Button hands Brawn rare debut triumph

Updated: March 29, 2009, 3:56 PM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Talk about fast. Formula One's newcomers went from despair to skepticism to exultation in just one month.

Brawn GP, formed from the remnants of the Honda team after the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of the sport after 2008, opened the 2009 season with a 1-2 finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

England's Jenson Button led from start to finish to claim victory ahead of veteran Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, cruising to the line behind the safety car after a late crash.

Jenson Button
Clive Mason/Getty ImagesJenson Button holds the Australian Grand Prix trophy Sunday in Melbourne. Brawn teammate Rubens Barrichello finished second.

Barrichello recovered after being slow off the start, while world champion Lewis Hamilton crossed the line fourth in his McLaren but was promoted to third after the race by the stewards, who penalized Toyota's Jarno Trulli for overtaking under safety-car conditions.

It was the first time since 1977 -- when Jody Scheckter won for Wolf -- that a team had won its debut F1 race, and the third time that a team had finished first and second at its first attempt. Alfa Romeo did it in the first ever Grand Prix in Britain in 1950, and Mercedes did it at the French GP in 1954.

It was only the second GP win for Button, who is in his 10th year of F1.

The win capped a remarkable turnaround for the England-based team that nearly disappeared in the offseason when Honda pulled out of F1 to cut costs during the recession. Team principal Ross Brawn took over the operation, which has benefited greatly from 2009 development spending by its former owner last year.

From the first day of their tardy appearance at preseason testing, Brawn had outpaced its rivals. There were suggestions the team was running the cars light on fuel to top the time sheets and attract sponsors.

Even after taking pole position Saturday, there were skeptics wondering how the cars would perform over race distance, but such doubts were soon dispelled Sunday.

"This is a fairy tale ending for the first race," Button said. "Some people may say its a pity the race finished under the safety car but I don't care, I won the race and that's all I care about."

Further boosting Button's spirits was the knowledge that the past three winners of the Australian GP went on to win the championship.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and BMW's Robert Kubica collided while running second and third with only four laps to go, ending their races and bringing out the safety car. Kubica had been gaining rapidly on Vettel, and even appeared to have a chance of catching Button.

Vettel, whose car soon hit a wall, was fined $50,000 by race stewards for continuing around the track on three wheels. He also incurred a 10-place grid penalty for the Malaysian Grand Prix next weekend.

Hamilton grabbed third despite starting 18th on the grid, finishing ahead of Toyota's Timo Glock, Renault's Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg of Williams, Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi -- in his first race -- and his teammate Sebastien Bourdais.

For the second year running, Ferrari finished without a point in the season opener. Felipe Massa was running in third place before his steering failed on lap 45, three laps after Kimi Raikkonen spun out.

"It's true we are not where we want to be, so we will need to do some work to improve it," Raikkonen said.

A crash at the first corner ended the race for McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, and forced BMW's Nick Heidfeld, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Force India's Adrian Sutil to immediately pit, effectively ending their chances.

Button quickly established a buffer of between four and five seconds to Vettel in second that held for most of the race, but the Englishman struggled with his tires as the temperature fell in the twilight conditions and a braking error created a tire flat spot. The gap was sliced to 1.5 seconds, but he held on to win.

"It wasn't my best race I must say, but I still won so I'm chuffed to bits," Button said.

Barrichello looked to have blown his podium chances with a poor start that dropped him from second to seventh. But he survived contact in the first corner shunt and a safety car period -- brought about by a Kazuki Nakajima spin -- and closed the gap to those in front. The Brazilian appeared destined for fourth before Kubica and Vettel took each other out.

"After qualifying in second place yesterday I was hoping we could finish first and second, but a millisecond after the start I never really thought we could imagine to finish that way," Barrichello said. "It's all a dream to say that we finished first and second for a new team."

It was his best finish since leaving Ferrari following the 2005 season.

The 20-year-old Buemi became the fourth-youngest driver in history to earn a championship point.

Button's win and Brawn's performance will all be subject to an FIA hearing following the Malaysian Grand Prix. Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault had appealed a stewards' decision here to clear Brawn, Toyota and Williams to race, arguing the rear diffusers of the three teams breached F1 regulations.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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