When all was said and done at the end of the race in Brazil it was Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel who was crowned the youngest triple world drivers’ champion in Formula 1 history after a chaotic and action packed race. Vettel wasn’t the only winner in Interlagos, though. It’s easy to forget that it was Jenson Button who won the race, but that was almost immaterial as Ferrari beat McLaren to second in the world constructors’ championship, with Caterham finishing ahead of Marussia in the constructors’ championship battle between the ‘new’ teams.
Let’s start with Vettel and Fernando Alonso and the battle for the glory of becoming the youngest triple world champion in the history of the sport. After qualifying on Saturday, Vettel was in the better position of the two going into the race. On top of this 13 point championship lead, he had out-qualified the Ferrari driver yet again. It certainly wasn’t a classic qualifying performance from Vettel, but he would have been quietly satisfied that he was fourth on the grid, compared to just seventh (following a 10 place grid penalty for Pastor Maldonado) for his Spanish rival.
Vettel’s starting advantage didn’t even last a lap, though. As we’ve seen so often this season, Alonso got off the line brilliantly and was ahead of Vettel once the cars emerged from turn one. Things went from bad to worse for Vettel, as he fell back into the midfield and then collided with Bruno Senna at the end of the back straight. The Williams was out of the race and it looked for all the world that Vettel would be too, as he rolled backwards while the rest of the field streamed past him.
Vettel was able to continue, though, despite some damage to the rear of the Red Bull. On lap two Alonso was third, while Vettel was 22nd, with lots of work to do to save his championship. The German proved himself up to the task. Despite a clearly damaged car he was soon carving his way through the field and into the points. By lap 9, Vettel was up to seventh while Alonso had slipped out of the podium positions to fourth. Amazingly, Vettel was back in control of the championship.
Despite the chaos of changeable weather and two safety car periods, Vettel remained in control of his own destiny throughout the rest of the race. Despite the damage to his car, he was able to lap consistently and competitively, and despite some nervousness his Renault alternator didn’t fail him at Interlagos. That’s not to say that Alonso was giving up, though. By the end of the race the 2005 and 2006 world drivers’ champion had negotiated his way into second place, albeit aided by his team-mate Felipe Massa, who eased off the throttle down the back straight to let Alonso through on lap 62.
Alonso’s cause was also aided by the lap 54 collision between then leader Lewis Hamilton and second placed driver Nico Hulkenberg. The Force India driver had driven brilliantly to lead the race, before almost spinning on lap 49 to let McLaren’s Hamilton, in his last race with the Woking based team, through into the lead. Hamilton led Hulkenberg for five laps before the Force India driver attempted to repass the Englishman as the McLaren was held up by traffic. The pass went badly wrong as Hulkenberg spun into Hamilton at turn one. Hulkenberg was able to continue, but received a drive-through penalty for the incident, but Hamilton was out of the race. A sad end to an illustrious career at McLaren for Hamilton and a real shame for Sauber-bound Hulkenberg who was in a position to be able to challenge for a first Formula 1 victory. The young German did, though, go on to finish a creditable fifth.
Although Alonso benefitted, it was never enough to put him in position to take his third world drivers’ championship. It was, though, enough to hand Ferrari second in the world constructors’ championship. With Hamilton leading and Button in third place, there was a very real chance that McLaren would overhaul their Italian rivals in the constructors’ championship. With Hamilton shunted out of the race Button went on to win, but with Alonso and Massa joining him on the podium Ferrari managed to outscore McLaren by eight points in Brazil and claim hand on to second in the constructors’ championship. An amazing achievement considering that the Ferrari F2012 has been far from the best car, while the McLaren MP4-27 has probably been the fastest. Reliability and operational issues have cost McLaren dearly in 2012.
While Ferrari proved able to hang on to their constructors’ championship position, the same could not be said of Marussia. The Anglo-Russian team were in pole position to claim 10th in the world constructors championship ahead of Caterham thanks to Timo Glock’s 12th place finish in Singapore, but the chaotic final race of the season threw a spanner in the works for them and handed a lifeline to Caterham. Amid the increasingly adverse weather conditions, Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov – likely to be out of a Formula 1 drive next season – passed Marussia’s Charles Pic – ironically on his way to Caterham in 2013 – for 12th place on lap 67. This would have been enough to give Caterham tenth in the constructors’ championship, but things got even better for them as Force India’s Paul di Resta crashed out on the penultimate lap, triggering the safety car and moving Petrov up to 11th.
While Petrov couldn’t quite take that elusive first point for Caterham, one driver that did manage to score points was the retiring Michael Schumacher. The German seven time world drivers’ champion crossed the line in seventh place for Mercedes, scoring six points and ending a barren run of results for the Blackley based team in the process. While such a result would have been a huge disappointment for Schumacher in the first part of his Formula 1 career, it must have brought a smile of satisfaction to his face in the last of his 308 race in the premier class.
The man with the biggest smile on his face at the end of the race was Sebastian Vettel, though. He survived some post-race controversy when TV replays appeared to show him passing under yellow flags and although there was no sixth race victory of the season for the 25-year-old German, I’m sure that he was more than happy with sixth position instead, and with it a third world drivers’ championship.
It’s certainly been a thrilling 2012 season, and a long way from the 2011 cakewalk for Vettel. 2013 has a lot to live up to. Let’s hope it lives up to the challenge.