From extinct to champs

Talk about fast. Formula One’s newcomers went from despair to skepticism to exultation in just one month.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Talk about fast. Formula One’s newcomers went from despair to skepticism to exultation in just one month.

Brawn GP, formed from the remnants of the Honda team after the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of the sport after 2008, opened the 2009 season with a 1-2 finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

England’s Jenson Button led from start to finish to claim victory ahead of veteran Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, cruising to the line behind the safety car after a late crash.

Barrichello recovered after being slow off the start, while world champion Lewis Hamilton crossed the line fourth in his McLaren but was promoted to third after the race by the stewards, who penalized Toyota’s Jarno Trulli for overtaking under safety-car conditions.

It was the first time since 1977 — when Jody Scheckter won for Wolf — that a team had won its debut F1 race, and the third time that a team had finished first and second at its first attempt. Alfa Romeo did it in the first ever Grand Prix in Britain in 1950, and Mercedes did it at the French GP in 1954.

It was only the second GP win for Button, who is in his 10th year of F1.

“This is a fairy tale ending for the first race,” Button said.

The win capped a remarkable turnaround for the England-based team that nearly disappeared in the off-season when Honda pulled out of F1 to cut costs during the recession. Team principal Ross Brawn took over the operation, which has benefited greatly from 2009 development spending by its former owner last year.

From the first day of their tardy appearance at pre-season testing, Brawn had outpaced its rivals. There were suggestions the team was running the cars light on fuel to top the time sheets and attract sponsors. Even after taking the pole position on Saturday, there were skeptics wondering how the cars would perform over race distance, but such doubts were soon dispelled Sunday.

Further boosting Button’s spirits was the knowledge that the past three winners of the Australian GP went on to win the championship.

“Some people may say its a pity the race finished under the safety car but I don’t care,” said Button. “I won the race and that’s all I care about.”

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and BMW’s Robert Kubica collided while running second and third with only four laps to go, ending their races and bringing out the safety car. Kubica had been gaining rapidly on Vettel, and even appeared to have a chance of catching Button.

Vettel, whose car soon hit a wall, was fined US$50,000 by race stewards for continuing around the track on three wheels. He also incurred a 10-place grid penalty for the Malaysian Grand Prix next weekend.

Hamilton grabbed third despite starting 18th on the grid.

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