The story of the 2012 championship battle: How Sebastian Vettel triumphed at the last

All the twists and turns of the 2012 season which resulted in the fifth final-race showdown in seven years

By James Galloway.   Last Updated: 29/11/12 3:18pm

  • Share:

Follow the twists and turns in the title chase from Melbourne to the epic Interlagos finale...

Round One - Australia
McLaren underline their status as the early-season pacesetters by locking out the front row and then, courtesy of Jenson Button, winning the Melbourne curtain raiser.

The opening weekend proves a damage-limitation exercise for both Red Bull and Ferrari with both teams struggling in qualifying - with the latter missing Q3 altogether with their F2012 more than a second off the pace. In different ways, second and fifth places for Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso therefore represent tremendous race results.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Button (25 points)
Vettel: Second (18 points); Alonso: Fifth (10 points)

Round Two - Malaysia
The first sign of things to come. McLaren again prove unbeatable over a single lap, but race-suspending levels of rain level the playing field on the Sunday and, from a seemingly unthreatening eighth on the grid, Alonso produces one of the drives of his career.

Moving into the lead as Button and Lewis Hamilton fall by the wayside, the Spaniard is chased down by Sauber's Sergio Perez but a small error from the Mexican in the slippery conditions provides Alonso the breathing space he needs to win. Red Bull, in contrast, hardly feature but Vettel is still on course for fourth when he suffers a puncture while lapping Narain Karthikeyan, dropping him out of the points.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (35 points)
Vettel: Sixth (18 points)

Chinese GP - Race in 60 Seconds

Round Three - China
Alonso's stay at the top of the standings proves shortlived with the Chinese GP utterly dominated by Mercedes and Nico Rosberg.

While Ferrari endure arguably their worst weekend of the whole season - the Spaniard starting and finishing ninth - Rosberg qualifies on pole by half a second and then wins his maiden race by 20 seconds. The battle for the minor positions is won by McLarens over the Red Bulls, Vettel finishing fifth after paying the price for only stopping twice after being eliminated from Q2 the day before.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Hamilton (45 points)
Alonso: Third (37 points); Vettel: Fifth (28 points)

Bahrain in 60 Seconds

Round Four - Bahrain
The race when Adrian Newey serves notice that he was beginning to master the RB8's early-season handling difficulties. A new floor arrives on the car for Sakhir and the impact is immediate - Vettel claims his first pole and then race victory of 2012 to become the fourth different driver to top the championship standings. In contrast, Ferrari's urgent need for an upgrade only becomes more apparent as Alonso finishes seventh in the race, almost a minute adrift of the race winner.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel (53 points)
Alonso: Fifth (43 points)

Red Bull kick-started their title defence in Bahrain

Spain in 60 seconds

Round Five - Spain
The history books will headline the Spanish GP as the weekend Pastor Maldonado when took Williams back to the F1 winners' circle, but in terms of the 2012 title battle it's the event when Ferrari's season starts to gain some serious traction. A vast upgrade to the F2012 sees Alonso qualify third - which became second on the grid when Hamilton was stripped of pole - before the home favourite shadows Maldonado all the way to the flag. With Red Bull struggling after their Bahrain win, Vettel saved tyres in Q3 but only finishes sixth after receiving a drive-through penalty for not slowing for yellow flags. It means that for the first - and, in retrospect, only - time this season, Vettel and Alonso are tied on points at the top of the standings.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel and Alonso tied on 61 points (Vettel officially ahead on countback)

Round Six- Monaco
Mark Webber claims his second Monaco win in three years but it's Alonso who departs the Principality in sole possession of the World Championship lead after tyre management and sharp Ferrari strategy enable him to run longer than Hamilton in the sole round of pit-stops. Vettel, on the back of another failure to reach the top-ten shootout, runs an even longer first stint to also jump the McLaren to take fourth. When the chequered flag falls, the the top quartet are separated by less than two seconds.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (76 points)
Vettel: Second (73 points)

Canadian Grand Prix in 60 seconds

Round Seven - Canada
Amid a highly entertaining, and close, ding-dong battle with Hamilton at the front, both Alonso and Vettel gamble on getting to the end on the race with just one pit-stop after McLaren play safe. The strategy backfires, however, as Hamilton easily passes both cars on his fresh rubber. Red Bull eventually cut their losses by pulling Vettel in for a second stop, but Ferrari are made to pay for their failure to do likewise when Alonso is overtaken by the freshly-rubbered Vettel for fourth place.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Hamilton (88 points)
Alonso: Second (86 points); Vettel: Third (85 points)

European GP - Race In 60 Seconds

Round Eight - Europe
The pivotal moment of Alonso's championship challenge? Vettel is on course for a comfortable victory until suffering the first of the now infamous Renault alternator failures. But Alonso is nevertheless simply outstanding as he pulls off a string of inch-perfect overtaking moves to go from eleventh to first for his second race victory of the season. And how the home support enjoyed that.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (111 points)
Vettel: Fourth (85 points)

From 11th to first for Alonso in Valencia

British GP in 60 Seconds

Round Nine - Great Britain
Dismal weather conditions at Silverstone present Alonso with the opportunity to make up for Ferrari's single-lap deficit to claim the team's first pole since 2010 before he then very nearly secures back-to-back wins in the dry race. Running a reverse tyre strategy to race-long pursuer Mark Webber, Alonso is only overtaken for the lead by the clearly faster Red Bull with three laps to go. But crucially, he manages to stay ahead of the other RB8 of Vettel, thus increasing his points lead over the reigning Champion to 29.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (129 points)
Vettel: Third (100 points)

German GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round Ten - Germany
For the second race running Alonso takes full advantage of a rain-affected Saturday to secure pole - but this time with Vettel as his front-row companion. Despite pre-expectation that one or both of the Red Bulls - Webber started third - will overhaul the Ferrari, the World Champions actually find themselves usurped by a hard-charging Jenson Button, who jumps Vettel at the second round of stops. The top three thereafter run in close company all the way to the flag, with Alonso just staying out of DRS range, and although Vettel does eventually re-pass Button on the penultimate lap, race stewards later rule the move was illegal. A resultant time penalty relegates Vettel to fifth, providing Alonso's points lead (34 points over Webber and 44 over Vettel) with rather commanding look and feel.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (154 points)
Vettel: Third (110 points)

Hungary GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 11 - Hungary
The battle for victory in the final race before the summer break turns out to be exclusive to Hamilton in the resurgent McLaren and the two Lotuses, with neither Vettel (fourth) nor Alonso (fifth) making the podium for only the third time all season. In terms of pace, Ferrari's form appears of particular concern but Alonso actually increases his overall points lead to 40 points when then-nearest title challenger Webber encounters problems in the race.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (164 points)
Vettel: Third (122 points)

Belgian GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 12 - Belgium
Although he'll later hit a bump in the road at Monza, Spa witnesses the start of Vettel's fightback in earnest. He is given a helping hand, though, when his failure to reach Q3 - Alonso, by contrast, puts his F2012 on the third row - is negated by Romain Grosjean triggering a first-corner pile-up. Alonso is the highest-profile casualty in the carnage, and Vettel is able to charge forward into second place. He's lucky, but the German also has to display wheel-to-wheel instincts on numerous occasions to make the podium.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (164 points)
Vettel: Second (140 points)

Italian GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 13 - Italy
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it's far from obvious whether Alonso or Vettel endure a more costly Monza. Vettel's title bid looks to have hit the buffers when his RB8 suffers another alternator failure, but his Red Bull had been off the pace all weekend and never had a sniff of a podium. Alonso's frustration is of an altogether different ilk. Although he finishes third, Monza arguably represents the one race in the second half of the season which Ferrari should have won given the Spaniard had been super quick all weekend until a broken anti rear-roll bar in Q3 left him tenth on the grid. From there he drives like a man possessed to third, but in hindsight it was probably ten points dropped.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (179 points)
Vettel: Fourth (140 points)

Singapore GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 14 - Singapore
Having slipped back to 39 points behind Alonso, Vettel appears to be in serious danger of being eclipsed as the Spaniard's most serious title rival by Hamilton. However, it emerges Newey has some tricks up his sleeve - namely, a 'Double DRS' device and new front wing - and the RB8 is back to being a frontrunner at Marina Bay. Nonetheless, Vettel has no answers to Hamilton until the MP4-27's gearbox breaks, opening the door for Vettel to claim just his second win of the year. Alonso is never in the hunt, but still salvages third.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (194 points)
Vettel: Second (165 points)

Japanese Grand Prix in 60 seconds

Round 15 - Japan
Another seismic moment in the season. While Vettel, with double DRS now revealed, heads the first all-Red Bull front-row of the season, Alonso is mired in the pack and, like at Spa, pays a heavy price as he tangles with Raikkonen on the run to the first corner. With his rival eliminated, Vettel never looks back and with his second win on the bounce he suddenly all-but wipes out Alonso's points lead. Game well and truly on.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Alonso (194 points)
Vettel: Second (190 points)

Alonso's second first-corner DNF in four races proved costly

Round 16 - Korea
For the first time since Canada some nine races and four months ago, Alonso is dislodged from the summit of the drivers' standings after Vettel takes another ten points out of his lead. The German's third straight win is something of a formality after he beats pole-sitting team-mate Webber into the first corner, but Alonso runs the sister Red Bull close for most of the race before ultimately settling for third place yet again.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel (215 points)
Alonso: Second (209 points)

F1 Indian GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 17 - India
There's no change in the recent pattern of qualifying - another all-Red Bull front-row and Alonso heading row three - but this time the Spaniard is able to split the Red Bulls on race day to ensure Vettel, despite yet another win, pulls only seven further points clear of him in the title stakes.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel (240 points)
Alonso: Seconds (227 points)

Abu Dhabi GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 18 - Abu Dhabi
The race in which Alonso and Ferrari definitely dodge a bullet. Although Vettel, following brake problems in P3, qualifies a relatively disappointing third, Alonso struggles for pace down in seventh despite a big upgrade to his F2012. But on Saturday night the title rivals' fortunes are dramatically reversed after the Red Bull is thrown out of qualifying for fuel irregularities, prompting he expectation that the Spaniard will now leave Abu Dhabi back in the lead of the title race. However, through a combination of good luck and good driving, Vettel moves from pitlane to poidum to ensure Alonso trims just three points out of his lead.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel (255 points)
Alonso: Second (245 points)

United States - Race in 60 seconds

Round 19 - United States
Starting the penultimate race with a ten-point lead, Vettel has his first mathematical, if unrealistic, chance to wrap up the crown at the brand new Circuit of The Americas. Qualifying sees those chances boosted the German returns to pole position while Alonso is off the boil and struggles to eighth on the 'dirty' side of the grid. Faced with the prospect of going further backwards off the line, Ferrari controversially opt to break the seal on Felipe Massa's gearbox in order to promote the sister car to seventh. The tactic pays a big dividends as Alonso climbs into fourth on lap one, and finishes third after Webber retires, while Vettel loses out on the race victory to Hamilton late on.

As a result, the title goes down to the wire at Interlagos with Vettel only guaranteed of his third successive title if he finishes fourth or higher.

The battle for the title:
Championship leader: Vettel (273 points)
Alonso: Second (260 points)

Brazil GP - Race in 60 seconds

Round 20 - Brazil
In an edge-of-your-seat thriller to rival any title showdown F1 has seen before, Vettel eventually clinches the crown by a mere three points from Alonso after a dramatic rain-affected Interlagos race. A poor start by Vettel is compounded when he is spun round in a collision with Bruno Senna mid-way round the first lap, which damages the back of his car and drops him to the back of the field. Alonso, meanwhile, swiftly moves back into a prospective title-winning position from seventh on the grid.

However, fighting back through the pack, Vettel is soon back in the top ten and, amid rain showers, safety cars and four pit stops, ultimately stays there at the chequered flag in sixth place to ensure Alonso's runner-up finish is not enough. Vettel becomes the ninth, and youngest, three-times World Champion in history.

Final championship standings:
1. Vettel - 281 points WORLD CHAMPION
2. Alonso - 278 points

  • Share: