If Jenson Button was going to stumble at any time in his apparently seamless progress towards the world championship, it was likely to happen on the streets of Monaco where all sorts of hazards lay in wait. After all, it was the Englishman himself who said that the walls tend to close in as a race goes on. But yesterday his performance was flawless as he strode towards a majestic triumph, and then ran to pick up his winner's trophy from Prince Albert.
The start is always crucial at Monaco, and Button charged into the lead with ease as his Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello sprinted through from third place to ride shotgun ahead of Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari. Situation normal for the Brawn duo, as they headed towards their third one-two – and Button's fifth of victory from six – of their wonderful season.
This time, though, they had sprung a different kind of surprise on their peers. When the tyre warmers came off on the grid, the two lemon meringue pie Brawns were the only frontrunners equipped with Bridgestone's supersoft compound tyres; the others were using the soft compound prime tyre. It was one of the keys to their success.
"Actually," Button said later, "I was surprised when the covers came off and most people were on the primes. We never thought twice about running the supersoft option tyres, and even though towards the end of the first stint I had started struggling a little with oversteer, the fronts worked really well here."
With insouciant ease he opened up a gap over Barrichello who, as his rear tyres began to suffer a little, dropped back towards Raikkonen's challenging Ferrari. Going a little too close to Button early on, the Brazilian had suffered from the aerodynamic repercussions of tailing another car and overworked his rubber as a result.
Strategically, Brawn had this one covered, however. They brought Barrichello in on lap 16 so his stop came close to Raikkonen's, negating any possible advantage for Ferrari, then called Button in sooner than planned the next time around and got him out so smoothly that he quickly regained a lead lost only momentarily to Nico Rosberg's Williams.
Later, Button exited the pits behind Raikkonen after his second stop on the 51st lap, but the moment the Finn refuelled on lap 53, Button snatched back the lead. Frankly, he never looked remotely like being challenged, though he admitted that it was far from as easy in the cockpit as he made it look from the outside.
Everyone else struggled. Barrichello overcame his initial tyre problems, only to suffer from a loose seatbelt. Raikkonen was fast but not when it had really mattered, at the start. His team-mate, Felipe Massa, got outfoxed early on while trying to pass a tardy Sebastian Vettel. He overshot the chicane on the seventh lap, had to hand the place back to Vettel, and found the irrepressible Rosberg barrelling through on the inside before he could close the door. Later, having fought clear of the young German's Williams via his refuelling strategy, the Brazilian pushed hard after Raikkonen while defending fourth place from a hard-charging Mark Webber.
The Australian was to be Red Bull's only finisher after Vettel had spun his car into the wall at Ste Devote on the 15th lap. In the end, Raikkonen led Massa home, from Webber and Rosberg. And if there were slim pickings for former champion Fernando Alonso, with seventh place for Renault, at least he scored points. The problems created when Lewis Hamilton spun his McLaren into the wall in qualifying were compounded when it transpired that the impact had damaged the gearbox. Replacement brought a five-grid place penalty, obliging him to start from the back.
Then he needed an early pit-stop after a nose-damaging brush in the first corner with Nick Heidfeld on the 10th lap. Towards the end he overtook Jarno Trulli for 12th place, but that was scarcely a consolation for a man who understood only too well the feelings coursing through Jenson Button's mind as he reeled off the final laps.
"This victory is massive for us and bodes well for the next few races," Button beamed, now utterly well versed in the art of grand prix winning and the first Briton to do so here from pole position since Sir Jackie Stewart back in 1973. "The race was pretty tough, and you realise how long the pit straight is when you start to run it on foot."
He had parked his car in the wrong place, in the paddock, and thus had a longer journey to the royal podium. "In a way it was a great way to finish it," he laughed. "It was the first time I've actually looked round Monaco during a race. It was such a nice feeling to go past the pits on foot and see all the boys; Mike, my physio, with the pit board. It's been a long time since I've been on podium at Monaco so I wanted to make a spectacle of it. It's amazing how much energy you've got when you go across the line first."
The last laps were strange, he admitted, because he had started to back off a little bit, which is the worst thing you can do as Ayrton Senna had discovered here back in 1988 when he crashed. "You start thinking: 'If I get to the end I'm going to win Monaco', but then you aren't thinking exclusively about your driving and have something else in your mind. I just drove at a steady pace and enjoyed my special moment.
"Before the weekend I said that this grand prix doesn't mean anything more than any other... That was a bit of a lie, really, more to keep the pressure off myself. Now I know that to win here is fantastic.
"This is a completely different circuit to any other we race on. It's really special to win here. The last two laps were just the two most enjoyable of my career, I would say. This is something you always dream about as a kid, and as a racing driver it's just fantastic."
Monaco Grand Prix Result and standings
*Result of the Monaco Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo yesterday.
1 J Button (GB) Brawn 1hr 40mins 44.282secs
2 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn +00:07.666
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 00:13.442
4 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 00:15.110
5 M Webber (Aus) RedBull 00:15.730
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 00:33.586
7 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 00:37.839
8 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso 01:03.142
9 G Fisichella (It) Force India 01:05.040
10 To Glock (Ger) Toyota 1 lap
11 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1 lap
12 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1 lap
13 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1 lap
14 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1 lap
Retired K Nakajima (Japan) Williams; H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren; R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber; S Vettel (Ger) RedBull; N Piquet (Br) Renault; S Buemi (Switz) Toro Rosso
1 Button (Brawn) 51 points; 2 Barrichello (Brawn) 35; 3 Vettel (Red Bull) 23; 4 Webber (Red Bull) 19.5; 5 Trulli (Toyota) 14.5; 6 Glock (Toyota) 12; 7 Alonso (Renault) 11; 8 Raikkonen (Ferrari) 9; 9 Hamilton (McLaren) 9; 10 Massa (Ferrari) 8; 11 Rosberg (Williams) 7.5; 12 Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 6; 13 Kovalainen (McLaren) 4; 14 Buemi (Toro Rosso) 3; 15 Bourdais (Toro Rosso) 2; 16 Fisichella (Force India) 0; 17 Sutil (Force India) 0; 18 Piquet (Renault) 0; 19 Kubica (BMW Sauber) 0; 20 Nakajima (Williams) 0
1 Brawn 86 points; 2 RedBull 42.5; 3 Toyota 26.5; 4 Ferrari 17; 5 McLaren 13; 6 Renault 11; 7 Williams 7.5; 8 BMW Sauber 6; 9 Toro Rosso 5; 10 Force India 0
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