Vettel World Champion as Button wins in Brazil
25 November 2012 – Sebastian Vettel has become a triple Formula 1 World Champion as a remarkable Brazilian Grand Prix ended under the Safety Car. Jenson Button took victory following a collision between Nico Hülkenberg and Lewis Hamilton, as Vettel fought back to sixth place after being hit and spun down to last on the opening lap.
Interlagos had already delivered numerous dramatic title-deciders in recent years, but Sunday’s race will forever be remembered as one of the best in living memory. Sprinkles of rain fell around 20 minutes before the start as Hamilton and Button headed an all-McLaren front row in what was the former’s final race with the team. For the championship, Vettel would guarantee the crown with a top four finish whereas Alonso had to fight through to the podium from seventh position on the grid.
It was a clean start, but a cautious one for Vettel as he lost positions. At the front, Felipe Massa sized up Button for second as Alonso took to the outside line and found himself fourth. Intense drama followed immediately, at Turn 4. Kimi Räikkönen ran off circuit as Vettel was tipped into a spin by Bruno Senna. Both Senna and Sergio Pérez were out on the spot, as Vettel rejoined with heavy damage and at the very back of the pack. At this point, it looked highly likely that Alonso could become the 2012 World Champion.
The 71-lap encounter featured a selection of rain showers, prompting some drivers to make as many as four pit-stops when one would have been possible in dry conditions. Both title contenders changed to Intermediates at the first round, whereas Button – following an entertaining dice with Hamilton – stayed out in the lead and on Slicks. He was followed by the Force India of Hülkenberg, who had started sixth and stayed out of trouble; incredibly, the German seized the lead from Button at the start of Lap 18.
As Adrian Newey assessed Vettel’s damage courtesy of a paper print-out, his driver stormed through the field and was already up to sixth on the ninth tour. Hamilton had decided to pit but proceeded to catch the two leaders, whereas Alonso had suffered a pair of scary off-track excursions at Turn 1. In the opening stages, Massa played shotgun for his team-mate as a charging pack – headed up by Mark Webber, who later spun on two occasions – threatened to pass both Ferraris. With debris littering the circuit on Lap 23, the Safety Car was called for to allow for a collective pause for breath.
Romain Grosjean had already slammed into the barriers at Mergulho as team-mate Räikkönen took a lurid off-track excursion behind the Armco at Junçao, but it was Hamilton on the move as he passed Button after the restart. Hülkenberg still led but, struggling for grip, allowed Hamilton to pass when he half-spun at Laranjinha. Seven laps later, the McLaren was taken out as the recovering Force India attacked but lost control at the first corner; Hamilton walked back to the pits as Hülkenberg duly received a penalty.
Intensely heavy rain came in the final third of the race; Daniel Ricciardo gambled for full Wets as leader Button and the rest of the field survived with Intermediates. Alonso had risen to third after Red Bull made a tactical error by bringing Vettel into the pits too soon; the Spaniard then took second place as he was allowed through by Massa. Vettel, after another stop, sat seventh but was still comfortable for the title – and became even more so when compatriot Michael Schumacher, in his last ever F1 race, jettisoned sixth position.
Button’s win confirmed him as a winner in both the first and last races of 2012, with the pair of Ferrari drivers appearing on the podium together for the only time this year. Vettel’s triple success was guaranteed one lap early, as the Safety Car was deployed when Paul di Resta suffered a large accident at the final corner. In spectacular fashion, Vettel is the ninth three-time World Champion and only the third man in history to win three consecutive titles. He also becomes the youngest triple Champion, taking that record from the late Ayrton Senna.
Elsewhere, Ferrari retained second from McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship and a late-race pass from Vitaly Petrov on Charles Pic allowed Caterham to nab tenth overall from Marussia. The demise of Hamilton also means that Kimi Räikkönen finishes third in the drivers’ standings in his comeback year. At the sharp end, the eventual gap between Vettel and Alonso is just three points at the end of a truly remarkable campaign.
Formula 1 now heads into a period of hibernation before pre-season testing begins at Jerez in February.
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