Button and Brawn upset the F1 pecking order

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Reuters) – Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team have turned the Formula One hierarchy on its head in a dream come true for the sport’s rulers as much as the Briton himself.

“It’s just turned into a fairy-tale,” said John Button, grinning dazedly with a glass of champagne in hand after his son’s season-opening victory in Australia on Sunday.

“I haven’t got my head around it yet … I just don’t believe it. These things don’t happen, not nowadays.”

To some extent he was right. Brawn were the first team since 1977 to win on their debut, the first in 55 years to do it one-two.

Button, last in the list of 18 drivers who scored championship points last season, bagged more points in one afternoon than he had in the previous two years with Honda.

In December, when Brawn’s predecessors Honda announced they were pulling out, the team and Button were left in limbo. Anyone tipping Button to race in Melbourne, let alone win from pole position, would have been an optimist.

With Ross Brawn leading a management buyout to take the team to Melbourne in his own name as the new owner, one hurdle was overcome. But even then there were no sponsors on what was a largely-untested car.

By Sunday evening, Brawn and Button were leading both championships and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson had stepped on board with his Virgin Group.

APPEARANCES DECEIVE
And yet, as rivals pointed out, appearances were deceptive. Honda lavished at least $300 million on their team last year, more than any other manufacturer, and the car Button drove to the chequered flag had been at least 15 months in the making.

While the likes of McLaren and Ferrari battled for the championship, Honda wrote off last season and concentrated on 2009 with its raft of radically revised regulations.

Brawn have been the fortunate recipients of that investment, their chances further boosted by being able to swap out the under-powered Honda engine for the same Mercedes unit used by McLaren’s world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), who had talked about levelling playing fields and shaking up pecking orders, could only have been delighted.

Champions Ferrari failed to get either of their drivers to the finish while BMW-Sauber also drew a blank in a race they could have won had Robert Kubica not tangled with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel three laps from the end.

Hamilton, despite ultimately finishing third in a drive worthy of a true champion, started at the back of the grid.

To the fore came those who had propped up the 2008 championship: Brawn, Williams, Toro Rosso and Toyota all scoring. Williams’ Nico Rosberg set the fastest lap while Red Bull were the best of the rest in qualifying.

Even Force India, a team with no points last year, had Adrian Sutil finish ninth.

With testing banned until the end of the year and the season starting off with four long-haul races, it will take time for the big guns to reassert themselves after the initial setback.

How long is likely to be determined in a Paris court of appeal on April 14 when a verdict is reached on the diffuser controversy that cast a shadow over Sunday’s race.

The Melbourne stewards ruled that the aerodynamics on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars were legal but that decision has been appealed by Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault and could yet be overruled.