• Oct 4, 2009
2009 Italian Grand Prix – Click above for high-res image gallery

Underdogs turned front-runners. Grands prix won by six different drivers. Four teams switching their lineups midseason. A multiple world champion (quite nearly) returning to the grid. A team principal and technical director shamed into retirement. A retiring motorsport figurehead sparking a heated race for his succession, and several new teams preparing to join the grid. More so than any other in recent memory, this season of Formula One racing has been packed with excitement. But now it all comes down to three things: points, points and – you guessed it – points. Because while the championship has been in contention since the start of the season some seven months ago in Melbourne, we're now down to the final rounds where the titles will be ultimately decided.

Crossing the East China Sea from Singapore to Japan, Jenson Button held a commanding lead in the drivers' standings, and with his teammate Rubens Barrichello in second place, Brawn GP looked poised to take the constructors' crown as well. All they'd need would be another few points and they'd have it all locked up, leaving their rivals fighting over the table scraps. Follow the jump to see if they got 'em.

Those who tuned in on Saturday for the qualifying order may have been surprised to find the Brawn boys farther down the starting grid than expected. In their place, Sebastian Vettel – winner of two races this season and the Brawn duo's chief rival – sitting on pole. Beside him, one Jarno Trulli, the Toyota driver who started out the season with a promising couple of podiums before being relegated to the back of the field in the ensuing weeks. Defending champion Lewis Hamilton took the third spot on the grid, ahead of Force India's impressively scrappy Adrian Sutil. Rubens came in only fifth on the grid, his title-leading wingman Jenson in seventh, with BMW's Nick Heidfeld sandwiched in sixth and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in eighth.

As soon as the race got underway, Hamilton KERS-boosted himself past Trulli but couldn't get around Vettel. The youngest race winner in the sport's history, Vettel would go on to open up an unassailable lead over the course of the race to take a dominant checkered flag – his third this season – putting himself and his team back in contention for both titles.

Behind him, Hamilton and Trulli managed to stay ahead of the pack for nearly the entire race. The Toyota driver stayed out two laps more than Hamilton during the second round of pit stops to retake second place, matching his teammate's second-place finish in Singapore last weekend and the team's best result to date.

While Vettel, Trulli and Hamilton separated themselves from the field, further behind them the rest of the pack fought valiantly for every point. Button's hopes of locking up the title in Japan were dashed when his seventh-place starting position quickly evaporated to 12th, as Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Buemi, Rosberg and Alonso all sped by. Not exactly championship material, but before the race was over he'd manage to squeak into the points with an eighth-place finish, just behind Barrichello's seventh, giving the Brawn team a few extra points to keep them ahead of their rivals.

Unfortunately for the contenders at Red Bull, Mark Webber didn't fare nearly as well. The Australian driver, who won his first race earlier this season, set the fastest lap of the day, which only goes to show what could have been if he hadn't been forced to pit early a devastating three times with mechanical problems. He finished dead last, two laps down.

The B-squad had an even worse day, however, as neither of its rookie drivers managed to finish the race. Alguersuari went out in a dramatic crash and Buemi was foiled by a clutch problem. The Toro Rosso pair joined Toyota's Timo Glock on the sidelines.

Force India's Sutil and McLaren's Kovalainen battled wheel to wheel for much of the race distance, only for Giancarlo Fisichella – still learning the ropes at Ferrari – to squeeze in between. All three drivers finished outside the points, in 11th, 12th and 13th positions. Behind them, Force India's returning Tonio Liuzzi crossed the line in 14th, Williams' Kazuki Nakajima in 15th, and Renault's Romain Grosjean in 16th. Ahead of them, Fernando Alonso took tenth with a one-stop strategy, and Kubica fought hard only to finish ninth, just outside the points.

Up ahead, teammate Nick Heidfeld carried the torch for the departing BMW Sauber team with a sixth-place finish, just ahead of the Brawn pair. Nico Rosberg took the opportunity to pit under the safety car called out in the wake of the Alguersuari crash, a strategy that earned the young German a fifth-place finish.

Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen, waging a one-man fight to secure Ferrari third place in the constructors' championship before leaving the team, managed to get by Button, Heidfeld and Barrichello to take fourth place.

The results demonstrate once again that a driver's chief rival is his teammate: Button leads Barrichello with 85 points to 71, Vettel now follows close behind with 69 points. Red Bull, meanwhile, trails Brawn in the constructors' standings with 120.5 points to 156. Quick arithmetic will tell you that, with two races to go, both titles are still in contention, but just barely. Tune in again in two weeks' time for the Brazilian Grand Prix from Sao Paulo as it all comes down to the wire.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Photos are excellent!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Autoblog guys, you got the story wrong, following the 5-place penalties for 4 drivers, including Button and Barichello, the starting grid looked rather different and hence, so did the start.

      • 5 Years Ago
      See this Button? This is my support for you for the last five years fading away...

      However, like I said at the start of the season, if Brawn wins constructor's I will build an AMG V8 powered NSX before I kick the bucket. Matching paint scheme and all.
        • 5 Years Ago
        rofl....I've sworn I'd do the same!!!!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      it was delightfully uneventful. It's Suzuka. Brilliant track.

      Webber had pit woes.
      Alguersuari caught up to Buemi in number of chassis' ruined.
      Made him sound ridiculous for saying Barichello was holding him back...

      Kubica looked great pressuring Button. Button just looked like he was cruising about the track. Kubica was in his element.

      I don't know what to say about Heiki...maybe too little too late.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Unfortuntaely we have officicals making or not making penalty calls on really strange gounds.

      A few years ago a Brazil Webber under a FCY did not list off and teeboned a stationary crashed car nearly killing himself and the other driver. The result... NO PENALTY.

      On Saturday 4 or 5 cars get 5 position penalties for speeding under a single corner yellow.

      On Sunday Rosberg, as soon as the FCY/SC came out sped back to his pits, exceeding speed limits, but Officials decided to allow him his 5th place and NOT give any penalty.

      All this penalties and no penalties are given, or not given, with no true logic. F1 never cleans up its act....
      • 5 Years Ago
      Odd weekend all around with the weather problems on Friday and then the crashes on Saturday shuffling the grid for the race.

      Domination by Vettel and I thought it was funny that Webber sets fastest lap right after the safety car period I think, and the commentators said Vettel's engineer might not want to tell him that so he won't possibly go and try to reclaim it and maybe blow his engine.

      It was a shame that Glock could not run and Toyota ended up having only one car. But Trulli and his crew especially made the best out of it and snatched second place away from Hamilton.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm gonna say two things:

      1) If the next 2 races end up like this (Vettel 1st, Brawn in 7th/8th), Vettel would win the driver's championship.


        • 5 Years Ago
        I would love Vettel to pip Jenson for the WDC, but with his engine situation it is unlikely, Especially since Brasil is a demanding track wrt engines. My hopes are on Barichello!!!!!!!
        • 5 Years Ago
        i hope he does!
        • 5 Years Ago
        My hope is in Barichello too. And that apocaliptic weather conditions happen on all races. Never forget how good he is in the rain. But as long as Button doesn´t take the driver´s championship, it´s ok. He was only good in the first half od the year because of the car. Now that the other teams have cought up he is failing miserably.