Jenson Button said before the start, after a disastrous qualifying left him down in 14th place on the grid, that it would take a miracle to clinch the world championship here in Interlagos.
But by the 60th of the 71 laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix, the miracle had happened. After a feisty drive that laid to rest some of the recent criticism of his ultimate commitment, Button became Britain's 10th world champion, as his Brawn team pulled off a unique first-ever success in the constructors' championship in their first season of racing.
Almost unnoticed in all the excitement, Mark Webber drove a perfect race to win for Red Bull, from BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and an aggressive Lewis Hamilton, who had started his McLaren 18th. It was yet another remarkable race on the Brazilian track.
The odds were on Button getting caught in the almost inevitable first-corner mêlée, so tight is the Senna turn here just after the start. But the world championship leader benefited from the mayhem to jump up from his 14th place and was already ninth at the end of a dramatic first lap.
It began when Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari brushed wheels with Adrian Sutil's Force India going into the first corner. Then title contender Sebastian Vettel in a Red Bull tagged Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren on the exit, the Finn spinning and forcing Ferrari's Giancarlo Fisichella to run on to the grass in avoidance. Further round the lap Jarno Trulli pulled his Toyota alongside Sutil but lost control as he was squeezed over the outer kerb. The red and white car tangled with the Force India, each spinning off in different directions. As an out-of-control Sutil speared back on to the track, he bounced right in front of Fernando Alonso, who had nowhere to go in his Renault but instant retirement with rear suspension damage.
An incensed Trulli sprinted down the road on foot to remonstrate with Sutil, but the German's body language made it clear who he blamed.
As if all that wasn't dramatic enough, there was excitement in the pits as Kovalainen and Raikkonen both stopped at the end of the lap. The Ferrari driver had damaged his front wing against Webber, who had got away second behind Barrichello at the start. Kovalainen pulled away too soon from refuelling, taking his fuel hose with him. Raikkonen, right behind, then ran through a flash fire as fuel spewed from the trailing fuel hose. Not surprisingly the safety car was deployed as debris all over the place was cleared up.
When the racing resumed on the sixth lap Button launched a blistering attack that finally demonstrated the forcefulness of a world champion-elect that his critics felt had been lacking of late. He made short work of the Franco-Swiss rookie Romain Grosjean, the man with whom he had tangled on the opening lap in Belgium. They ran side by side and repassed one another a couple of times in some tense wheel-to-wheel racing, but this was the Jenson Button who won six of the first seven races and he soon settled the issue. Next on the list was Williams' Kazuki Nakajima, whom he deposed with similar élan on the seventh lap. Already he had another two points in his hand, as team-mate Barrichello continued to maintain a narrow lead over Mark Webber. Now, however, Button had another rookie in front of him, but this one was a different proposition. Kamui Kobayashi had briefly deputised for Timo Glock on Friday morning in Japan, and had then taken the German's place here after Glock was discovered to have a damaged vertebra after his qualifying accident in Suzuka. The revelation of qualifying, after lining up 11th for Toyota, the Japanese driver never looked remotely ruffled as he kept ahead of the points leader. As debuts go, this one was mighty impressive.
As Button got caught up behind Kobayashi, Nakajima and Vettel got another chance at Button, who was never in any position to relax. It was already proving to be a far more gratifying race for the Englishman than qualifying form had ever suggested.
On the 23rd lap Button briefly nosed ahead in turn one, but had too much momentum and could not hold on to the place. Two laps later, however, he made another move stick in the same corner.
Back and forth the points mathematics swayed, with the various pit stops, but those that really mattered came from the 50th lap onwards. Barrichello pitted then from second place. On lap 55 Button pitted from third. On lap 56 Vettel pitted from third. When the dust had finally settled on the 59th lap, Webber was leading Kubica, nursing an overheating engine, with Barrichello third from Hamilton, Vettel and Button. Button had done enough.
"I'm happy with that," Webber said. "It's a fantastic feeling to win again. It's been a good weekend for Aussies, with my very good friend Jason Crump coming back to win the World Speedway Championship and Casey Stoner winning the MotoGP in Australia."
Hamilton was happy too, after passing Barrichello on the 61st lap. "I didn't expect to finish on the podium, but I fought so hard and kept pushing like crazy throughout," he said. "It feels like a win when you come through fighting for positions all the time, with good overtaking manoeuvres at the end. I just kept pushing and did one qualifying lap after another."
Barrichello, so desperate to win on his home ground, was in trouble. A tyre had punctured, and he needed to make a third pit stop two laps later. It was the final icing on Button's cake, as the Englishman jumped up to fifth place behind Vettel. With 89 points nobody could beat him, and to rub salt into Barrichello's wounds he dropped to third on 72 behind Vettel's 74.
All through the slowing down lap, Button sang over the radio to his delighted team. "We are the champions, my friends," he intoned, in a high-speed karaoke of the old Queen song. "We are world champions. Whoa!" There was nothing else he needed to say.
Buttoned up Champion's road to the title and past record in F1
Australia: 1st: 10 (10)
Malaysia: 1st: 5 (15)
China: 3rd: 6 (21)
Bahrain: 1st: 10 (31)
Spain: 1st: 10 (41)
Monaco: 1st: 10 (51)
Turkey: 1st: 10 (61)
Great Britain: 6th: 3 (64)
Germany: 5th: 4 (68)
Hungary: 7th: 2 (70)
Europe: 7th: 2 (72)
Belgium: DNF: 0 (72)
Italy: 2nd: 8 (80)
Singapore: 5th: 4 (84)
Japan: 8th: 1 (85)
Brazil: 5th: 4 (89*)
*Button's F1 career
Races / Wins / Pts / Finished
2000 R: 17 W: 0 P:12 F: 8th
2001 R:17 W: 0 P: 2 F: 17th
2002 R: 17 W: 0 P:14 F: 7th
2003 R: 16 W: 0 P: 17 F: 9th
2004 R: 18 W: 0 P: 85 F: 3rd
2005 R: 17 W: 0 P: 37 F: 9th
2006 R: 18 W: 1 P: 56 F: 6th
2007 R: 17 W: 0 P: 6 F: 15th
2008 R: 18 W: 0 P: 3 F: 18th
2009 R: 16 W: 6 P: 89* F: 1st
Constructors: Williams (2000), Benetton (2001), Renault (2002), BAR (2003-05), Honda (2006-08), Brawn (2009).
* one more race this season
*British F1 champions
1958: Mike Hawthorn: 42
1962: Graham Hill: 42
1963: Jim Clark: 54
1964: John Surtees: 40
1965: Jim Clark: 54
1968: Graham Hill: 48
1969: Jackie Stewart: 63
1971: Jackie Stewart: 62
1973: Jackie Stewart: 71
1976: James Hunt: 69
1992: Nigel Mansell: 108
1996: Damon Hill: 97
2008: Lewis Hamilton: 98
2009: Jenson Button: 89*
Interlagos: Result and standings
1 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1hr 32min 23.081sec
2 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:32:30.707
3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:32:42.025
4 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:32:42.733
5 J Button (GB) Brawn GP 1:32:52.086
6 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:32:56.421
7 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32:59.072
8 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn GP 1:33:08.535
9 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:33:11.481,
10 K Kobayashi (Japan) Toyota 1:33:26.081, 11 G Fisichella (It) Ferrari 1:33:33.746, 12 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 1:33:34.469, 13 R Grosjean (Fr) Renault at one lap, 14 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso one lap. Not classified: 15 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams 30 laps completed, 16 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 27 laps, 17 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 21 laps, 18 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 0 laps, 19 J Trulli (It) Toyota 0 laps, 20 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 0 laps.
1 Button 89pts (Champion)
2 Vettel 74
3 Barrichello 72
4 Webber 61.5
6 Raikkonen 48
7 Rosberg 34.5
8 Trulli 30.5
9 Alonso 26
10 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 24
11 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 22, 12 Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 22, 13 Kubica 17, 14 Heidfeld 15, 15 Fisichella 8, 16 Sutil 5, 17 Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 5, 18 S Bourdais (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 2, 19 Nakajima (Japan) Williams 0, 20 N Piquet Jnr (Br) Renault 0, 21 Kobayashi 0, 22 Liuzzi 0, 23 Grosjean 0, 24 Alguersuari 0, 25 L Badoer (It) Ferrari 0.
1 Brawn GP 161pts (Champions)
2 Red Bull 135.5
3 McLaren 71
4 Ferrari 70
5 Toyota 54.5
6 Williams 34.5
7 BMW Sauber 32, 8 Renault 26, 9 Force India 13, 10 Scuderia Toro Rosso 7
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