It was a sensational season in Formula One - and with the return of the legendary driver Michael Schumacher, 2010 is shaping up as another year to remember.
Button's flying start was enough to land crown
If 2008 was arguably the worst year of Jenson Button's Formula One career then 2009 was definitely the best as, in one of the most unlikely sporting stories of the year, he went from zero to hero as he became world champion. At the start of the year Button's future appeared in tatters after Honda had confirmed they were leaving the series following a dreadful 2008 that had seen the Briton score three points and the team 11 in total.
But a late takeover deal, headed by Ross Brawn, saved the day and the team never looked back from there under the Brawn GP title. Button effectively won the championship in the first seven races as he was victorious in six of them. The Brawn GP car was undoubtedly a good one, helped by the advantage of the double diffuser design that only Toyota and Williams used in the early races before it was judged to be legal by the FIA and consequently brought in by the rest of the grid throughout the remainder of the year.
But after winning in Turkey in early June to go 26 points clear Button did not win again all year and did not even lead another lap in the final 10 races, yet he still had enough of an advantage to wrap up the title in Brazil with a race to spare. He may have fallen over the finishing line but Button was a worthy champion. He won when he was in a position to and largely got the best he could out of his car on every race day.
Whether that will be enough when he partners Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes next year is open to question, but having the 2008 and 2009 world champions in the same garage is going to make for fascinating viewing. What ultimately saved Button's title bid was that none of his rivals had any consistency. Following his slump, Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen all won races and the points were largely shared.
Vettel could have put up a much stronger challenge in his Red Bull-Renault with better reliability and better starts (too often he lost ground he couldn't make up at the first corner). These problems, along with costly crashes, ultimately left him with too much to do despite the fact he won four races in all, including the first race at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi in the season finale. His teammate Webber had the best year of his career, winning for the first time in the top echelon of the sport in Germany and Brazil, but he faded in the final reckoning.
If McLaren-Mercedes had initially given Hamilton the car with which he finished the season then he would have retained his drivers' title. He was half a second faster than anyone else in Abu Dhabi and only brake problems denied him a dominant win. Unfortunately, McLaren's MP4-24 was an aerodynamic disaster at the start of the season and the only good thing to come out of the row in Australia at the first race, when he and the team were disqualified after being found guilty of "misleading" the stewards over how Jarno Trulli's Toyota had come to overtake him during a safety car period, was that it covered up the slowness of the chassis. But car updates improved things, victories came in Hungary and Singapore, and only Vettel scored more points in the second half of the year.
Barrichello improved as the year wore on and the veteran Brazilian regularly out-qualified Button in the latter half of the season. But victories in Valencia and in Italy were not enough to haul back his Brawn teammate. For Ferrari, it was arguably their worst season for 16 years, with the campaign being overshadowed by the accident in Hungary that sidelined Felipe Massa as he was struck on the helmet by debris from a rival's car. He suffered a fractured skull in the incident but recovered sufficiently to attend the races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, and the Brazilian will be raring to get back on the grid when the 2010 season begins in Bahrain in March.
The F60 chassis lacked speed, and while the car did improve after a double diffuser had been added to the design after four races, Kimi Raikkonen's lone win in Belgium was a pretty poor return for a team who had been constructors' champions in eight of the previous 10 seasons. The legendary Italian team will be looking to bounce back strongly next season with a new driver line-up of Fernando Alonso alongside Massa.
Elsewhere, Toyota and BMW Sauber both said goodbye to the series after frustrating campaigns. Toyota really should have won in Bahrain after locking out the front row in qualifying, but poor tyre strategy allowed Button to pip Jarno Trulli, and that summed up another year of the Japanese unit being pretenders rather than contenders. It was hard to blame the manufacturer for pulling out after eight years of under achievement.
BMW Sauber were always behind after design blunders with the Kers system, and the German manufacturers also decided to cut their losses, with the team remaining on the grid after original team owner Peter Sauber bought them back. It was arguably the most competitive year in terms of quality on the grid with every team scoring points and the shock of the year being in Belgium when Force India, who had been tailenders at the beginning of the season, took pole position through Giancarlo Fisichella and would have won the race had it not been for a safety car period.
As the year closed, the talk was dominated by the return of Michael Schumacher, Formula One's most successful driver with seven titles to his name. The German will come out of retirement to headline the new Mercedes team and it will only add further intrigue to what already promised to be a fascinating 2010. Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Vettel, Webber and Schumacher all in potentially fast cars shapes up as another thrilling year.