Button clinches Formula One title, finishes 5th in Brazilian GP won by Webber

By Tales Azzoni, AP
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Button clinches Formula One title in Brazil

SAO PAULO — Jenson Button clinched his first Formula One title with a fifth-place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday and his Brawn GP team made history by becoming the first to take the constructors’ crown in its debut season.

“This race was the best race I’ve driven in my life,” Button said. “I knew I had to make it happen.”

He was ecstatic at the finish, singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” over the team radio as he crossed the line.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber claimed his second Grand Prix win ahead of Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber and defending champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.

Home-crowd favorite Rubens Barrichello — Button’s Brawn GP teammate and his closest rival at the start of the race — started from the pole but finished eighth after a puncture. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who also had a shot at the title entering the race, was fourth.

Fifth was good enough to give Button an insurmountable 15-point lead over Vettel in the drivers’ standings ahead of the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 1.

Button’s triumph gives Britain back-to-back F1 titles for the first time since Graham Hill won in 1968 and Jackie Stewart in 1969. Hamilton won last year, also clinching at the Brazilian GP.

“I am the world champion. I’m going to keep saying it all night,” the 29-year-old Button said. “I’m going to enjoy this moment like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sitting here as the world champion and that’s something you cannot take away.”

In his 10th year in Formula One, Button had a historic start to the season by winning six of the first seven races, then was consistent enough the rest of the year to arrive in Brazil with a comfortable lead.

It was a memorable finish for the Brawn GP team, which came to Interlagos with a commanding lead in the constructors’ standings, needing only half of a point to clinch the title.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” team principal Ross Brawn said. “It’ll take a while.”

The team was created only a few weeks before the start of the season using the infrastructure of the former Honda team after the Japanese carmaker decided to withdraw from the sport because of the global recession.

Button started 14th after a poor qualifying performance in heavy rain on Saturday, but he drove aggressively from the start to quickly move up the grid.

All three title contenders got away cleanly, but the safety car was brought out before the first lap was over after a crash between Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Trulli immediately confronted Sutil after the incident and it looked for a moment as though the two drivers would come to blows. FIA decided it was a “racing accident” and fined the Toyota driver $10,000 for “aggressively confronting” Sutil on the track.

Button was up to ninth after the safety car left the track on the third lap, and then made bold passes to overtake the Renault of Romain Grosjean and the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima to move to seventh. He moved up to fifth following the last round of stops.

Vettel also had a good race after starting 15th, but it wasn’t enough to keep his title hopes alive.

McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen had a disastrous pit stop when he drove off with his refueling hose still attached, spilling fuel along the pit lane. Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari then ignited the spilled fuel after he pitted to changed his front wing. A fireball briefly enveloped his car but he was able to continue. The incident prompted FIA to fine McLaren $50,000 and add 25 seconds to Kovalainen’s elapsed race time.

Barrichello, starting from pole, led for the first part of the race but dropped out of contention after the first round of pit stops. He began the race with a lighter fuel load and the strategy proved costly. Nevertheless, he looked set for a podium finish until a puncture after touching wheels with Hamilton’s McLaren forced him into another pit stop, frustrating the nearly 70,000 Brazilian fans who packed the Interlagos circuit.

“I tried my best to be able to win here in front of my fans,” Barrichello said. “But unfortunately I didn’t have the car to do it today. I just have to congratulate Button on his title. He deserved it.”

Webber, who won for the first time at the German Grand Prix earlier this season, took the lead after the first round of stops and dominated from there on.

“Fantastic day for the team to win again,” Webber said.

The victory secured second place for Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.

Defending champion Hamilton finished third after starting from 18th on the grid.

“Today it’s been an extremely tough day,” Hamilton said. “To fight all the way up to third from 18th, it’s a great job for the whole team.”

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