If Jenson Button doesn’t deserve the 2009 championship no-one else does

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Will Jenson Button be number one at the end of the season?
Will Jenson Button be number one at the end of the season?

I’ve followed the debate about whether Jenson Button deserves to win the championship this year with great interest.

His lacklustre scoring rate in the second half of the season – compared to his brilliant beginning – has caused some to ask whether he really deserves to be champion.

But what I’m yet to read is a truly convincing argument why either of his rivals, Rubens Barrichello and Sebastian Vettel, deserve it more. The simple reason is that they don’t.

Rubens Barrichello

They case against Barrichello is pretty clear: he’s got the same car as Button yet he’s scored 14 fewer points and won four fewer races with it. Dig a little deeper into the stats and we also find Button has led more than twice as many laps as his team mate – 280 versus 105.

Barrichello has had a good run of results recently but he’s thrown points away too with poor starts at Melbourne, Istanbul and Spa.

As with his team mate, reliability has generally been kind to Barrichello. The spring he lost in qualifying at the Hungaroring doomed him to 12th on the grid, and an over-stressed gearbox (which was still good enough for a win at Monza) cost him five places on the grid at Singapore.

On at least two occasions Barrichello has complained that strategy cost him points to Button. His infamous outburst at the Nurburgring came after a fuel rig problem left him behind his team mate – unfortunate, but nothing sinister. Spain was the odd one, where Barrichello’s team chose not to cover Button’s switch to a two-stop strategy, leaving Barrichello vulnerable on a three-stopper.

Since Istanbul, Button has neither won a race nor out-qualified Barrichello (except in Hungary). Though it would be silly to pretend this is anything other than poor form on the championship leaders’ part, the bald facts are Barrichello has not done enough to overhaul him and that is largely down to his form in the first half of the season.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel arguably has a stronger claim to championship worthiness than Barrichello – he is only two points behind the Brazilian driver despite having several engine failures including two at the European Grand Prix weekend.

But Vettel, too, has made the kind of mistakes Button has avoided. He will be ruing his tangle with Robert Kubica at Melbourne, where he could have settled for six points and not had a grid penalty for the following race. He crashed at Monaco and gave the lead away to Button at the start in Istanbul (he was probably never going to win that one anyway – but his error left him behind Mark Webber, and there went another two points).

Also, Vettel has not yet shown he can fight his way to a win. Dominating a race from pole position is all well and good, but Button’s most impressive wins this year came when he made critical passes early on. While he made short work of Lewis Hamilton at Bahrain, Vettel remained stuck behind the McLaren.

One of the greats?

Appropriately, Button’s route to the title reminds you of the champion whose driving style he closely imitates: Alain Prost. The modern points system was just made for Prost, who was unfailingly consistent, always there at the end of the race, collecting precious points.

It isn’t an exciting way to win a championship but it is the logical, tactical way to do it – and Button is doing it very well. It’s exactly what many people in the last two seasons criticised Hamilton for not doing: staying out of trouble and making sure he’s there when the chequered flag comes out.

Button may well go on to win the championship with no more than the two sixth places he now needs to do it. That’s the way championships are decided these days and you can hardly blame him for sticking to it.

But some championship victories are more impressive than others and, whoever wins this year’s title, for me it won’t be as impressive as Fernando Alonso’s defeat of Michael Schumacher in 2006, or Ayrton Senna holding back Nigel Mansell in 1991.

But by all means tell me if you think I’m wrong. Does anyone deserve this championship more than Jenson Button does? Leave a comment below.

The championship battle