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Motor Racing

Button and Brawn a fairytale among nightmares

In a genuine fairytale, Brawn GP were the phoenix that rose from the ashes after Honda shocked everyone with their sudden withdrawal in December 2008, winning eight races and the drivers' and constructors' World Championships at their first attempt.

Jenson Button's succession to Lewis Hamilton's throne was one of the sport's rags-to-riches fables. He was crowned Britain's 10th world champion after another season characterised by some excellent racing and controversy, including a race-fixing scandal that saw Renault chief Flavio Briatore thrown out on his ear.

It was the season of the "'double diffusers" and Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), a return to slick tyres, and a sadly ineffective attempt to generate more overtaking with some radical aerodynamic changes. What the latter did achieve, in conjunction with an in-season ban on testing, was to give teams such as Brawn and Red Bull the chance to steal the limelight as traditional heavy-hitters McLaren and Ferrari stumbled.

At Silverstone in July, the threat of a Formula One Teams' Association breakaway championship was narrowly averted and it was announced that the Grand Prix would go to Donington Park for the next 17 years. BMW then dropped a bombshell by announcing they would quit at the end of the year. Countering the bad news, Lotus, Campos Meta, Virgin and USF1 confirmed they would swell the 2010 grid.

The mid-season death of former world champion John Surtees' young son Henry in a Formula Two race at Silverstone was followed a week later in Hungary by Ferrari's Felipe Massa being hospitalised after also receiving serious head injuries from being struck by a spring from Rubens Barrichello's car. Thankfully the Brazilian recovered, but his accident triggered a media frenzy of speculation about a possible return by Michael Schumacher. It so nearly happened, until the seven-time champion's neck injuries, sustained in a motorcycle racing incident, ruled him out. But last week it was confirmed he would return with Mercedes (née Brawn).

The race-fixing scandal hit F1 in Belgium. In Hungary, Renault had been lucky to escape suspension, only a week after Surtees' death, when Fernando Alonso's crew knowingly released him from a pit stop with an improperly secured right front wheel. They were fined $50,000 and suspended from Valencia, but won their appeal against exclusion. However, at Spa it transpired Renault were being investigated for fixing the result of the 2008 Singapore GP following allegations from former driver Nelson Piquet Jnr, whom Briatore had fired in July, that he had been told to crash deliberately there to give Alonso the safety-car intervention that helped him through to victory. Briatore was banned from the sport for life, and technical chief Pat Symonds for five years as the racing world was rocked.

In October, Jean Todt crushed Ari Vatanen to succeed Max Mosley as president of the FIA, and shows signs of promise. After Toyota and Bridgestone also indicated their intentions to leave, Button hopped from Brawn – who were to be purchased by Mercedes-Benz – to join Hamilton at McLaren, whom Mercedes were divorcing. In December it was finally confirmed that the British GP will stay at Silverstone after all.

On the track the racing was strong and unpredictable, with Button starring, fading, then coming back to beat team-mate Barrichello and interlopers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in the emergent Red Bull team. Hamilton also had several starring roles as McLaren recovered. Next year all of them will be quick.

Three to watch

Fernando Alonso: He will be back from the wilderness and in a decent car at Ferrari alongside the returning Felipe Massa.

Kamui Kobayashi: The 23-year-old Japanese grabbed a Sauber ride after three sensational performances for Toyota at the end of 2009.

Tonio Liuzzi: The Italian, now 28, is back full-time with Force India, and with a lot to prove.

David Tremayne