Weblog: Sports editor's view
Button on the brink - but is he a proper champ?
IT'S not how you start, it's how you finish, as the song goes.
Probably good news for this blog but not so good for poor Jenson Button, who continues to stagger towards the line of what should be his greatest glory in the manner of Phidippides, winner of the first ever Marathon (no fun runners joined him on that occasion) who collapsed and died of exhaustion shortly afterwards.
A sorry run of no wins in eight races going into this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix has put the F1 authorities in the unconvincing position of being about to put the crown on the head of a man that no one can quite remember challenging to win a race.
Button has finished higher than fifth in only one of those eight races (second at Monza); and has had to take a back seat to the likes of Sebastian Vettel, team-mate Rubens Barrichello and rejuvenated former champs Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in recent weeks, not to mention the odd day chasing the rear end of a Force India.
In PR terms at the least, you'd have to say Button really needs a win in either Interlagos on Sunday or in the season finale at Abu Dhabi to protect his legacy.
He also has to overcome the murmuring of those who point out that the vast majority of Button's points were accumulated at the start of the season, when only three teams (Brawn, Williams and Toyota) began with the controversial double diffusers that the majority of their rivals expected to be ruled illegal.
When the devices were given the FIA's blessing 70 per cent of the field had to scrabble around redesigning their cars, and it's only in the past six races or so that the likes of McLaren and Ferrari have been able to compete at the front.
How much of the title triumph will be Button's and how much Ross Brawn's for spotting the loophole in the regulations?
To some it might look like Button being given an A* grade for his GCSEs based on getting perfect marks for his coursework which his mum did for him despite flunking the written paper by himself.
But hold on.
If not Button who else should be world champion?
Rubens Barrichello - who took half a season to get used to the car that Button had flying straight out of the box?
Sebastian Vettel? Who has been blindingly quick on occasions but has failed to score on five occasions (four more flops than Button)?
Lewis Hamilton? Who had a joke of a car for the first half of the season before his team worked miracles?
Mark Webber? Who has scored zero points in the last five races after moving into title contention?
And let's rewind a little. Button has six wins this season.
Using Bernie Ecclestone's unpopular medals sytstem he'd have been the champion for weeks already
How many wins does a typical F1 champ need?
Lewis Hamilton had only five last year, while Kimi Raikkonen crossed the line in front six times in 2007, and Fernando Alonso won in 2005 and 2006 with seven wins each time. Six is hardly an unusual number of wins for a champion to collect.
One of Michael Schumacher's five titles for Ferrari (2003) was earned with only six wins, while Mika Hakkinen in 1999 got the job done with only five.
And let's not forget Alain Prost's first three championships (five, four and four wins), Nelson Piquet's three-win title in 1987 or indeed Keke Rosberg in 1982, when he won the crown with just one race victory.
If Button's not the right inners, then should the title go to Vettel, who has only three?
As for the diffuser doubts, well, a technical advantage is nothing new and question marks still hang over Alonso's twin victories after the mass dampers they used were later ruled illegal, while doubts also persist over the possible use of traction control on Schumacher's Benettons.
It might indeed have been better for Button's reputation if he'd had a slower start to the year, then won six out of seven to go 14 points clear at this point, but the end result is the same and if he clinches the crown on Sunday night you can only congratulate him.