Sebastian Vettel has become only the third man in history – and the youngest – to claim three consecutive Formula One World Championship titles after an exhilarating season finale in Brazil, which saw Jenson Button claim victory.
Vettel overcame a first lap collision which dropped him to 17th, three pit-stops and a broken radio which meant the team wasn’t expecting him for one of his stops, to take sixth place and join Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as triple-consecutive World Champions, as his fellow contender, Fernando Alonso, finished second in the race and three points behind Vettel at the climax.
In a three year spell of dominance, Vettel also becomes only the ninth three times world champion, along with Schumacher, Fangio, Senna, Prost, Piquet, Lauda, Brabham and Stewart.
“Only two guys have done that (three consecutive titles) before, you need to be in the right place at the right time, but I also believe that you make your own luck,” said an exhausted Vettel after the race.
“One of the great things about F1 is you can compare your era to the past. We are in Sao Paulo where Ayrton Senna came from and where he was buried and to come here and win the third time, what we achieved today is what we’ve been working for since I arrived (at Red Bull). You do this job because you love the sport and the excitement. The hardest thing is winning after winning. “
Schumacher, in his final race, took seventh place and the first points scoring finish for Mercedes in six races.
The title looked like it could have been settled on the very first lap, as a slow starting Vettel was squeezed by team mate Webber, then tapped in to a spin by Bruno Senna at Turn Four, who damaged bodywork on the left side of Vettel’s car, then hit the rear-right of the Red Bull quite heavily. At this stage Alonso was already in fourth place, which soon became third and for a short time it seemed that he could turn the pre-race near impossible around.
It looked inconceivable that Vettel would not sustain any serious damage but, like in Abu Dhabi, he was able to keep his cool and make his way from last place and in to the points. For Alonso, all he could do was keep it on the black stuff on his way to second, but it was not enough to stop the charging World Champion from gaining the necessary points.
The race lead changed hands throughout as the McLaren duo of Button and Lewis Hamilton both took turns, but could not keep a hard charging Nico Hulkenberg behind. As others were forced in to a change for intermediate tyres Button and Hulkenberg were the only drivers to stay out and hope for a break in the conditions. This turned out to be the case and they found themselves with a forty-five second lead as those behind had to switch back to dry tyres. However, this lead was to be undone by a Safety Car for debris on the circuit, which bunched the pack up and reopened the possibilities for the World Title.
At this point Hulkenberg lead the race, after taking first place from Button around the outside of Turn one, and began to pull away from the McLaren pairing. The Force India driver excelled in the wet conditions on slick tyres, but after a half-spin he lost the lead to Hamilton and had to hunt him down as the rain once again hardened.
On Lap 52, as Hamilton was caught in traffic behind Heikki Kovalainen, Hulkenberg seized the opportunity and tried to out-brake the race leader, braking late and off the racing line he slid in to Hamilton and forced the Briton out of his final race for McLaren.
Hulkenberg subsequently received a drive-through penalty, dropping him to fifth position and dreams of what could have been in his final race for Force India.
Button was the man to gain from the collision in front and he was able to control the race from then on, taking his third victory of the season and 15th of his career.
Completing the podium was Felipe Massa, in the process helping his team secure second in the Constructors’ Championship, worth an estimated $10 million in extra prize money compared to third. He has had a fine finish to the season and his change in form has been very much key to Ferrari retaining that spot ahead of McLaren. Massa sat comfortably in second as the race neared the end but as expected he let Alonso through to take the maximum points available.
Behind the top three Mark Webber also had an eventful race in a Red Bull car as he ran wide trying to overtake Vettel following the Safety Car and then spun at Juncao. He was able to recover to his most common position, taking his sixth 4th position of the year.
Completing the top ten was Jean-Eric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen. Vergne, in particular, produced a very strong drive from a seventeenth place start to take his fourth points scoring position in his debut year. Kobayashi had battled with Vettel and Massa during the middle phase of the race, but spun after a brush with Schumacher and dropped to ninth. Raikkonen, meanwhile, seemed to get lost after running off the track at Juncao and tried to rejoin through an escape road, which turned out to be a dead-end.
In a crucial race for the three tail-end teams, Caterham were able to clinch tenth position as Vitaly Petrov finished eleventh ahead of Marussia’s Charles Pic. With Pic moving to Caterham in 2013 and a substantial amount of money gained by finishing tenth, today’s result could have been due to savvy gamesmanship by the young Frenchman.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
* Be sure to order your copy of the new book JA on F1 2012 – The Year of Living Dangerously, with all the race reports from 2012, plus insights, behind the scenes stories and lots of new material.
BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, Interlagos, 71 Laps
1. Button McLaren 1h45:22.656
2. Alonso Ferrari + 2.754
3. Massa Ferrari + 3.615
4. Webber Red Bull + 4.936
5. Hulkenberg Force India + 5.708
6. Vettel Red Bull + 9.453
7. Schumacher Mercedes + 11.900
8. Vergne Toro Rosso + 28.600
9. Kobayashi Sauber + 31.200
10. Raikkonen Lotus + 1 lap
11. Petrov Caterham + 1 lap
12. Pic Marussia + 1 lap
13. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 1 lap
14. Kovalainen Caterham + 1 lap
15. Rosberg Mercedes + 1 lap
16. Glock Marussia + 2 laps
17. De la Rosa HRT + 2 laps
18. Karthikeyan HRT + 2 laps
19. Di Resta Force India + 3 laps
Final Driver Standings
1. Vettel 281
2. Alonso 278
3. Raikkonen 207
4. Hamilton 190
5. Button 188
6. Webber 179
7. Massa 122
8. Grosjean 96
9. Rosberg 93
10. Perez 66
1. Red Bull-Renault 460
2. Ferrari 400
3. McLaren-Mercedes 378
4. Lotus-Renault 303
5. Mercedes 142
6. Sauber-Ferrari 126
7. Force India-Mercedes 109
8. Williams-Renault 76
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 26
10. Caterham 0 (11th place best finish)