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Interlagos lived up to its reputation

At last, Jenson Button has done it. For the third year in succession, the Brazilian Grand Prix delivered a Formula One world champion his title and a plateful of action and drama, writes Steve Slater.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2009 23:23 IST

At last, Jenson Button has done it. For the third year in succession, the Brazilian Grand Prix delivered a Formula One world champion his title and a plateful of action and drama.

From the first rain-soaked practice sessions, we were sure of being treated to one of those unpredictable Brazilian Grand Prix weekends. When the 50km-wide tropical storm blew into Interlagos on Saturday afternoon, it guaranteed it!

I cannot remember, in more than a decade of F1 commentaries, a qualifying session where I had to spend nearly three hours on the microphone. Nor a scenario in which the championship contender was set to start the race in fourteenth place!

Of course, being Brazil there was comedy as well as drama. On Saturday, TV technicians rushed around with polythene bags, desperately trying to keep equipment dry as roofs leaked in the downpour. In the press room, scribes writing for the world’s newspapers and magazines beavered away, surrounded by mops and buckets!

There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between stormy Saturday and the blue skies on Sunday afternoon. But as in previous years, the tortuous Interlagos track gave us an action-packed race.

Rubens Barrichello delighted the ranks of fans by converting his pole position into an early race lead. His lightly fuelled strategy was to build sufficient lead to take off the pressure at the first round of pit stops.

Unfortunately, chaos in the pack behind him meant he would be thwarted by the intervention of the safety car. The initial clash between Jarno Trulli and Adrian Sutil wasn’t too much of a problem.

Then Sutil spun back onto the track into the path of a hapless Fernando Alonso. The explosion of debris and three laps behind the safety car would ultimately end Barrichello’s hopes for victory and his chance of beating Button to the title.

As the safety car circulated, there was more drama in the pits when Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren ‘did a Massa’ and pulled out into the pitlane with the refuelling hose still attached. Just as with Massa’s incident in Singapore last year, it was a team rather than a driver error, but this time was even more spectacular.

Fuel from the McLaren was briefly ignited by Raikkonen’s Ferrari. Amazingly, both cars were able to rejoin the race.

The safety car period was bad news for Barrichello, but equally a source of joy for Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, whose Brawn and Red Bull were able to close up on the leaders. As the cars filtered through the race pit stops, the lightly fuelled Barrichello lost his advantage to eventual race winner Mark Webber and the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica.

With ten laps remaining, Button was happy to tuck into sixth place behind former title rival Vettel. That should have been enough to give the Briton the champion’s title, but this being Brazil, who could make a firm prediction?

As it turned out, it was Barrichello who was set to be robbed even of a chance of the podium. An attempt to parry an attack from the hard charging Lewis Hamilton resulted in a punctured tyre. As the Brazilian limped home eighth, it was left to Webber to celebrate victory and to Button to cruise home fifth to claim a hard-won and worthy world championship title.