If there was one year that confounded critics, fans and even a few drivers alike, 2009 was that season.
For that was the year in which Brawn GP and Jenson Button achieved something that will never be repeated again in Formula One, as they became the last privateer entry to win both the World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championship, and probably the last ever team to do that.
The story begins in December 2008 when Honda, after three dismal years in Formula One, pulled out of the sport with immediate effect and left two of the most experienced drivers in Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello potentially on the F1 scrapheap.
That was until March, just days before the new season was about to begin, when ex-team principal Ross Brawn announced a deal to take over the fallen team had been completed. Brawn then took part in pre-season testing and Button and Barrichello suddenly had another chance.
Many were surprised despite their strong pre-season pace at just how quick Brawn were at the Australian Grand Prix, with Button and Barrichello dominating the weekend. Button would go on to win the race and start a streak that would prove pivotal as the season wore on, while Barrichello’s second meant Brawn took a 1-2 on their Grand Prix debut.
Button won again in Malaysia, which was stopped after 31 laps due to appalling weather conditions and thus half points were awarded, before a third place in China that was to be his worst result in the opening seven races.
Button’s early-season juggernaut was to roll on into Bahrain while in Spain and Monaco he headed two more Brawn 1-2s. After his sixth win in seven races at the Turkish Grand Prix in ultimately his last victory of 2009, Jenson was 26 points clear of Barrichello in second, and 32 clear of Sebastian Vettel.
At the British Grand Prix he was sixth with this result followed up with a fifth place in Germany, where Mark Webber took his first ever win, before two seventh places in Hungary and at the European Grand Prix in Valencia before his first lap retirement in Belgium following a collision with Romain Grosjean, after he qualified down in 14th.
After Belgium, Button’s lead at the top of the standings had been cut to 16 points over Barrichello, while Vettel was a further three points back going into the Italian Grand Prix. A return to form at Monza was enough for second place, though Barrichello cut further into Button’s lead with a victory that left him 14 points behind with 40 to race for.
In Singapore, he was fifth while Vettel was only a place ahead and Barrichello sixth. At the Japanese Grand Prix Barrichello and Button finished seventh and eighth respectively to leave Brawn half a point away from an unlikely Constructors’ Championship.
Barrichello was 14 points back with two races left with Vettel a further two behind and the World Championship could be wrapped up at the next race in Brazil.
The Brazilian Grand Prix was a weekend that seemed to encapsulate Button’s career and his journey in F1 from his debut season in 2000.
Button qualified 14th in a rain-interrupted session that ended up at 2 hours 41 minutes being the longest in Formula One history, while Barrichello took pole position at his home race. His other rival, Vettel, was 16th having also been caught out.
By the end of the first lap due to various incidents, Button had climbed five positions to ninth and this quickly became seventh as Grosjean and Nakajima were dispatched in short order, while debutant Kamui Kobayashi’s Toyota took more persuading.
He eventually got the pass done with a bold move down the inside at turn one, a manoeuvre made famous by a small kick of oversteer to keep the Japanese charger at bay.
Barrichello’s annual dose of bad luck at Interlagos was to strike again as the Brazilian suffered a puncture that relegated him to eighth and put Button in a now crucial fifth place, and the title was now his if the result stayed as it was.
Button was to finish fifth to wrap up the most unlikely of World Drivers’ Championships with a race to spare. His rendition of Queen’s “We are the Champions” remains famous to this day.
The Brit’s season was rounded off with a third place in Abu Dhabi and the eventual margin at the top of the standings was 11 points to Vettel.
The 2009 F1 World Championship was a season of the underdog and Formula One simply will not see another story like this again.
Button’s World Championship win, his sole title in a glittering 17-season career remains the example to many Formula One drivers about perseverance, with many having written him off in seasons past following an awful 2007-08 with Honda.
But the biggest compliment to Jenson Button?
You will have to go to great lengths to find a more popular title winner.