Jenson Button’s long motor racing journey from childhood karting star to 2009 Formula One world champion left his father stunned and his team boss Ross Brawn in tears on Sunday.
The Briton’s success in taking the title by finishing fifth in the Brazilian Grand Prix capped a roller-coaster ten years in Grand Prix racing for one of the most popular men in the sport.
“It’s really amazing,” he said. “It was a totally awesome race, I’m world champion. It’s 21 years since I first raced a kart. I loved it straight away, but I love winning.
“I never expected to be world champion in F1, because you think racing drivers in F1 are different from you. But I did it today and it is great.
“It was tough for me and for my team, my friends and my family for the last few weeks and months because there was a lot of pressure on us.
“I tried not to show it because I don’t think that is a good thing. I think it shows a weakness. But it was not easy and we had to tough it out for a while. So today I wanted to attack and be competitive and win the title my way.”
Button, 29, started out in Formula One when he won a speed test ‘shootout’ against other young drivers, notably Bruno Junqueira, to grab a seat in the Williams team as a 19-year-old hopeful.
His career moved between periods of excellence and great potential, to moribund spells when he was struggling to overcome unfair accusations that he was just a young playboy.
After one season with Williams, when he finished eighth in the championship, he moved on loan to Benetton, staying with them as they became Renault in 2002.
But he was dropped from their plans by then team boss Flavio Briatore who said he had more belief in young rising reserve driver Fernando Alonso.
After Renault, he went to British American Racing but his career was seemingly blighted by contract disputes and a particular scrap over his status with the Williams team.
Eventually, he was forced to buy himself out of his Williams contract to join Honda, who took over BAR.
That move was slow to bear fruit, but eventually Honda delivered him with his first victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix in his 113th F1 race.
It was the lift-off he needed, but he was unable to capitalise fully until this year when Ross Brawn built his own team out of the ashes of the defunct Honda team that pulled out of the sport because of the global financial turndown.
A sporting, open and polite driver, Button, who is Britain’s 10th world champion, is keen on taking part in triathlons to keep himself fit and enjoys living in Monte Carlo.
He has a serious relationship with his girlfriend Jessica Michibata, but has not announced any plans for their future, preferring instead to remain dedicated to his racing career for now.
In the wake of his title triumph Sunday, a tearful Brawn heaped praise on him.
“Jenson’s a fantastic racer and on the day he had a great race. He knew what he had to do,” said Brawn.
“We’ve lost a little bit of pace in the car compared to some of our rivals over the second half of the season, but he’s stuck with it and deserves everything he’s got.”
Button was 14th on the grid at Interlagos on Sunday while title rival and teammate Rubens Barrichello started on pole, a scenario which many people believed would mean the championship would go to the wire in the season final in Abu Dhabi in November.
But Barrichello suffered a nightmare race, finishing a disappointing eighth with Australia’s Mark Webber, in a Red Bull, taking victory.
Button won six of the season’s seven races but his challenge threatened to fade away in the second half of the season.
But he continued to collect points and took the title with a solid drive in Sunday’s dramatic 71-lap race.
Sir Jackie Stewart, who was world champion in 1969, 1971 and 1973, told Sky News he was overjoyed for his British compatriot.