SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) - Jenson Button reduced his girlfriend to tears on Sunday with a Japanese Grand Prix victory he hailed as one of the most special of his Formula One career.
Even if the McLaren driver’s joy was eclipsed by the celebrations at Red Bull for Sebastian Vettel’s second successive championship, his delight was obvious from the moment he crossed the line.
Parking his car at the end of the pitlane, in the wrong place, the Briton stood up in jubilation and then jogged back to the garages waving at the fans in the packed grandstand opposite.
In seven years as a Honda driver, the 31-year-old with a deep love of the country and a Japanese girlfriend had only once managed to appear on the podium at the Honda-owned circuit.
This year’s race was made more emotionally-charged by Button’s involvement in fundraising efforts to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated a swathe of northeast Japan in March.
“It feels like a home win, and it’s a very emotional win, not just for myself, but the whole team, and especially my close-knit little team of (trainer) Mikey (Collier), the old man (father John) and (girlfriend) Jessica (Michibata),” the 2009 world champion told Reuters.
“Obviously that’s because of the connection with Japan through Jessica, who was bawling her eyes out after the race, so it was very difficult for me to stop myself from crying.
“But it was a very special race for all of us, and also because this circuit is just phenomenal, a work of art I would say,” added the Briton.
“The layout is unforgiving, but every lap makes you smile, and also there is the history that goes with this circuit.”
In winning, Button denied Vettel his third successive Japanese Grand Prix win — although not a place in the record books as youngest double champion — and followed in the footsteps of some of the giants in the sport.
Brazilian Ayrton Senna, his own compatriot Damon Hill, seven times world champion Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen all won at Suzuka — fast and flowing and one of the great driver circuits — over the years.
“One of the most important things here is the crowd. They are so supportive,” said Button, who was forced on to the grass at the start by Vettel but was able to joke about it afterwards.
“I just went out there with the trophy and the grandstands were still full. Unbelievable. I had never seen anything like it. They are so passionate about their motor sport.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Sonia Oxley; For Reuters sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport