Button and car were always one step ahead

Brawn not only stole a march on their rivals but, David Tremayne writes, also possessed a driver who made the most of his luck to repay the team's faith in his ability
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jenson Button was still repeating his "I'm the world champion!" mantra in the early hours of yesterday morning, as the dawn's early light filtered across the skyline of Sao Paulo, the frantic city whose Interlagos race track has, by one of those tricks of coincidence, for the past two seasons yielded the world championship crown to the fifth-placed driver of car No 22.

But as the exhaust smoke finally began to settle, and the first signs of monster hangovers began to catch up with the racing Buttons, son and father John, and they felt no pain whatsoever, just the ecstasy that comes in the aftermath of a battle well won, the Formula One world looked back on yet another roller-coaster season for the reasons why one Englishman had succeeded another as the title holder for the first time in history.

Perhaps the best answer came in a simple one-line email early yesterday morning, from the same insider at Brawn GP in Brackley who, back in February when the lemon meringue pie-coloured car, with its plain white bodywork and dramatic black keylined yellow slash, had first run at Silverstone, had vouchsafed similar information. "Told you we had a quick car," it said.

And indeed, the Brawn BGP001 was quick, right out of the box. Back then, it had a secret that only two other teams had figured out, one of them because Brawn people had left to go there. A double diffuser developed jointly by the former Super Aguri aerodynamicist Ben Wood and his boffins, and Honda's team back in Tokyo.

Most Formula One cars are like human babies; they have around a nine-month gestation period. But work started on what would become the Brawn BGP001 – the car that would win its first two races, six of the first seven, and eight so far in a season in which the team achieved the unique feat of winning the constructors' title at the first attempt – early in 2008, long before Honda had thought of quitting Formula One.

Max Mosley's 2009 regulations embraced massive change. Slick tyres were back. Aerodynamic downforce was slashed as rear wings were downsized and ugly, wide front wings were mandated to help make it easier for one car to follow another, and therefore to overtake. There were the optional kinetic energy recovery systems (Kers) which gave the drivers an 80 brake horsepower boost for 6.6 seconds a lap and were intended to give the sport a greener image.

But perhaps the most crucial factor was a complete ban on testing once the racing had kicked off, to save money. Suddenly you could not just throw cash and track time at the car and test until dusk to get it right. What you had was what you were stuck with, and the only testing that was allowed was via factory-based simulations as the engineers developed new components that way.

Pretty soon everyone else had double diffusers, and inevitably others, notably Red Bull, but also McLaren and Ferrari, made progress. The two famed teams had invested massive effort on their 2008 title battle and quickly came to realise that their 2009 offerings were woeful in the aerodynamic stakes compared to the Brawn and the Red Bull, and needed the Kers that neither of their rivals deemed necessary simply to try to stay in touch.

So why is Button the champion? Some of it was down to luck, being in the right place at the right time. In that, his achievement ranks with the victories of James Hunt in 1976, Mario Andretti in 1978, or Damon Hill in 1996. That is, after all, part of the art of winning. But just like those three, Button had made much of that luck to make sure that he was in that right place. He took an 80 per cent pay cut just to drive the car in which he had such faith even when things were so uncertain over the winter. Certainly, a huge amount was down to those six superb early victories, when he made the absolute best of what he had and was simply majestic. And he kept out of trouble and didn't make the sort of costly mistakes that rival Sebastian Vettel did in Melbourne and Monaco. And though Button was wobbly later in the season as his Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello started to get more out of the car and Red Bull went on the rampage, he kept his troubled nerve and produced a champion's drive just when it mattered most.

In a neat touch, when Button's BA flight was cancelled on Sunday the defeated Barrichello offered him his private plane. It was a nice story of a sportsman's decency, and highlighted another of the key reasons why Brawn succeeded. They were always a harmonious team, intelligently run, who never lost their head even on the occasions when they, or their drivers, might have lost their way.

"Jenson is a fantastic racer," said the team owner, Ross Brawn. "He knew what he had to do and did just that and is a very deserving world champion. Rubens has made a fantastic contribution to this season without which we could not have won the constructors' championship. The spirit in which our two drivers have fought makes me very proud. And the work and the commitment that the team showed over the winter and throughout this season really has been sensational." So were their results over 16 races, and that is why Jenson Button deservedly succeeded Lewis Hamilton.

Motoring diary: F1's controversial year

*27 FEBRUARY The defunct Honda team are resurrected as Brawn GP following a

management buyout. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are kept on as drivers.

*29 March Button begins the season with victory in Australia. The defending champion Lewis Hamilton (below) is disqualified for misleading a stewards' investigation after Jarno Trulli is alleged to have overtaken him under safety-car conditions.

*26 APRIL At the Bahrain Grand Prix, a season-high eight cars use the new Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers) – a device which recycles energy and offers drivers an acceleration boost. Use of the system decreased as the season progressed.

*29 APRIL McLaren receive a suspended three-race ban for their misconduct in the Lewis Hamilton/Australian GP affair.

*24 MAY The Formula One Teams Association (Fota) writes to the FIA president, Max Mosley, insisting he revokes planned budget-capping measures for the 2010 season.

*27 MAY Williams and Force India are

suspended from Fota after agreeing to race in the 2010 FIA Championship.

*7 JUNE Button wins the Turkish Grand Prix, his sixth victory in seven races.

*18 JUNE Fota threatens to establish a rebel Formula One championship, if the FIA fails to meet the conditions for Fota teams' entry for the 2010 season.

*12 JULY Barrichello blames Brawn GP for pit-stop errors, after finishing behind team-mate Button in the German GP.

*26 JULY Felipe Massa (below) is struck on the helmet by a loose spring during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

*5 AUGUST Fota agrees to compete in FIA championships until 2012 while "gradually reducing spending".

*9 SEPTEMBER Williams and Force India are readmitted to Fota.

*21 SEPTEMBER Renault are handed a two-year suspended ban, after sacked driver Nelson Piquet Jnr reveals he was ordered to crash during the 2008 Singapore GP. Team principal Flavio Briatore is excluded from F1 for an "unlimited period".

*18 OCTOBER Button finishes fifth in Brazil to be crowned world champion.

......... Ollie Wright