grand Prix – but nobody noticed as Jenson 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 car won the title by finishing fifth.
Button’s closest rival Rubens Barrichello slipped back from pole to third during the race, which was enough on its own to ensure the Englishman would be champion – but then the Brazilian was given a rear puncture by an overtaking Lewis Hamilton, pitted, and dropped to eighth.
The only other possible champion, Sebastian Vettel, out-performed Button by driving from 15th to fourth but it wasn’t enough to keep his slim hopes alive.
“I personally think that drive was worth being world champion,” said Button amid raucous scenes in the Brawn GP garage as the team – which had been on the point of extinction when Honda pulled out of F1 – celebrated winning both drivers’ and constructors’ titles.
“It’s really amazing – after the last few races I’ve had this makes up for it. It was a totally awesome race, I’m world champion.
“It’s 21 years since I first raced a kart. I love winning, I never expected to be world champion in F1, because you think racing drivers in F1 are different from you. But I did it today.”
Ross Brawn, usually an impassive figure on the pitwall, choked with emotion when interviewed by television and was briefly unable to talk. When he could start again, he praised his staff and driver – making sure to mention the workers who lost their jobs in the cutbacks that marked the formation of the team that bears his name.
He said: “The work they did over the winter was sensational, and I have to say to all of those that couldn’t be with us because we had to resize the team, my thanks goes out to them because they worked so hard. I hope they can be very proud with what they achieved for the team because they’ve been a part of everything we’ve done.”
Although the forecast rain never materialised, the race was dramatic from the start when Heikki Kovalainen tapped Vettel and spun, sending Giancarlo Fisichella onto the grass to avoid him. At the front, a surging Kimi Raikkonen challenged the leaders but broke his front wing on Webber’s rear tyre.
As the Finn dropped back, Adrian Sutil found himself embroiled in an incident with Jarno Trulli who tried for a pass but went partially off the track. As he struggled to regain control he side-swiped the Force India driver and crashed heavily.
Sutil swerved onto the grass, then back onto the track in the path of Fernando Alonso who had no chance to avoid hitting him. All three drivers were eliminated – and an angry Trulli, believing he had been deliberately hit, confronted Sutil by the side of the track.
The chaos and the resulting safety car gave some of the drivers out of position after qualifying, such as Vettel, Hamilton and Button, the opportunity to change strategies or improve their positions. But the pitstops created more drama as Kovalainen drove off with his fuel hose attached, spraying the following Raikkonen who was briefly engulfed in flame. Both drivers continued unharmed.
When the race finally calmed down, Barrichello led from Webber with Nico Rosberg briefly holding third before being passed by Robert Kubica. Button and Vettel began their charges, picking off less experienced drivers such as Romain Grosjean.
Although some cars, such as Hamilton, were one-stopping all the leaders were on a two-stop strategy and the first round of pitstops marked the end of Barrichello’s chances of victory. Already under threat from Webber’s longer first stint, he emerged from his stop in traffic, lost time, and was also overtaken by Kubica.
Meanwhile Button was stuck behind Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi, who for the most part drove an impressive debut race. Finally, on lap 24, he squeezed past – but the time he had lost meant that Vettel and Hamilton were able to overtake him during the final pitstops.
By then, however, it didn’t matter – Rosberg retired with a smoking engine, Barrichello suffered his puncture, and Button took a fifth place that guaranteed him the title.
Other retirements included Nick Heidfeld, who was left sat forlornly by the side of the track after his fuel rig failed – he was sent out again for another lap but ran out of fuel before he made it back to the pits to try again.
Kobayashi was responsible for Kazuki Nakajima’s dramatic exit, emerging from the pits ahead of his fellow countryman and throwing a highly-questionable block as the much faster Williams attempted to pass. Nakajima hit him, lost his front wing, and ended up nose first in the tyre wall at speed.
Brazilian Grand Prix race results
Subject to post-race stewards’ investigation into incidents involving Kovalainen and Fisichella, and Trulli and Sutil.
- Mark Webber, Red Bull
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India
- Romain Grosjean, Renault
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
- Nico Rosberg, Williams
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber
- Adrian Sutil, Force India
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota
- Fernando Alonso, Renault
F1 drivers’ championship standings
- Jenson Button, 89 Champion
- Sebastian Vettel, 74
- Rubens Barrichello, 72
- Mark Webber, 61.5
- Lewis Hamilton, 49
- Kimi Raikkonen, 48
- Nico Rosberg, 34.5
- Jarno Trulli, 30.5
- Fernando Alonso, 26
- Timo Glock, 24
- Felipe Massa, 22
- Heikki Kovalainen, 22
- Robert Kubica, 17
- Nick Heidfeld, 15
- Giancarlo Fisichella, 8
- Adrian Sutil, 5
- Sebastien Buemi, 5
- Sebastien Bourdais, 2
- Kazuki Nakajima, 0
- Nelson Piquet Jnr, 0
- Kamui Kobayashi, 0
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, 0
- Romain Grosjean, 0
- Jaime Alguersuari, 0
- Luca Badoer, 0
F1 constructors’ championship standings
- Brawn, 161 Champion
- Red Bull, 135.5
- McLaren, 71
- Ferrari, 70
- Toyota, 54.5
- Williams, 34.5
- BMW Sauber, 32
- Renault, 26
- Force India, 13
- Toro Rosso, 7