Brazil GP: Sebastian Vettel wins the World Championship after epic afternoon of drama and controversy at Interlagos
Button wins season finale as Red Bull driver claims the title
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 25/11/12 10:52pm
Formula 1, there really isn't anything quite like it. In the finale of all finales, the 2012 season ended with a heartbreaking near-miss for Fernando Alonso after an afternoon of relentless drama finally ended with Sebastian Vettel crossing the line in sixth place to claim his third title.
What a season, what a race. Interlagos has staged its own share of dramatic season finales but nothing like this - not even when Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 title at the final corner of the season. 2012 Interlagos may not have had a single moment of equal, but this was nonetheless a grand prix of epic proportions which had everything else and more as the rain fell and chaos duly descended.
At its conclusion, Jenson Button was the race victor, inheriting a triumph that ought to have belonged to Lewis Hamilton on his final day in McLaren colours, but it was Vettel who was unmistakably the biggest winner of all as he defied a broken exhaust and the elements to finally overcome the indefatigable Alonso. Their post-race embrace was itself a fitting - and sporting - finale to a duel which has brought out the best of both drivers.
"It was an incredible race, everything that could have happened to make it more difficult for us today, happened!" said a clearly-exhausted Vettel, F1's ninth, and youngest, triple World Champion.
"To win a third title, especially here where one of my heroes Ayrton Senna was from, it's difficult to put into words. I was crying in the car but my radio wasn't working, so I'm maybe happy for that!"
But where to begin in chronicling the story of the race? How about the first lap when Vettel turned into the Williams of Bruno Senna and a World Championship of trouble before spinning to the back of the field? Where next? Try lap 25, when the Safety Car was deployed ostensibly on account of the amount of debris that had been left strewn across the circuit but very possibly to allow the world to recover its senses after was very arguably the most action-packed half-hour in the sport's history.
Yet with the Sao Paulo drizzle proving persistent, the lull in proceedings was scarcely long enough for viewers to catch their breath as Vettel continued to live dangerously in the midfield pack while Hamilton, having mistakenly stopped for intermediates after losing out to his McLaren team-mate, rounded Button and then Nico Hulkenberg to recover the lead of the race.
Now for the twist in the tale. A farewell victory for Hamilton might have been deserved but it wasn't to be as Hulkenberg, striving to leave Force India with a goodbye win of his own before joining Sauber, crashed into the side of the McLaren.
With Hamilton retiring and the guilty Hulkenberg instantly penalised with a drive-through, the consequences were far reaching as Alonso suddenly - but briefly - found himself in a position sufficient to win the championship before Vettel, his RB8 still carrying the deep scars of his first-corner crash, recovered through the field to secure the World Championship by the small but rather significant matter of three points as the race ended behind the second Safety Car of the afternoon.
Not the drama ended there, however, as controversy continued to rage about Vettel's pass around Kamui Kobayashi underneath what appeared to be yellow flags but which were identified by the race stewards as yellow-red warning signs.
"He thoroughly, thoroughly deserves this championship," endorsed team boss Christian Horner while team-mate Mark Webber hailed a "very, very special" achievement that saw Vettel crowned the youngest three-times champion in F1's history by a margin of six years.
How different it might have been, though, with Vettel's car suffering substantial damage after being rammed first by Senna and then the Sauber of Sergio Perez that on another day would have race-ending. Detailed analysis of Vettel's move on Kobayashi also presented considerable doubt about its legality. Like the title itself, it could have gone either way.
Alonso, all the while, was beyond reproach as he rounded both Felipe Massa and Mark Webber to charge forth and into fourth. There he stayed until Hulkenberg's ill-advised move wrecked Hamilton's farewell party and handed victory to Button.
Further afield, Caterham were the big winners as they jumped into tenth position in the Constructors' Championship, a result which is worth at least $10m in prize money and will very possibly hand the F1 career of Heikki Kovalainen a last-gasp reprieve.
But first and foremost, this was Vettel's day as F1 bowed down to Sebastian the Third and the rest of us were given a powerful, unforgettable reminder of why we follow this thing which is sometimes a sport, sometimes a business, frequently unfathomable, but almost always captivating entertainment.
As we've always said, F1 is so much more than just a race.