Jenson Button ended an epic Formula One season with his 15th win of the season after a thrilling wet and dry Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
As for the championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the Red Bull driver was able to win his third drivers’ title becoming the youngest ever triple Formula One champion in the sport’s history.
Vettel was able to finish in sixth position despite suffering significant damage on his RB8 on the opening lap. His title rival Alonso battled to second place in the dramatic wet/dry race, which was led for a quite a period by Nico Hulkenberg until the Force India clashed with Lewis Hamilton.
Despite Vettel getting involved in a first-lap crash and suffering a pitstop delay, the German was able to recover sufficiently to ensure that even Alonso’s runner-up finish could not deny the Red Bull driver a third title. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took a solid third in his race.
Vettel’s race had immediately become more complicated as a tentative start and first corner in drizzly conditions dropped him to seventh spot, while Alonso swept around the outside to move up to fifth.
Then as the pack jostled into the Descida do Lago, Vettel made heavy contact with Bruno Senna, spinning the Red Bull and also collecting Sergio Perez.
It was heart in the mouth moment with Vettel facing the wrong way down the track. In fact, the Red Bull driver did not appear to see Senna’s car alongside and the pair made contact (twice!).
The impact damaged the bodywork around Vettel’s exhaust and Red Bull was concerned it would overheat. But Vettel was able to continue – albeit now down in P22.
While the Sauber and Williams were both out, Vettel was amazingly able to continue. He then charged up through the field and was up to seventh place by lap eight.
Meanwhile Alonso was on a mission by taking a potentially title-clinching third by diving past Felipe Massa and Mark Webber in a single move as they battled into the Senna S.
But an error at the same corner two laps later meant Alonso lost a position to Hulkenberg, who had quickly dismissed Webber and Massa in a blistering early charge.
The McLarens still led at this stage, with Button all over Hamilton as the rain steadily increased.
The worsening conditions prompted everyone except Button and Hulkenberg to head into the pits for intermediates tyres.
That initially put Alonso and Vettel down to P12 and P17 respectively, although they were both back in the top five within five laps thanks to a combination of bold overtaking and others pitting.
While up front, Force India’s incredible performance continued as Hulkenberg edged up behind Button before passing down the outside into the Senna S on lap 19.
By that time the pair were in a class of their own. They had been left 45 seconds clear once the rest of the field went for intermediates, and with the shower passing, their rivals were all now having to stop.
Hulkenberg began to pull away, but debris was littering various corners from earlier incidents, and when Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes picked up a puncture the decision was made to call out the safety car.
At the restart on lap 29, Hulkenberg led Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi and Webber. Kobayashi and Webber immediately pounced on Vettel, although Webber ran out of track at the Senna S and went over the run-off.
Kobayashi’s charge soon took him past Alonso to fourth, although the Ferrari did not take long to regain the position, whereas Vettel had no answer to the Sauber.
Massa, who lost track positions by staying on slicks for far too long and going to intermediates late, completed a recovery charge by passing both Vettel and Kobayashi to slot into fifth behind team-mate Alonso, who could not stay with the top three.
Hamilton overtook Button for second shortly after the restart, but Hulkenberg appeared comfortable in the lead until lap 49, when a half-spin at the Bico do Pato let the McLaren through.
Hulkenberg did not let the McLaren escape, and as they jostled through traffic on lap 54, the Force India slipped ahead into the Senna S, only to slide into a spin and hit Hamilton.
Despite bouncing onto two wheels, Hulkenberg was able to continue in second behind Button, although he did pick up a drive-through penalty for causing the clash. Hamilton had to retire and so ends his time driving for McLaren.
The return of the rain was a factor in the incident, and as the track became slippery again, everyone opted for intermediates. Vettel was among the first to pit, but the team was not ready, leading to a long delay.
He was rapidly able to get back up to sixth, which was sufficient even with Alonso getting up to second thanks to the Hulkenberg/Hamilton tangle and some assistance from Massa, whose well-timed intermediate switch had got him ahead of his team-mate.
The race then came to a slightly underwhelming conclusion as Paul di Resta crashed heavily on the pits straight kink and brought out the safety car with a lap to go.
That clinched the win for Button, and meant that despite Ferrari’s double podium finish; Vettel’s sixth position gave him the championship triple by a three-point margin.
Webber recovered from a variety of adventures, including an early clash with Kobayashi, to take fourth ahead of Hulkenberg and Vettel.
Michael Schumacher claimed seventh in the final race of his Formula One career, despite a late brush of wheels with Kobayashi, who consequently spun to ninth behind Jean-Eric Vergne.
Superb underdog performances in the treacherous early laps led to Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs all appearing in the top ten, with Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock as high as sixth and seventh.
The battle ultimately came down to Charles Pic versus Vitaly Petrov for P12, with the Russian battling past the Frenchman to give Caterham tenth in the constructors’ championship in what became eleventh when di Resta crashed.
But for that incident, Daniel Ricciardo was set to pass both Pic and Petrov, which would have given Marussia tenth place back again.
Raikkonen had a wild afternoon, starting when he nearly wiped out Vettel moments before the Senna tangle, and also including a long excursion at Juncao where the Lotus driver tried to use an access road to rejoin only to encounter a closed gate. He finished in P10.
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado’s eventful years came to messy ends with both crashing in the opening laps.
And so ends a thrilling race to an exciting season of Formula One racing. Vettel’s race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin admitted he feared his driver’s title hopes were lost after the first-lap crash. But an error-free recovery drive of measured aggression gained Vettel a deserved third title by the narrow margin of three points.
Both he and Alonso deserve praise for their efforts and achievements this year. Alonso once again wrung all he could from his Ferrari and it’s doubtful he could have finished higher.
If a championship is valued by the quality of the opposition a driver faces, then Sebastian Vettel can count this triumph as his greatest so far.
Brazilian Grand Prix, race results after 71 laps:
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h45:22.656
2. Alonso Ferrari +2.754
3. Massa Ferrari +3.615
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +4.936
5. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes +5.708
6. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +9.453
7. Schumacher Mercedes +11.907
8. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari +28.653
9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +31.250
10. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault +1 lap
11. Petrov Caterham-Renault +1 lap
12. Pic Marussia-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
14. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault +1 lap
15. Rosberg Mercedes +1 lap
16. Glock Marussia-Cosworth +2 laps
17. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
18. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
19. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +3 laps
Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:18.069
Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 55 laps
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 6 laps
Maldonado Williams-Renault 2 laps
Senna Williams-Renault 1 lap
Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1 lap
Final World Championship standings, round 20:
1. Vettel 281
2. Alonso 278
3. Raikkonen 207
4. Hamilton 190
5. Button 188
6. Webber 179
7. Massa 122
8. Grosjean 96
9. Rosberg 93
10. Perez 66
11. Hulkenberg 63
12. Kobayashi 60
13. Schumacher 49
14. Di Resta 46
15. Maldonado 45
16. Senna 31
17. Vergne 16
18. Ricciardo 10
1. Red Bull-Renault 460
2. Ferrari 400
3. McLaren-Mercedes 378
4. Lotus-Renault 303
5. Mercedes 142
6. Sauber-Ferrari 126
7. Force India-Mercedes 109
8. Williams-Renault 76
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 26