Jenson Button spent the first half of the 2009 F1 world championship season making sure he won the title. And then spent the second half struggling to make sure he didn't lose it.
The record books, sure enough, show that he led from the very first race, winning six of the first seven grands prix to build up what turned out to be an unassailable lead. But from Turkey onwards he failed to win another race, his Brawn BGP001 forced to fend off an increasingly formidable challenge not only from the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber but also his own team-mate, Rubens Barrichello.
Assessing the magnitude of the Brawn team’s achievement depends to a very large extent on how you regard their Phoenix-like emergence from the ashes of Honda Racing. Barely a month before the start of the season, it was not certain that Button and the Brackley brigade would even be taking part in any racing.
On the other hand, you could say that Honda sacrificed the second half of 2008 to make sure they had a winning car in 2009. And then bequeathed that design and its aerodynamic excellence to new owners Ross Brawn and Nick Fry.
The Brawn-Mercedes – along with rivals Williams and Toyota – opted to use the big aero tweak of the season: the controversial ‘double diffuser’. This aerodynamic appendage was given the green light by the FIA at a court of appeal hearing early in the year, leaving most of the other teams – McLaren included – playing catch-up.
In a sense the team most disadvantaged by the FIA’s judgement was Red Bull, whose tech chief, Adrian Newey, had configured his latest Renault-engined contender with pullrod rear suspension, a choice he admits he would not have made had he believed the double diffuser option would be deemed in conformity with the rules by the powers that be.
So Jenson had a brilliant car – the best – at the wheel of which to demonstrate his Prost/Schumacher-style shimmering precision at the wheel during the first half of the season. He then went through a phase when he tried to drive tactically and tentatively, which didn’t really work. But the final two races – Brazil and the multi-million-dollar Abu Dhabi extravaganza – saw Button back on his brilliant original form.
Button’s title success meant that we were celebrating back-to-back British world champions, although outgoing title-holder Lewis Hamilton struggled with a very difficult McLaren-Mercedes for the first part of the year. Once that was rectified, he was back to his old form again, but if you had to pick a future world champion from those who have yet to win the title, you couldn't look past Sebastian Vettel. He surely will become ranked as among the great ones.