As he climbed out of his rain soaked Ferrari F2012, Fernando Alonso lifted his visor and simply stared. There was no anger, there were no tears, just a long stare as the situation began to sink in. A couple of metres behind him, Sebastian Vettel stood atop his Red Bull RB8 and raised that famous finger to the air. Vettel’s crowning as the youngest triple world champion was no shock, but the seventy one laps of the Brazilian Grand Prix were some of the most dramatic in F1 history, bringing down the curtain on a seemingly impossibly fantastic season of racing.
The race started on a damp track, although all of the drivers opted to use dry tyres. Hamilton led away from pole position, but further back fourth-placed starter Vettel was blocked by team-mate Webber and dropped to sixth, while Alonso was up to fifth. Vettel’s reduced pace through the Senna-S cost him time on the run down to Turn 4 and given the situation, he braked tentatively. This allowed Bruno Senna – who had made a strong start from ninth – a sniff of another position. Kimi Raikkonen locked up and shot off of the track to avoid Vettel, but Senna hit the side of the RB8, spinning Vettel and launching his Williams over the back of the Red Bull and collecting Sergio Perez for good measure.
Surely, that was it for Vettel? No, somehow, as he coasted slowly backwards the rest of the field avoiding his RB8 and he rejoined in last place, but only thirteen seconds behind race leader Hamilton.
The situation handed the advantage to Alonso, and he grasped his chances emphatically. At the end of the first lap, team mate Webber tried to pass Massa approaching the Senna-S, but Alonso used the slipstream from both drivers to overtake both at the first corner.
Alonso was third, Vettel twenty-second. Game. On.
Until Lap 5, anyway. Alonso ran wide at the Senna-S, handing his valuable third place to Nico Hulkenberg. The German had quietly made his way up a couple of positions and was now closing in on the McLaren drivers. Hulkenberg, damp conditions, Interlagos. It’s one of those F1 combinations that just seems to work…
Raikkonen was the first to blink for Intermediate tyres on Lap 5, while Schumacher also came into the pits with a puncture the offending article. Romain Grosjean ended his season in the barrier as he lost control of his Lotus on the fifth lap. He was shaken, but uninjured.
By now the rain was falling heavier and Intermediate tyres seemed the only choice. The main contenders made to switch – all excluding new race leader Jenson Button and Hulkenberg.
After a few laps of slithering around in conditions fit for neither Intermediate nor dry tyres, the drivers came back in for dry tyres. Up front, Hulkenberg astonishingly took the lead from Button on Lap 18 and began to gap the Brit.
The leading duo were now forty-five seconds clear of third place Hamilton, who in turn was twenty seconds up the road from Alonso. It appeared unlikely that the Spaniard could prevail in his quest for the title, as Vettel was now up to fifth through a combination of rivals pitting and passing other drivers for position. The damage to his RB8 was a concern, as Adrian Newey fastidiously studied a picture of Vettel’s car in its wounded state.
Hulkenberg and Button’s pursuers were handed a lifeline when the safety car was deployed to clear up the debris littering the circuit. The leading pair used the opportunity to switch to a set of prime tyres as the circuit began to dry.
At the restart, Mark Webber tried passing team mate Vettel and Kamui Kobayashi but ran wide at the Senna-S. Hamilton dispatched with Button and set about hunting down Hulkenberg. Kobayashi briefly got ahead of Alonso, only for the Spaniard to reclaim his position on the next lap. Alonso was in fourth, Vettel in seventh: still satisfactory enough for the German.
Vettel would have hoped for a calm end to the event, but instead, the rain began to fall again and hand the initiative back to Alonso.
Hulkenberg half-spun on Lap 47, giving the lead to Hamilton. The rain was only light and dry tyres were beginning to wear out, forcing teams into an agonising choice. Red Bull decided to pit Vettel for another set of dry tyres, dropping him to tenth place.
The rain subsequently intensified. Hulkenberg tried passing Hamilton for the lead into the Senna-S, but was caught out by the almost-lapped Heikki Kovalainen, slid on the approach to the corner and clattered into the right front of Hamilton’s McLaren.
Hulkenberg continued in second place but Hamilton’s McLaren career was brought to a dismal ending. In a season where Hamilton’s luck deserted him, he trudged back to the pits upon where his McLaren garage erupted into universal applause. He had tried his hardest to go out on a high, but other factors prevented a successful finale.
Intermediates were now the tyres to be on; Vettel pitted again on Lap 54, while Alonso survived a hairy slide on Lap 56 before scurrying into the pits for a set of wet rubber. Somehow it was Felipe Massa who was now in second place. The Brazilian had put in an extraordinary performance having dropped to fourteenth place after playing the supporting role for Alonso.
The final stint of the race was comparatively calm, but still unimaginably tense. Alonso moved up to second place, with Vettel in sixth. But if anything happened to Button…
During the final stint, Kimi Raikkonen capped a successful comeback by getting lost. Raikkonen ran wide at Juncao and elected to rejoin via the old circuit, only to find the gate was closed and that he had to turn his car around and rejoin via the grass. On this occasion, he didn’t really know what to do.
The British driver had a dismal race, but was up to ninth place when he lost control of his car at the final corner and crashed heavily into the barrier on Lap 70. The Safety Car came out and that was it. A little bit of a damp squib on which to finish the season, but the title was decided.
Jenson Button won the race, with Alonso second and an emotional Massa completing the podium. Webber was fourth, with Hulkenberg fifth after a harsh drive through penalty for eliminating Hamilton.
Vettel crossed the line in sixth place, securing his third world title by just three points. Michael Schumacher recovered from his puncture to finish seventh in his final race – including a fabulous battle with Raikkonen – ahead of Jean Eric Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen.
Outside of the points, Vitaly Petrov overtook Charles Pic to secure eleventh place and the coveted tenth place in the championship for Caterham.
Daniel Ricciardo was thirteenth, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen. Both drivers pitted for wet tyres late on as the rain intensified. Nico Rosberg’s dismal end to the year continued as a puncture limited him to fifteenth place, with Timo Glock and the HRT drivers rounding out the finishers. Pastor Maldonado was the only other retirement, as he crashed out on Lap 2. The TV cameras failed to catch it and in reality, no-one really cared. The fact that a major crash was almost forgotten highlights the excitement of the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Vettel 281. Alonso 278. That was it after 20 races.
“We might not have finished the season with the most points, but we won many other things, like everyone’s respect and fans and colleagues agree on who was the best this year”.
Vettel struggled to comprehend the magnitude of his achievements as he becomes a triple world champion at the age of 25.
“I am very, very happy. The most important thing throughout the season is that we kept pushing and remained ourselves. We just try to do our thing and stick to the route that we know and that’s what made the difference. Some people try to play games, but we never get distracted, we keep going our way”.
“Everyone at Milton Keynes and here at the circuit, they are always pushing so hard and we really stepped up our game in the second half of the season. I would like to thank everyone in the team and at Renault. There’s no one in this team that feels more important than anyone else, we all push together, alongside each other, it’s one big force and I’m very proud of that. It’s unreal what has happened. To win a third title, especially here where one of my heroes Ayrton Senna was from, it’s difficult to put into words”.
That was 2012. 20 races, 8 winners and another title for Vettel. What a season.
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