São Paulo: We could still be surprised yet…

São Paulo: We could still be surprised yet…

21 November 2012 – This is it, then. The last one of the year. Formula 1 2012 has seemed like two mini-seasons in one, hasn’t it? It began with more than your fair share of chaos and seven winners from as many races. It will end with either Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso being crowned a triple World Champion in Brazil.

The last time we had two drivers battling over a third crown was in the millennium year, when Michael Schumacher beat Mika Häkkinen on that emotional Suzuka weekend which had started with an earthquake. Such extremes are not expected at Interlagos, although a thunderstorm or two is more than possible and could really turn things around; that’s one of the reasons Christian Horner was not able to celebrate the constructors’ title in Austin on Sunday… he knows this could still go horribly wrong.

The first two men in F1 history to fight over a third title at the last race

In actual fact, this is the first time ever that an F1 season has reached its final race with two drivers vying for a third title. If it’s Vettel, he will have won his three at a trio of different locations. If it’s Alonso, all will have come at the same place. Whatever the outcome, one gets the sense that it will be won in dramatic fashion. Vettel could walk it, should he seal pole and not suffer any difficulties, but the consistent threat of rain is more than likely to spice things up at some point.

On paper, this should go to Vettel. All he needs to do is finish fourth and the honours are bagged, no matter what Alonso does. At the same time, Sebastian cannot afford to be overly cautious or become tangled up in somebody else’s accident; the moment with Narain Karthikeyan at Circuit of the Americas, immediately after which Lewis Hamilton stole the lead, demonstrated just how quickly things can change. Should Vettel knock off his front wing and have to pit, sinking to the back of the field, anything from fifth downwards is not good enough if Alonso wins; so while Vettel has the upper hand, he could jettison his various jokers and will be fully aware of it.

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Vettel will pick up the title under the following circumstances:

- Finishing in the top four
- Finishing fifth, sixth or seventh if Alonso doesn’t win
- Finishing eighth or ninth if Alonso is third or lower
- If Alonso does not finish on the podium

Alonso is the new three-time World Champion if this happens:

- Winning with Vettel fifth or lower
- Finishing second with Vettel eighth or lower
- Finishing third with Vettel tenth or lower
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With the exception of Valencia, Hamilton is not to blame for his early demise

The last race of a season is always a time for reflection. Kimi Räikkönen has done a brilliant job to be third in the standings but Hamilton sits 83 points off the lead. In theory, had Hamilton not retired from the lead in Singapore and Abu Dhabi which gifted ten extra points to Vettel, that gap would only be 23 points which means Lewis would still be in the running – and that’s not counting the silly pit-stop errors which cost him so dear at the first handful of races. Yes, you could also argue that Vettel lost out when he broke down in Valencia and at Monza, but my point is that McLaren have made more slip-ups than most and Hamilton’s speed has never been in doubt. Indeed, this weekend he could become the only man to reach Q3 qualifying at all 20 race weekends in 2012. It’s because of these frustrations that a fresh challenge is needed and that is exactly why Lewis is not annoyed to be giving away a fast car as he crosses over to Mercedes-Benz.

So, back to the championship duel. A week ago, I would have said that Vettel will wrap this up in fairly comfortable fashion. Now, it’s not so easy to decide even though he does hold that critical 13-point advantage; there could so easily be a problem which allows Alonso to take full advantage. Judging by recent events, Vettel will qualify at least some two or three positions ahead – perhaps even four or five. But that is assuming it will be dry, which is looking less and less likely as the event draws closer. There is also the Red Bull worry of reliability, which proved a downfall for Mark Webber thanks to yet another alternator failure in America.

Excited yet? You jolly well should be. Such a close encounter is what we all always wish for – unless you support Vettel or Alonso, of course - so place your bets and see if you’re able to sit back and relax. This is just the finish that F1 2012 deserved.

At a glance:

- Interlagos pole position sitters
- Interlagos Grand Prix winners

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The facts: Autodromo José Carlos Pace
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Juan Pablo Montoya holds the track record from 2004

Laps 71

Direction Anti-clockwise

Corners 15

Length 4.309 km / 2.677 mi

First championship race 1973

First winner Emerson Fittipaldi – Lotus-Ford

Lap record 1:11.473 / J.P. Montoya / Williams-BMW / 2004

Local start time 2pm (GMT -2)

Slick Pirelli tyre compounds
Hard (silver markings) & Medium (white markings)

DRS zone
Detection: Apex of Turn 2
Activation: Halfway through Turn 3 until end of back straight

FIA driver steward
Tom Kristensen

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Circuit changes for 2012
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- New debris fences installed on both sides of track between Turns 3 and 4

- Kerb installed on the apex of Turn 15 (final corner)

- Tube inserts placed in tyre barrier on end of wall at pit entry
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Gregory Haines
GPUpdate.net Editor

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