After two years of having to look out for blue flags as faster cars came up to put a lap on him, Formula 1 World Championship leader Jenson Button has joked that the current role reversal in 2009 feels satisfying indeed – as he heaped praise upon Ross Brawn for Brawn GP's incredible start to the new season.
The British star stormed to his third victory in four races in the Bahrain Grand Prix at the weekend – adding to his triumphs in both Australia and Malaysia, and seeing him return to more familiar territory for the start of the European leg of the campaign in the Spanish Grand Prix in a fortnight's time sitting pretty twelve points clear of team-mate Rubens Barrichello atop the drivers' title chase.
What's more, his Sakhir glory was the most rewarding yet, the 29-year-old contended, because not only had he genuinely had to fight for it this time – pulling off a gutsy and, it would transpire, vital move on countryman Lewis Hamilton at the beginning of lap two – but he achieved the result with arguably not the quickest car in the field for the first time. And that is worrying indeed for his and the team's rivals.
“It was a great race,” Button enthused, “and it was a very tough weekend because we didn't have the pace we had expected from the first three races. Qualifying was really difficult – I was going for pole and we were four tenths off pole, so to get the win was just amazing!
“I was very happy with my first lap. The start was difficult; I had a lot of clutch slip and was lucky to get away as cleanly as I did, and then into turn one I knew I had to get past [Sebastian] Vettel. I had looked after my tyres on the way to the grid very well, and I got him round the outside which was great.
“I then tried a couple of times to get past Lewis; in the last corner he braked a little bit late on the inside and I got alongside him on the straight, but I knew as soon as we got past the start/finish line he was going to push that special button and he did, so I jumped back in behind and was able to get him into turn one.
“It was a great lap and an amazing race for us; even when you're out in the lead by ten seconds it's still so easy to make a mistake, and the traffic was pretty difficult out there. The guys who are normally at the front weren't at the front and we were lapping them – now they know how it feels! It's a very difficult place to be, lapping and being lapped. I'm very proud of the whole team – they've done a great job so far this season, and it's only going to get better I feel.”
Those are ominous words for Brawn's pursuers, with Red Bull Racing – second in the constructors' standings – already a full 22.5 points in arrears after only four outings. Button was effusive about team principal Brawn's role in his eponymously-named squad's crushing success – particularly following a winter of such uncertainty after Honda pulled the plug on its F1 project – and warned the best is yet to come.
“He's done an amazing job,” the Frome-born ace underlined of his team leader. “This winter, for him, has been very difficult, but I've believed in him – as everyone else has in the team – and stood by him. He is a proper leader and the team is a very tight unit, and that's what you need in Formula 1. I've never had that before. It's a great atmosphere and I think we've proved that again here – as one team we did a great job.
“This point of the season is very tough for us, because everything is getting tired – every part of the car is getting tired – and some bits aren't working, so it's been really difficult. Getting back to Europe is great for us; we can refresh everything, and come back in Barcelona hopefully with a quicker car than we have now. Going back into Europe with 31 points and a twelve-point lead on the board, I couldn't wish for any more to be honest.”