The three championship contenders largely managed to steer clear of a string of crashes on the first lap which eliminated three cars. Sebastian Vettel tipped Heikki Kovalainen into a spin, who then tangled with Giancarlo Fisichella.
All three were able to continue – but the same was not true of Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and Fernando Alonso. Sutil edged Trulli wide at turn five and the Toyota driver lost control, spearing into the side of the Force India. While Trulli hit the barrier hard, Sutil skidded out-of-control across the grass and the helpless Alonso could do nothing to avoid him.
Kovalainen headed for the pits for repairs, as did Kimi Raikkonen who lost his front wing trying to pass Webber for second. Webber closed the door firmly and the outcome had much in common with Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya’s tangle under the same circumstances in 2002.
As the Finns left the pits Kovalainen departed with his refuelling rig still attached. He wrenched the hose free, dousing Raikkonen in fuel which promptly ignited. Mercifully the fire was over in a flash and Raikkonen was able to keep going – as was Kovalainen, who pulled over at the Brawn garage and was helped on his way by their mechanics who pulled the hose off the car.
The safety car was out for four laps while the debris was cleared up. Button had gained five places due to the mayhem and was ninth, with Jaime Alguersuari between him and 11th-placed Vettel.
Once the racing resumed Button quickly picked off Kazuki Nakajima for eighth and set about challenging Romain Grosjeas. He took seventh with a brave move that started at turn one and ended with Button passing the Renault around the outside of Ferradura halfway around the lap.
But rookie Kamui Kobayashi proved a tougher nut to crack – the Toyota driver defending his place very thoroughly – a tad too thoroughly in Button’s view, who complained the Japanese driver had changed lines in the braking area, risking a collision. After 16 laps Button finally found a way past.
By then Barrichello had made his first pit stop from the lead, promoting Webber and Robert Kubica to first and second. Disastrously, he came out in front of Vettel who quickly passed the Brawn. When Webber and Kubica made their stops they easily stayed ahead of Barrichello, who was now looking at finishing no better than third place.
The biggest threat to Button were now Vettel and Hamilton – both of which jumped past him with their late final pit stops. But Hamilton also proved a problem for Barrichello, who struggled on his super-soft tyres in the final stint. As Hamilton went past him for third with eight laps to go, the McLaren made slight contact with Barrichello’s left-rear tyre, giving him a slow puncture. Although Button was already running well enough to take the title, that final blow for Barrichello put it beyond all doubt.
So once again we had the odd spectacle of a podium celebration going on while an even bigger party greeted the new world champion. Button was already hoarse with shouting by the time he got back to his garage, where Brawn were also celebrating their constructors’ title victory.
This season still has one race to run at Abu Dhabi in two weeks’ time but once again Interlagos has decided the destiny of the championships with a race to remember.
2009 Brazilian Grand Prix