Button deserves credit for rearguard fight
Jenson Button might have finished only fifth in the Singapore Grand Prix, but Sunday's race confirmed the impression that this year's world championship trophy already has his name written on it.
Yet again, Brawn and Button had a tricky weekend, qualifying in the middle of the grid, and yet again their major title rivals failed to take advantage of their problems.
Instead, Button drove another excellent race to finish fifth, actually gaining a point on his closest title rival, his team-mate Rubens Barrichello, and losing only one to Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. With a 15-point advantage over Barrichello and 25 points on Vettel with only three races to go, Button is now an even stronger favourite for the championship than before.
In many ways, Vettel's race summed up the season so far, in that with Button vulnerable and others in a great position to take serious advantage of the Englishman's difficulties, it was Vettel who cracked, and Button who engaged in a successful exercise in damage limitation.
Chasing Lewis Hamilton for the win, Vettel made a beginner's error in breaking the pit-lane speed limit when he came in for this second stop, a mistake that dropped him from a certain second place, and a shot at the win, to fourth.
Exacerbating that first error, he then ran wide over a kerb shortly afterwards, badly damaging his car's diffuser and affecting its pace.
Barrichello was less to blame for his failure to make up ground on Button. He did what could be expected of him by qualifying fifth, seven places ahead of his team-mate, but the need to change his gearbox earned him a five-place penalty and put him within range of Button in the race.
From there, Button did what he has done so many times this year - he drove flawlessly and beat his team-mate despite seemingly starting the race in a weaker position.
Button produced another excellent exercise in damage limitation in Singapore
It is this kind of smooth, error-free drive, making the best of the situation, that has been the foundation of Button's season.
At the start of the year, it won him six races out of seven as the other teams set about updating their cars to catch up with the flying Brawns. Since then, he has been on the back foot, but rare has been the race when Button has not got the most out of whatever car he has been given.
In fact, only two grands prix fall into that category. In Valencia, he struggled to seventh as his team-mate won, and at Spa he qualified 14th when Barrichello was fourth, and Button got taken out by Romain Grosjean's Renault on the first lap.
There are those who are beginning to question whether Button deserves the championship, particularly if he does not win another race. They accuse him of basically backing into the title having had a sort of unfair advantage with a superior car in the first third of the season.
I think that is a ridiculous charge, and I'm not the only one. Martin Brundle shares that view, and so does 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, who had his own mid-season lull in his championship year.
Speaking on the BBC's post-race red button forum, the Canadian said: "It won't (devalue the title if Button doesn't win again), because he had amazing races early in the season and he doesn't get flustered. Maybe he had a dip and drove two tenths slower but nothing gets to him. And it's almost harder when you have a big lead because you start driving defensively."
It should be remembered that while Button had that virtually flawless start to the season, scoring 66 out of a possible 70 points in the first seven races, Barrichello, in the same car, scored 'only' 37, finishing second to Button three times, fourth once, and fifth twice on top of the gearbox failure that caused him to retire in Turkey.
For his part, Vettel has simply made too many mistakes, crashing out in Australia and Monaco, making a first-lap error that cost him the lead - and probably a win - in Turkey, and then those faux-pas in Singapore.
A championship is about putting together the best possible season over all the races, and it is about being in the right car at the right time.
No driver goes through a year without having a bit of a dip - it's just more obvious when someone is leading the championship.
And looked at as a whole, which driver has definitively driven a better season than Button in 2009? Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, possibly, but their cars have not allowed them to be in the title fight this year.
One final point, too. Had F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone got his way earlier this year and been successful in introducing his wins-based championship scoring system, Button would already be world champion.
He has scored six victories. No other driver has more than two, so with three races to go, no driver can now win more races than Button.
Personally, I hope Ecclestone's idea is never adopted, but regardless of the scoring system, it is hard to argue with the driver who has won most races in a season being the most deserving world champion.