What a race, what a year
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle reviews the epic season-ending Brazilian GP and reflects on what the future might hold for the sport's leading drivers...
Last Updated: 27/11/12 11:45am
If Fernando Alonso can face watching a re-run of Sunday's Brazilian GP he will simply shake his head in total amazement that he is not the World Champion.
Sebastian Vettel was both amazing and truly lucky. After a reasonable start he found himself squeezed gently towards the inside wall into turn one by his team-mate Mark Webber which I suspect didn't impress Red Bull. Forced to lift off and understandably rather cautious he found himself falling back into the pack.
As his rival Alonso did his usual dragster start and banzai around the outside, Vettel arrived at Turn Four under pressure. His first stroke of luck was the brilliance of Kimi Raikkonen who, on a damp track, realised he was going to squarely thump the champion-elect in the gearbox with some force and so drove his Lotus off the track with great presence of mind.
Vettel then, from the extreme outside of the track, swept into the apex of T4 on a normal racing line, but frankly there must have been close to a 100% chance that another gripless desperado would be slithering into that space. The fast-starting Bruno Senna was under control and accurate in his aim for the apex and would be eliminated on the spot after a double contact with Vettel - as would Sergio Perez who collected Senna.
The first contact spun Vettel around and damaged his bodywork, and the second gave his right rear suspension a serious thump. Through this Vettel was brilliantly freewheeling his car backwards in a straight line trying to help the rest of the pack avoid him. He was now running last - but, incredibly, still in the race. The team had been worrying about a potential alternator failure but now they had a car which looked as if it had suffered a shark attack.
The first 20 laps of the race were the most exciting I have ever had the privilege to commentate on. The wheel-to-wheel action between Button and Hamilton was thrilling, masterful, respectful, risky, and mesmerising. And all watched by Nico Hulkenberg who then impressively made his way to the front of the race.
I happened across Force India Sporting Director Andy Stevenson before the race who clearly stated that he felt Hulkenberg was out of position on the grid - because he was faster than some of those in front. I turned around to see just two Red Bulls and two McLarens and said I thought that was quite a bold statement. Less than an hour later they were leading in a car which had been set up with a nod towards a wet race.
As the light rain eased and then returned it seemed impossible to find the right tyre. It was a day to stay on the track but that was much easier said than done. Some stuck with their original slicks, most notably Hulkenberg and Button, others grabbed the safety and comfort of intermediates. The lap times ebbed and flowed so much it was impossible to initially say which was the right choice.
Hulkenberg looked comfortably in charge at the front leading from laps 18 to 47 but made two critical errors. The first was a half spin which cost him the lead, the second a slightly impetuous charge down the inside of turn one to regain the lead from Hamilton who had been wrong-footed in traffic. He lost the rear and collected Hamilton, ending up off the ground flying along at 45 degrees. Incredibly his car was intact although his drive-through penalty seemed to have been announced before he landed. It also signalled a sad end to Hamilton's McLaren career.
Hulkenberg's penalty was tough in such track conditions although he had clearly wiped out Hamilton while losing control of his car. The stewards, I believe, treat the first lap differently in the general chaos and didn't choose to take a look at Vettel's contact with Senna who was similarly wiped out. As Vettel was also under control and on the racing line, it would have been deemed a racing incident.
Vettel's difficult afternoon endured. He was caught napping on the safety car restart which had been deployed because there was carbon fibre spread all around the track like confetti. His radio failed and so although he could hear the team they couldn't hear him. He went for a new set of slicks just before he needed intermediates. On arrival for those inters his unannounced stop meant they were still in blankets. And yet he still remained in championship-winning position providing he stayed on track and nothing happened to Button who was now leading from Fernando Relentless.
Paul di Resta lost his Force India in standing water on those apparently easy but ultimately treacherous gentle left kinks heading up to the startline. In the rain it's so scary through there you can take a bite out of your seat...
The resulting safety car neutralised the end of the race and everybody's race positions were crystallised. Vettel was champion, Button the race winner, and Caterham would crucially take the lucrative 10th place off Marussia, passing the baton on financial pressure.
We can forgive Felipe Massa 'crying like a baby' as he put it on the podium. His emotions would flood back from 2008 here when he was World Champion for a few seconds in his own back yard. He's had a largely awful season but is now surely on his consistently best form since the clout to his head back in 2009. He helped Ferrari ace McLaren - who, like Red Bull, won seven races - for second in the Constructors' Championship, thereby partly easing the pain for many at Ferrari.
Comedy moment of the race was Kimi Raikkonen who ran wide into Juncao, the treacherous left hander before climbing the hill. He had done this back in 2001 and knew the old Interlagos track offered a route back onto the racetrack. Except this time it was firmly gated. His 180 degree U-turn in a confined space under pressure was worthy of Strictly Come Dancing, although another time he might take the Tarmac road back to civilisation rather than charging across the grass. After his many adventures he cruised over the line in 10th place. He has been truly impressive in his comeback year.
My driver of the year is Fernando Alonso, the man who scored most podiums - thirteen - without the benefit of the fastest car. His sheer grit and determination along with sublime car control meant that the racer in me wanted him to steal the championship.
Instead, at just 25 years and 124 days of age, Sebastian Vettel's majestic skills and mature head ensured that he became the youngest triple World Champion in Formula One history. He has the potential to smash even Schumacher's achievements and many men of a certain age like me will reflect on how much they had achieved before 26. Don't try to tell me that he's not the real deal or that he's not yet a great driver.
Jenson Button won the first and last race of the season and looks very ready to lead McLaren forward. If he can deliver more consistently there's another championship in him yet.
Regulation consistency means that 2013 should bring us more of the same. I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Sky Sports F1 team this year and can't wait for the new season. We look forward to your company to share all the thrills and spills.