Jenson Button continued to reap the good things that come to those who wait Sunday as he scored his third Formula One victory in four races at the Grand Prix of Bahrain.
The Englishman, known for a smooth driving style, managed triple-digit Fahrenheit temperatures that threatened his Brawn GP BGP 001's Mercedes engine, and he expertly used Bridgestone's supersoft and medium tire compounds to glide home a desert island winner. His most important move was retaking a position gained at the outset from fifth-starting Lewis Hamilton, 24, of McLaren Mercedes. The younger Englishman, whose world title Button, 29, must feel should be his, made enough mistakes on the first lap that Button retook the position and never wavered. He assumed the lead when front-row starting Toyotas, short-fueled as they were, pitted and gave up supersofts for nonhelpful mediums. Although Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel then Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen led while Button pitted, the order was set by Lap 14 when Button took over from pole holder Jarno Trulli.
"I'm chuffed to bits," the drivers' race leader summed it. "The whole team should be very proud of themselves. They've worked so, so hard. As you probably know, we are much smaller than we used to be and they're having to work doubly hard to get the job done. So I'm very proud of all of them and they should be also."
Brawn GP, which came together less than a month before the season started after a Honda sell-off in December, cut more than a third of its 700-strong workforce at the Brackley, England, factory after money from the Japanese carmaker left. Although Button said the car lacked the speed that shot him to two race victories -- albeit both behind safety cars -- to open the season, the team heads to the first race in Europe, the Spanish Grand Prix on May 10, with 50 points, nearly double the point total of runner-up Red Bull (27.5). Button leads the drivers' title chase on 31 points ahead of teammate Rubens Barrichello (19), who is just holding off Vettel (18). Trulli has 14.5 points. Half points were awarded when the Grand Prix of Malaysia, a twilight affair overwhelmed by rain, was halted short of full-points distance.
Vettel, without power-boosting KERS, also was caught on the hop by Hamilton, with power-boosting KERS, at the start.
"The start was quite OK then I was surprised, all of a sudden there was Lewis next to me," Vettel said.
Vettel said he was forced to fifth from third when Hamilton sandwiched him with Button.
Big losers were Toyota runners Trulli and early leader Timo Glock. The lightly fueled starters could not convert their best race grid to the factory team's first victory. Trulli finished third and Glock seventh. Trulli was candid in his disappointment at letting slip that elusive first Toyota victory. Team principal Tadashi Yamashina said they head to Europe aiming for "the center of the podium."
"We needed a little bit more pace," Trulli said.
Winning his team's first points of the season was Raikkonen, who drove the Ferrari F60 to sixth. The 2007 world champion led the race for two laps. The result coincided with a weekend visit from Ferrari big boss Luca di Montezemelo, who arrived for the good, old campfire chumming-up with his troops. Seems it worked.
Hamilton finished fourth -- "I'm delighted" -- ahead of Barrichello, who had to battle with Renault's Nelson Piquet and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella in making his way up the order.
Taking the final point was an otherwise invisible Fernando Alonso for Renault.
The head-holding, groaning award went to BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, 18th and 19th, respectively, the final two runners after Williams F1's Kazuki Nakajima parked up on Lap 49 as the only driver not to finish. Kubica, Heidfeld, Nakajima and Force India's Adrian Sutil jostled from the start. That messing about bent up Kubica's front wing, from which he never recovered. Heidfeld thought he had broken the suspension, but carried on with a new nose. The disastrous start left team boss Mario Theissen hoping for safety car intervention. Then Kubica and Nakajima had a late-race meeting that precipitated Nakajima's departure. A team with legitimate title aspirations, BMW Sauber is in full misery mode. Kubica's F1.09 was the heaviest car to start the race. The BMW Sauber kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) did not overcome the team's seventh-row starting positions or heavy fuel loads. Like many others, they must look to new components arriving for the race at Barcelona to kickstart their seasons.
As teams work to catch up to the diffuser advantage of Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams F1, Williams must ask why they haven't had the edge their engineering should have provided. Despite showing quick heels in most of the practices to date, No. 1 driver Nico Rosberg has not cashed in; the German lies 11th among drivers with 3.5 points. He finished where he started, ninth, just out of the points. "I was on the limit and got the best out of it, but we were simply not quick enough," Rosberg said. "I lost so many places at the start because all of the KERS cars came flying past me, which was really shocking because I had a very good start."
Renault's troubled Piquet finished 10th, an improvement from his 15th starting spot. It still might not keep his job out of the clutches of Swiss driver Roman Grosjean.
Behind Piquet came Mark Webber of Red Bull whose race was thwarted in qualifying when Sutil blocked his flying lap in the first session. The Australian moved up from 18th to finish 11th. He was followed by McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, who said starting on the medium compound tires served up disaster. The tires lacked grip and began to deteriorate. "The tires started vibrating even though there wasn't a flat spot," he said.
Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais followed in 13th. The Frenchman notably outraced his rookie teammate Sebastien Buemi. Buemi managed only 17th in his home race. Second-best on Ferrari power, Bourdais finished ahead of Felipe Massa in 14th. Fisichella ran ahead of his teammate Sutil as Mercedes-powered Force India took 15th and 16th in striving to become midpack placers. With Raikkonen having scored, they remain the only runners without points. But they're hopeful. "I think 15th isn't too bad," Fisichella said. "We are racing again and I think we can be pleased with the overall weekend performance."
The prospect of Europe gives renewed hope and expectation after the slog of the Pacific-Asia opening swing. Even Bridgestone will trot out a new, intermediate wet-weather tire at Monaco, the race after Spain. Small favors let the circus escape a predicted sandstorm in Manama on Sunday. Only McLaren next face anything as daunting; they go before the World Motor Sport Council of the FIA in Paris on Wednesday to answer for lying about events at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Tempertures of 100 degrees in the Persian Gulf could look a breeze.