In a thrilling race where the onlookers were staring as much at the sky as the track, where the on-again, off-again rain sent the cars spinning and the identity of the world champion-to-be was changed as often as the tires, the world title slid from Fernando Alonso’s grasp by the narrowest of margins.
The Ferrari driver finally finished a brilliant second at the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Interlagos circuit on Sunday. The Red Bull of his championship rival Sebastian Vettel, however, finished in sixth place, meaning it was the German, not the Spaniard, who became the youngest triple world champion in history. By a mere three points.
To win the title with second place, Alonso had needed Vettel to finish eighth or lower.
The result meant the German took the title with 281 points to Alonso’s 278. Nevertheless, the 31-year-old Spaniard said he was a long way from disappointed, categorizing 2012 as “the best year of my career.”
“It is the first time that I got everyone agreeing, the drivers, the ex-drivers, from France, England... that I was the best in the championship. That feeling is very good,” he said after the race. Many F1 drivers had commented that Alonso had been the most consistent driver in a slower car.
“The championship was not lost here,” Alonso continued. “The championship was lost when Grosjean flew over my head or when Vettel surprisingly only got a reprimand after qualifying in Japan.”
The championship was lost when Grosjean flew over my head or when Vettel only got a reprimand in Japan”
The race was won by Jenson Button in the McLaren with Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa in third, Mark Webber in the other Red Bull fourth, and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg fifth. Michael Schumacher, in his final-ever Grand Prix was seventh in the Mercedes.
Overturning Vettel’s championship lead had been a huge challenge for Alonso from the beginning.
But things looked to be going the Asturian’s way at the start as he leapt up the field from seventh on the grid to third and Vettel found himself spinning to the back of the race after being shunted from behind by the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and then colliding with Bruno Senna’s Williams.
But as Alonso struggled to stay on the damp track, running off both on lap five and lap 10, the German scythed his way through the field to get back into contention in sixth spot by lap eight.
All the ensuing pit stops and increasingly heavy rain had little direct impact on the pair from then on, but did lead to more incidents elsewhere.
A spinning Hulkenberg, who had lead the race for a spell, collided into Lewis Hamilton on lap 54 and sent the Briton crashing out of the race in his last Grand Prix for McLaren before making the move to Mercedes next year.
And after all the excitement, the race ended in anti-climactic fashion after Hulkenberg’s Force India teammate Paul di Resta crashed on the straight on the penultimate lap, forcing the safety car out on track for the second time.
It ended up leading the drivers across the finish line and 25-year-old Vettel to his third world title in as many years — a feat only matched by Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio.
“It is difficult to imagine what goes through my head now even for myself,” the BBC quoted Vettel as saying after the race. “I am full of adrenaline and if you poke me now I wouldn't feel it.”