Even without the on-track drama this would have been an exciting spectacle, one that engaged the whole motor-sport world for two dramatic hours in Brazil. The most unpredictable season in modern Formula One has drawn to an end and brought the answer to the number one question of 2012: who would become the latest F1 Champion?
For the last three races it was clear the title battle had boiled down to only two players: Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. The two undisputed F1 fighters had everything to play for, although the Red Bull driver had probably more to lose: they both stood the chance to become the youngest triple Champion in the sport’s history and to enter the elite group of three title holders, but Vettel was hoping to become a legend in his own right by claiming a Championship hat-trick as the youngest ever driver. And he’s done it.
It was a very rocky season, of which the first half posed that huge question mark over the title chances, handing out Grands Prix wins to seven different drivers. It was after the summer break when Alonso established himself as a leader but soon enough Red Bull started dominating with a highly competitive car, and an even more competitive driver, who gradually took over the lead.
Despite poor qualifying results, Alonso kept reminding the crowds of his greatness by consistently moving to the front of the grid and expertly using the surrounding conditions on the track to claim consecutive podium finishes. He followed suit in Brazil to move to the front section of the grid like a true Champion, and to finish on podium for the 13 time this season. However, the pressure contributed to the difficult weather conditions in which he pushed the car to its limits, but could not achieve a win.
“I’m proud of my team and I will try again next year,” he said decisively after the race, but with grief clear on his face.
On the other hand, despite a young F1 career, Vettel proved in 2012 that his two titles were not accidental as he drove the winning car to perfection – Abu Dhabi being the prime example when he finished on the third podium place after starting from the back of the grid. Likewise in Sao Paulo: as 2012 has been marked by unfortunate turns of events, it was a first-lap contact with Williams’ Bruno Senna that made Vettel’s fight for win that much harder, after a side-damage and a spin off; and yet, he was able to place himself in the right position to give him enough points to claim the victory.
Although McLaren’s Jenson Button was the first one to cross the finish line in Brazil, it was the Red Bull team who were celebrating most. It was not the first time the Interlagos circuit produced two winners; just as in 2008, it was the deciding title race, although at that time Ferrari fans were all so much more disappointed as it was their home boy, Felipe Massa, who – despite winning the Grand Prix – missed out on his first career title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton.
Sao Paulo 2012 was Massa’s greatest recovery, considering the difficult beginning of the season and his bounce back to form in the last few races, starting with his first podium win of the year in Japan and impressive, top-grid finishes afterward: he was crying stepping on the third step of the podium, across from the defeated team-mate, and raised cheers from the crowd, comparable with the ones that surrounded Vettel.
The Brazilian Grand Prix was also a special one to Michael Schumacher – the last one of his career. He was visibly happy for his countryman, who has all the chances in the world to equal or even beat the seven-time Champion’s title tally – or his five-consecutive-title-win record.
It was also the last Grand Prix for Lewis Hamilton, but only in McLaren, as he will be taking Schumacher’s place in Mercedes next year. After a fantastic run to victory in Austin and a pole-position start in Brazil, he was set to finish the year – and his McLaren experience – on a high; but yet once more did the unpredictable 2012 work its curse: a collision on lap 54 caused by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who himself looked very strong to mark his own place in the books in Sao Paulo when leading the race, finished the season early for the Brit.
With his somewhat surprise win – he had not stepped on the highest podium since the Belgian Grand Prix in September – Jenson Button establishes himself as the true lead driver of McLaren for 2013; possibly the team’s only reliable point scorer, unless their newest addition, Sergio Perez, pulls his weight – and attracts a bit more luck also. The Mexican left the Interlagos circuit after the first lap contact with Senna and Vettel claiming yet another DNF (did not finish) of the season. Button, who said he would not be playing the “older brother” might need to put some extra effort to keep the team in the competition for the Constructors’ Championship next season, as McLaren finish 2012 third – behind Ferrari and title-claiming Red Bull – and that with two former Champions in their ranks.
Sao Paulo rounded up the 2012 season adequately: it had crashes and retirements, treacherous weather and track conditions, re-written or scrapped race strategies, air thick of emotion, tears of joy and disappointment and most importantly – the onlookers’ thirst to know who’d be the ultimate winner. Unlike any other Grand Prix of the year, it provided the answer – and created more questions in its place. Where will the remaining drivers end up next year? Which team will have the most competitive car? Who will become the next Champion?
The guessing restarts in 2013.