Sebastian Vettel became the youngest ever triple Formula One World Champion today after a scintillating climax to the 2012 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The destiny of the championship see-sawed repeatedly during the race, which saw Britain’s Jenson Button win in seriously damp conditions.
The race began only seconds after a slight drizzle hit the track, causing the opening lap to be one of the most exciting of the year. Lewis Hamilton made a perfect start from pole position while team-mate Button lost out to Felipe Massa at turn one, but it was championship leader Vettel who made the worst start getting boxed on by both Mark Webber and the fast-starting Fernando Alonso, his rival for the title crown. By turn four Button had regained 2nd place, but an over-optimistic Bruno Senna in his Williams was stalking Vettel and made a lunge up the inside of the Red Bull. Vettel, sweeping across the apex of the corner never saw the Williams that hit him as the Brazilian driver, nephew of the late, great Ayrton Senna thumped into the back of the German’s car. Completing a full 180-degree turn in a cloud of smoke, and with cars darting past on either side, uproar surged through the massed crowd as it appeared Vettel was out of the race.
It was not to be, and he swiftly regained the track to begin his pursuit of his championship dreams. One man whose day was most definitely over was Romain Grosjean, who dropped his Lotus on a wet kerb and crashed heavily into a barrier, the Frenchman thankfully walking away unscathed. Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado were also early retirements, the Mexican a victim of the Senna/Vettel clash.
As the rain began to fall harder the field eventually pitted for intermediate tyres with the exception of Jenson Button, who had overtaken Lewis Hamilton, and the impressive Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India. With Button up to 1st and Hulkenberg 2nd, the young German surprisingly began to creep closer to the Mclaren. Soon in a position to pass, he threw a move up the inside of the 2009 World Champion into the corkscrew first hander to seize the lead. Despite common consensus the circuit soon began to dry out as the rain eased, leaving Hulkenberg and Button, still close behind, with over a forty second lead over 3rd placed Hamilton. Once the change back to dry tyres was complete, Alonso was dicing with Mark Webber and Felipe Massa who was acting as ‘rear-gunner’ for the Spaniard. Crucially, Vettel had cut through the traffic and up to an all-important 10th place – Alonso now had to ensure he was on the podium to take the title.
Things got even more fraught when Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg punctured his right-rear tyre on debris left from the first lap contact and had to struggle back to the pits for a replacement. Alonso complained of the excessive risk posed by the debris, and the Safety Car duly took to the circuit thus depriving both Hulkenberg and Button of their hard-won advantage.
Once the racing was back underway, Hamilton pounced to take 2nd place and soon began to close on the Force India who was still maintaining a solid pace out front. Alonso meanwhile was still 4th, but his nemesis Vettel was shadowing him and up to an unbelievable (and title-winning) 5th position. However, the German was soon under attack from the irrepressible Kamui Kobayashi, driving in his last Grand Prix for the Sauber team and no sooner had the Japanese driver breezed past Vettel he nailed Alonso with a crisp move with the aid of a slipstream into turn four. It didn’t last long however, and as the Ferrari found speed he soon re-passed Kobayashi. Things didn’t improve for Vettel though as Felipe Massa did his duty as a Ferrari team member and overtook the Red Bull which appeared to be struggling with damage sustained in the first lap fracas.
Lewis Hamilton had mounted a charge at the front meanwhile and inherited the lead when Nic Hulkenberg made a mistake on the twisty infield section of the circuit. On lap 54 Kimi Raikkonen, well-known for his team radio antics in Abu Dhabi, added yet another chapter of hilarity to the 2012 story when he skidded wide at the bottom of the hill that leads to the start/finish straight; taking to an escape road in a bid to reclaim the circuit he somehow ended up behind the safety barriers with the crowd, only to find the way blocked. Skilfully flicking the car round he charged back down to the gate he had passed through and rejoined the race!
Things got heated at the front however as the flying Hulkenberg soon caught up with Hamilton and went for an overtake into the first corner. Initially alongside the Mclaren he locked up and suddenly lurched sideways, smashing into Hamilton’s front left wheel and destroying the Brit’s suspension. Although he was propelled into the air, Hulkenberg miraculously survived to continue but Hamilton’s day was over on the spot, a sad way for him to end his Mclaren career. Button soared into the lead and soon had to make a pitstop as the rain returned. The field followed him in, and over the next ten laps the surviving Mclaren stretched his lead to 20 seconds. Alonso was now 2nd after Felipe Massa did his bit for the team and allowed the Spaniard through for the runner-up spot, and since Vettel had made a long pitstop when his team neglected to bring his fresh tyres out in time which saw him drop to 10th, the loyal Tifosi, Ferrari’s faithful fanbase, dared to believe.
It was still not enough, and Vettel was soon up to 7th which became 6th when compatriot and soon-to-be-retired Michael Schumacher allowed the Red Bull past with no opposition. In the midfield the competition was fierce between backmarker teams Caterham and Marussia as they battled for 10th in the constructor’s championship. When Charles Pic was briefly held up after being lapped Vitaly Petrov in his Caterham nipped past to secure a crucial 11th place which placed the Norfolk-based team ahead of their Anglo-Russian rivals.
In the dying laps Kobayashi bounced off Schumacher in a vain attempt to pass the German for 7th, and while the Sauber span off the circuit the Mercedes continued unhindered. It wasn’t quite over yet though…
Scot Paul Di Resta had climbed up to 9th place when he lost traction on the climb up the hill with just one lap to go, impacting heavily with the wall and destroying his car. In that moment, the 2012 World Championship was effectively over as the Safety Car escorted the field on the final lap. Emerging from the gloom, Jenson Button triumphed in conditions he excels in, but it was Sebastian Vettel who stole the limelight with 6th place and the points he needed to secure his third Formula One World Championship. Fernando Alonso had pushed him all the way and the supreme Spaniard gave it his all, but while Germany celebrated, Italian hearts were bleeding. Felipe Massa went some way to alleviating that pain with a fine and emotional 3rd place in front of his home crowd. Mark Webber secured 4th, ahead of the recovering Nico Hulkenberg, World Champion Vettel, retiring Michael Schumacher, Jean Eric Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen.
‘It is difficult to imagine what goes through my head now even for myself,” Vettel said. “I am full of adrenaline and if you poke me now I wouldn’t feel it.’
‘It was an incredible race. When you get turned around at Turn Four for no reason and it becomes like heading the wrong way down the M25 it is not the most comfortable feeling. I was lucky no-one hit me but the car was damaged and we lost a lot of speed, especially when it dried up. Fortunately it started to rain again and I felt so much happier.’
‘It’s unreal.’ he murmured.
The vanquished Alonso fell at the very last hurdle, but was magnanimous in defeat.
‘I’m very proud of the team.’ said Alonso. ‘We lost the championship before today, not in Brazil, this is a sport after all. When you do something with your heart and do it 100% you have to be proud of yourself and your team and we’ll try again next year.’
So here it ends.
Twenty incredible races.
Nine tension filled months.
Eight different drivers victorious.
Six separate teams tasting glory.
Two men fought to the death.
One is a triple World Champion.
And that, my friends, was F1 2012.