Sebastian Vettel is Formula 1's youngest ever three-time World Champion

Sebastian Vettel has narrowly edged out Fernando Alonso to become the youngest ever three-time World Champion of Formula 1, recovering from a first-lap collision to finish in sixth place to win the crown by three points.

In one of the most action-packed finales in the sport’s history, Jenson Button claimed a measured win after Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hülkenberg collided while disputing the lead in a rain-affected race at Interlagos.

Interlagos has been the stage for several dramatic title-deciders in recent years, and this year’s race will go down as one of the best. The race saw plenty of heroic drives up and down the field as the drivers fought with the ever-changing conditions and each other over 71 enthralling laps.

The first of several rain showers fell as the grid was being prepared for the race, which would see Hamilton and Button start from an all-McLaren front row in what was the former’s final race for McLaren before he joins Mercedes next season.

Starting from fourth place, Vettel simply needed a top-four finish to deny Alonso any chance of a third title, while Alonso would have to fight his way onto the podium from seventh on the grid to even stand a chance of his own championship glory.

Hamilton leads the field into Turn 1
Hamilton leads the squabbling pack into Turn 1; chaos would quickly unfold…

Despite the conditions, the entire pack made it safely through the opening sequence of corners, with Hamilton converting pole into an early lead, while the fast-starting Ferraris of Massa and Alonso tried to pass the slower-starting Button, Mark Webber and a cautious Vettel.

But all hell was to break loose at Turn 4. Kimi Räikkönen out-braked himself and ran off the circuit to avoid Vettel, who turned into the apex and chopped across Bruno Senna, who was perhaps being too optimistic trying to lunge down the inside of the corner.

The German was tipped into a spin by Senna, only to be clobbered a second time by the local driver. The accident also saw Sergio Pérez’s Sauber get tagged, leading to instant retirements for Senna and Pérez, while Vettel was incredibly able to rejoin at the tail of the field with some heavy damage to the left rear quarter of his Red Bull RB8.

Disaster! Vettel is hit by Bruno Senna on the opening lap, while Pérez was an innocent bystander
Disaster! Vettel is hit by Bruno Senna on the opening lap, while Pérez was an innocent bystander

At this point, it wasn’t even a certainty that Vettel would be able to finish the race, and Alonso must have though all his wishes had come at once. But Vettel wasn’t to be denied, and he staged a comeback drive reminiscent of his Abu Dhabi feat just three weekends ago to tiger back into contention.

Up at the front, the lead chopped and changed as much as the track conditions and weather.

With the entire field having started the race on dry-weather tyres, most elected to pit for intermediates at the soonest available opportunity, whereas Button – who had taken the lead from Hamilton in an entertaining exchange in the opening laps – opted to remain out on track on his slick rubber.

The Englishman was harried by Hülkenberg – who also opted to stay on the dry tyres – and the German took the initiative to claim the lead of the race from Button on the eighteenth lap.

Meanwhile, Vettel was charging through the lower order and midfield, and incredibly he was up to sixth place by Lap 9!

His cause would be helped further by the eventual appearance of the Safety Car, which was triggered courtesy of a large amount of carbonfibre debris littered along various points of the circuit as other drivers came to grief in the slippery conditions.

By this point, F1’s crashing specialists – we can speak only of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean, of course – had already ended their races early with their own impacts with the Armco.

This allowed the rest of the slick-shod runners to switch to wet-weather tyres, and Hülkenberg and Button formed a 1-2 without having lost any positions.

At the restart, Hamilton quickly returned serve on his team-mate to take second, and slowly and steadily set about whittling away at the lead of the assured Hülkenberg, who was on course to deliver Force India a sensational result on the very circuit where he’d claimed pole position for Williams just two years earlier.

But struggling for grip, he handed first place to Hamilton with a quick half-spin Laranjinha, only to compound his misery further when he hit Hamilton just seven laps later as he tried a move down the inside of Turn 1.

Hulkenberg ends Hamilton's race when he hits the McLaren driverMomentarily losing the back end of his car, he spun and clobbered Hamilton’s left-front suspension, causing instant retirement to the Englishman who had driven a fine Grand Prix. The stewards were quick to react and issue the German with a drive-through penalty for his troubles.

That all gave Button a lead he wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the race, with the final chapter seeing the rain intensify over the last twenty laps.

By now, Alonso was up to third place behind team-mate Massa, who duly let the Spaniard through to claim the extra three points for second place.

Vettel, after several visits to the pits, lay in seventh place – more than enough to ensure the title would remain his – but his cause was helped further when his compatriot and good friend Michael Schumacher handed him sixth place in his last ever Grand Prix.

Alonso was unable to chase down Button, and the top-three positions were confirmed when Paul di Resta lost control approaching the start/finish straight on the penultimate lap, triggering the Safety Car that would bring the race to a close.

And so it was a jubilant Button who claimed victory – as he had started the 2012 season – while Ferrari’s double podium was enough to ensure the Italian team would claim second place in the Constructors’ Championship from McLaren.

Mark Webber finished in fourth place ahead of a sheepish Hülkenberg, while Vettel celebrated a third title with sixth place, as Schumacher, Jean-Éric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Räikkönen rounded out the points-paying positions.

2012 Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (71 laps):

Driver Team Laps Result
1. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 71 1:45:22.656
2. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 71 + 2.754
3. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 71 + 3.615
4. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 71 + 4.936
5. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 71 + 5.708
6. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 71 + 9.453
7. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 71 + 11.907
8. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 71 + 28.653
9. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 71 + 31.250
10. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 70 1 lap behind
11. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 70 1 lap behind
12. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 70 1 lap behind
13. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 70 1 lap behind
14. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 70 1 lap behind
15. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 70 1 lap behind
16. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 70 1 lap behind
17. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 69 2 laps behind
18. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 69 2 laps behind
19. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 68 Accident
DNF. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 54 Collision
DNF. Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 5 Accident
DNF. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1 Accident
DNF. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 0 Collision
DNF. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 0 Collision
  FASTEST LAP        
  Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 38 1:18.069

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.