• Brazilian Grand Prix - The Final Stint

Vettel joins the elite

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
November 25, 2012

A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel moved four championships shy of Michael Schumacher's record © Sutton Images
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A worthy champion

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner described it as the most stressful race of his career, but watching as a spectator it couldn't have been much better. Sebastian Vettel was made to earn his title with a car that was misbehaving from the moment he made contact with Bruno Senna on the first lap. "I think we had our hands full to keep the car on the track. It was very very difficult to drive the car," Vettel said. "I was very aggressive and snapping quite a lot, so I lost the rears many times, fortunately stayed on track most of the time. It was a pleasure but it was a lot of work." Even if you think Fernando Alonso was more deserving of the title, Vettel did what was needed of him given the tools he had at his disposal. At times it may not have been pretty, but winning in such a manner is exactly what world champions do and it's no coincidence that Vettel is now a three-time world champion.

"I think it was a very, very tough season for us, on track, off track, a season with ups and downs for everyone," he said after the race. "But as I mentioned before, I think we always remained ourselves and kept doing it our way, and I think that made the difference in the end. I think for us, for me, it's always most important that you're happy with what you see in the mirror and you're honest to yourself, because what's the point in trying to fake or pretend being something else, someone else? You are always the first one to notice, you're always the first one to know if you are cheating yourself. In that way, I think it was because people tried everything, inside the lines, outside the lines, to beat us and the amount of questions we had to deal with, stuff we had to deal with throughout the season didn't make our lives easier but the key was to remain ourselves and I think that made the difference in a way. I'm not holy, I make mistakes like everyone else but I think the way I was brought up was to be honest and admit if you do something wrong."

Three points short of a fairytale

Had Fernando Alonso won the championship this year it would have been one of the most impressive title victories in Formula One history. In the end he fell three points short, and whichever way you cut it, that was mainly because of the car. The team started the season in the mid-field with a car it didn't understand and what looked likely to be 20 hellish races ahead. But Alonso didn't lose faith and after the first two rounds was leading the championship with a brilliant win in Malaysia to his name. As the season progressed, the car went from terrible to respectable, and by the time the teams went their separate ways for the mid-season break, Alonso was 40 points clear of the rest of the field. To put that in perspective, Felipe Massa - who has proved at the last two races that he hasn't completely lost it - had scored 25 points to Alonso's 164 in the same car. The difference was that Alonso was able to adapt to the car's deficiencies and didn't once question his own ability. Perhaps most galling for Alonso is that he was taken out at Spa-Francorchamps through no fault of his own and also got involved in a first lap shunt in Japan. "The low moments of the championship were Spa and Suzuka," he said on Saturday. "Mathematically I could have been champion in Austin without those to moments with maybe 36 points more than I have now. So that will be remembered." But if his car had been as competitive as his rivals', the collisions wouldn't have mattered. Alonso almost put together the perfect season; his car was anything but perfect. Ferrari must improve in 2013.

The Story of the Weekend

© Getty Images
  • Shock Nico Hulkenberg - Having qualified strongly, few expected Hulkenberg to progress from sixth, but he appeared comfortable in the lead until a spin dropped him behind Hamilton and then he took the McLaren out trying to retake first place
  • Shocker Kimi Raikkonen - Apparently a dirty visor caused Raikkonen to run wide at Juncao, but he tried to save himself by using the old circuit having driven through a gap in the barrier. Unfortunately a gate blocked his route and he had to perform a swift u-turn and retrace his steps to rejoin
  • Best overtake Fernando Alonso - Diving down the inside of both Massa and Webber in to turn one on a greasy track was sublime. That he ran wide there all alone a few laps later shows what skill it took
  • Best lap Fernando Alonso - It's customary, but his opening lap was excellent. Up to fifth from seventh immediately, he then dived past Massa and Webber together to go third and at that time be in championship-winning position. All within 4.5km of the start.
  • Worst lap Sebastian Vettel - A poor start saw him squeezed down to seventh from fourth, and then he turned in on Bruno Senna at turn four. It left him at the back with it all to do, but he was lucky to still be in the race
  • Drive of the day Jenson Button - He barely got a mention as the focus was on Vettel and Alonso, but Button was sublime all day. More confident than Hamilton in the damp conditions on slick tyres he led on merit, and half the battle in changeable conditions is to stay out of trouble. He did just that to win comfortably.

McLaren's mixed bag

It was a bitter-sweet end to the season for McLaren. First of all, it should have been competing for both championships with Red Bull and Ferrari, but reliability problems and silly mistakes have plagued the team's season. Jenson Button, for example, won the opening and closing races of the year, which would usually be an indication that the car maintained a good level of performance throughout. However, he only won one other race in Belgium and finished the championship fifth overall. Perhaps McLaren's failure to get things right was the catalyst for Lewis Hamilton to leave at the end of the year and it was sad to see him taken out of his final McLaren grand prix (at least for now) by Nico Hulkenberg while leading. It could also be some time before he gets another chance to lead a grand prix as Mercedes took just six points from the last six races (all of them Schumacher's in Brazil). Both McLaren and Hamilton will almost certainly be worse off because of the split next year and the only hope for both parties is that in the long-term they can flourish in the other's absence.

So long Schumi

Michael Schumacher finally brought the curtain down on his career with a feeling that it was the right time, but a few glimpses of his old class. The race itself was a good opportunity for Schumacher to excel in wet conditions, and he did just that as he fought back from a first-lap puncture to finish seventh. At one stage he was in amongst the leaders but a lap down, such was his deficit. The flash of the old Schumacher was evident when battling with Kimi Raikkonen; supreme driving between two world champions who had gone wheel-to-wheel previously in their careers, but Schumacher's acceptance that he'd lose the battle and giving Raikkonen space on the outside of turn one is something he perhaps wouldn't have done in his former career. The main moment, however, came when Sebastian Vettel closed him down on intermediate tyres and Schumacher allowed his protégé through out of turn five. Not fighting for a position was something you'd never have seen from the pre-2006 Schumacher and shows that, this time, it really is the right time to go. Whatever your views on Schumacher, we've been privileged to have an extra three years of the most successful driver in the history of the sport.

Caterham clinches 10th

While the race at the front was enthralling, and the championship battle gripping, the fight between Marussia and Caterham for 10th in the constructors' championship will have been more tense than any of it down at the other end of the pit lane. A wet race was always likely to open up opportunities and as a result all six cars from Caterham, Marussia and HRT stayed out on slicks when the rain first came, promoting them likes of Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock to the top ten. The safety car for debris should have ruined their hopes, but by nailing the strategy Charles Pic was left ahead of Vitaly Petrov and in the all-important 12th place in the closing laps. Petrov made it through to put Caterham in place to regain 10th, but Daniel Ricciardo looked set to spoil the party as he was closing both down at a rate of knots. However, then came Paul di Resta's crash which promoted Petrov to 11th, brought out the safety car and ensured Caterham jumped Marussia at the last possible moment to secure 10th in the constructors' and the millions in prize money that goes with it. Pic won't be too disappointed as he joins Caterham next season, but Petrov's result may have just handed Kovalainen a lifeline.