• Brazilian Grand Prix

Vettel secures third title in epic season finale

Chris Medland November 25, 2012

Sebastian Vettel clinched his third successive drivers' championship after an utterly absorbing final race in Brazil, his sixth-place finish enough to prevent Fernando Alonso, who came home second behind Jenson Button, from overhauling him.

In a superb afternoon where fortunes ebbed and flowed on almost every lap, Vettel's hopes appeared to be dashed within seconds of the start when he collided with Bruno Senna, spun and was left at the back of the field. But he battled through, never getting ahead of Alonso but always close enough that the 13-point cushion he brought to Interlagos was going to be sufficient.

Button's win on an increasingly wet afternoon was handed to him when Lewis Hamilton, who had appeared set to leave McLaren with back-to-back victories, was taken out 16 laps from the end by Nico Hulkenberg as the Force India driver tried to regain a lead he had held for a large chunk of the race.

Felipe Massa was third having allowed his team-mate through in to second place late in the race but second proved one place too low for Alonso who lost out to Vettel by three points. Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber came home fourth ahead of the recovering Hulkenberg, with Vettel a distant sixth ahead of the retiring Michael Schumacher, Jean-Eric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen.

The race ended behind a safety car as Paul di Resta crashed heavily on the run towards the finish line on the penultimate lap, with some standing water catching him out on intermediate tyres. Significant racing had gone on throughout the field and di Resta's retirement meant Vitaly Petrov came home 11th ahead of Charles Pic, allowing Caterham to snatch back 10th in the constructors' championship.

The start of the race was hugely dramatic as Vettel got a poor start and dropped to seventh off the line, and was then collected at turn four as he turned in on Senna. Kimi Raikkonen had almost run in to the rear of Vettel under braking but after being tapped in to a spin Vettel was hit again by the Williams and was lucky not to sustain race-ending damage.

The spin left Vettel at the back of the field with damaged rear bodywork and a dented exhaust, but he soon started carving his way through as the drivers tried to judge their pace on slick tyres with drizzle falling. Alonso had made a good start to fifth place behind his team-mate and Webber, but dived around the inside of both drivers to take third at the start of the second lap and at that time was in position to take the title.

Jenson Button takes the plaudits after his 15th career win © Getty Images

Hulkenberg made good progress up to fourth place as the rain made conditions very tricky - with Romain Grosjean spearing off in to the wall at Murgulho - and then Vettel's cause wasn't helped by Webber dropping to the back of the field having been tipped in to a spin by Kobayashi.

Hamilton had led from pole but Button seemed more comfortable in the conditions and took the lead on lap eight, with Hulkenberg having already cleared Alonso and shadowing both McLarens. Webber was the first man on to intermediate tyres on lap 10 and the rest of the field soon followed with only Button and Hulkenberg staying on slicks. It was a move that paid off as the two stayed over 20 seconds clear of the field, and Hulkenberg took advantage of a twitch from Button towards turn one to take the lead after 19 laps.

At the same time as the lead changed hands drivers were switching back to slick tyres, with Rosberg soon picking up a puncture as more and more debris built-up on the track. The safety car was deployed, giving Button and Hulkenberg the chance to pit but also erasing their comfortable lead.

On the restart, Hulkenberg pulled away but Vettel - having recovered to fifth - dropped to sixth behind Kobayashi as Webber attacked his team-mate around the outside. Vettel lost another place as Massa came through and having dropped to seventh the damage on his car meant he was unable to make progress as the track dried again.

Hamilton had passed Button in to turn four soon after the restart and then closed on Hulkenberg, and benefited from a mistake from the leader on lap 48 as Hulkenberg spun at Laranja. The rain continued to be intermittent and another sprinkling saw the front two close together again, with Hulkenberg trying to dive up the inside of Hamilton in to turn one and sliding in to the McLaren to take him out of his final race with the team.

Hulkenberg was handed a drive through penalty for the incident which dropped him to fifth behind Button, Massa, Alonso and Webber as the rain intensified, to such an extent that Raikkonen ran wide at Juncao, took to the old circuit behind the barrier to try and recover but found a gate blocking his path and he had to turn his Lotus round to retrace his steps to rejoin. Everyone pit for intermediates and Vettel had enough pace to pass Schumacher for sixth, meaning Alonso needed victory.

While Massa allowed Alonso through in to second place he was 20 seconds behind Button and could make no impression on the leader. The late safety car ensured the field finished the race in a line but ultimately it was Vettel who had done just enough to win a third consecutive world championship and join an elite group of Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna as triple world champion.

Sebastian Vettel ends up going backwards after colliding with Bruno Senna at the start ... but the drama was only just beginning © Getty Images

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season