Sebastian Vettel wrapped up his third successive Drivers' Championship with a sixth place in Sunday's tumultous Brazilian GP, a race won by Jenson Button.
In a grand prix that lived up to its billing as the season finale, the race lead was held by three different drivers, one of which was Force India's Nico Hulkenberg. He and Jenson Button made the best of the mixed conditions, until a Safety Car on Lap 23 brought them back in range of the field.
Lewis Hamilton exited the race after Hulkenberg crashed into him, leaving the Ferraris in second and third behind Button. However the biggest drama came on Lap 1 when Sebastian Vettel survived a double hit by the Williams of Brono Senna and was spun to the back of the field. The Red Bull endured an afternoon of nerve-wracking moments until Vettel finally brough the car home in sixth place.
Prior to the cars forming up on the grid, Michael Schumacher made a lap of the track with a Thank-You banner attached to his Mercedes as he retired from F1 for the second (and final) time. It had been dry in the morning but in the last few minutes before the grid cleared the rain started to spit down. The ambient temperature was just 19C and the track at 21C.
Seven rows of grid: 1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Webber, 4.Vettel, 5.Massa, 6.Hulkenberg, 7.Alonso, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Rosberg, 10.DiResta, 11.Senna, 12.Perez, 13.Schumacher, 14.Kobayashi
As the red lights went out the Mclarens were away fairly well, but it was the Ferraris who were really on the move, Massa came round the outside of both Red Bulls and swept past Jenson Button into P2.
Behind him Fernando Alonso got past the slow-starting Nico Hulkenberg and came round the outside of Mark Webber. Webber had already ruined Vettel's start by crowding him to the inside but managed to get back in front of Alonso through Turn 2.
Vettel being blocked by his team-mate slowed him through Turns 1 and 2 and allowed Hulkenberg though into P6 as they all piled down the hill into the tricky Lake Descent turn. Bruno Senna was behind Kimi Raikkonen and Paul Di Resta but still launched himself up the inside of Di Resta and struck Vettel who was ahead of them all. Raikkonen left the track and ran wide and Senna's Williams had two hits on the Red Bull and spun it round.
Sergio Perez tried to take avoiding action but was collected by the Williams and both were out on the spot. Vettel meanwhile was in the middle of the track and allowed his car to roll down hill, all the time keeping his car straight so the field could pass either side. He resumed plain last.
Button overtook Massa on the slippery opening lap and as the cars crossed the line the order was: 1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Massa, 4.Webber, 5.Alonso, 6.Heidfeld, 7.DiResta, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Maldonado, 10. Kobayashi, 11.Rosberg, 12.Ricciardo.
Felipe Massa slowed at the end of Lap 1 which allowed Webber to draw alongside on the outside of the Ferrari and Alonso through on the inside, Fernando moving from P5 to P3 in one move. Massa managed to hang onto P4, though not for long.
The man making the most of the slippery conditions was Nico Hulkenberg who was past Webber on Lap 3 and up into P4. The positions at the front were now: 1.Hamilton, 2.Button, 3.Alonso, 4.Hulkenberg, 5.Webber, 6.Massa, 7.DiResta, 8.Raikkonen
Alonso was trying very hard and on Lap 5 ran wide at Turn 1 allowing Hulkenberg up to P3, but he managed to scramble across the run-off to keep ahead of Webber and Massa. Romain Grosjean went careering off into the barriers on Lap 6
By Lap 7 the two Mclarens were getting very racy with Jenson Button excelling in mixed conditions and challenging Hamilton for the lead. The slight drizzle had continued and lap times weren't improving, but the two McLarens and the Force India were pulling away from the Ferrari of Alonso.
Mark Webber was hit by Kobayashi and spun on Lap 7 and with all the chaos of cars running wide Sebastian Vettel was up to P8 on Lap 7 and an amazing P6 by Lap 8.
A lap later and Jenson Button, who'd been pressuring Hamilton into Turn 1, was through into the lead. By Lap 9 he was 1.6 seconds clear of Hamilton. With the rain getting worse drivers started to head for pitlane for intermediate tyres. Kimi Raikkonen had already been in for intermediate tyres at the end of Lap 5 and wasn't going quicker than the leaders but the lap time was only two seconds behind.
On Lap 9 Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber pitted for inters and on Lap 10 Hamilton and Alonso were in for them, too. The whole field would eventually come in for inters except the two out front. What was more interesting was that Button and Hulkenberg were still going quicker than the rest of the field on slicks and a dry line started to emerge.
As it got drier, so Hulkenberg edged closer to Button and was alongside him on Lap 17 and through into the lead on Lap 18. At this stage drivers realised that inters weren't the tyre to be on and came back into the pitlane for slicks. This meant that on Lap 20, Hulkenberg and Button (neither of whom had pitted) had a massive 45 second lead and everyone else had pitted at least twice.
Positions on Lap 21: 1.Hulkenberg, 2. Button, 3.Hamilton, 4.Alonso, 5.Vettel, 6.Kobayashi, 7.Webber, 8.Di Resta, 9.Ricciardo, 10.Vergne, 11.Raikkonen, 12.Massa
Vettel was almost the slowest down the main straight and while Adrian Newey looked at photos of Vettel's broken floor from his position on the pitwall, the team tried to keep in radio contact with their driver - which was proving to be intermittant. He had Alonso in sight just in front of him on the road who was a massive 65 seconds behind the leader.
Following midfield clashes some parts of wings and broken carbon fibre were littering the track and Alonso made sure he was on team radio complaining there was "too much debis on the track." The following lap (lap 23) the Safety Car was dispatched, though more in response to Nico Rosberg picking up a puncture from running over it than suggestions from the Ferrari driver.
Hulkenberg and Button immediately pitted for tyres and it took a long time for the field to close up and then the lapped cars (of which there were many) to unlap themselves. Finally it came in at the end of Lap 29 and Hulkenberg made a good getaway.
Webber looked to be causing more problems for Vettel by overtaking him on the restart and while the Aussie went round the outside into Turn 1 - and ran wide onto the run-off - Kamui Kobayashi passed Vettel on the inside. With the pack bunched up Webber lost a shedload of places.
Hamilton, who had been half a lap behind Button, then overtook his team-mate on Lap 31. Kobayashi, who was very fast down the pit straight passed Alonso for P4 and the following lap Alonso was back past him again to return the status quo.
Positions on Lap 33: 1.Hulkenberg, 2.Hamilton, 3.Button, 4.Alonso, 5.Kobayashi, 6.Vettel, 7.Massa 8.Ricciardo, 9.DiResta 10.Schumacher, 11.Webber, 12.Raikkonen
Rather than risk anything, Vettel let Massa pass him on Lap 34 as the race settled down for a rare moment. The battle between the new teams was hotting up with Caterham's Vitaly Petrov into P13 and Marussia's Charles Pic (who would be at Caterham in 2013) behind in P14. Massa overtook Kamui Kobayashi in a brave move around the outside into Turn 4 Lake Descent, on Lap 36 and the Ferraris were now running 4th and 5th.
Hamilton began to catch Hulkenberg with Button a couple of seconds back. The Force India driver was complaining of slight gearbox issues as the McLaren closed to 1.2 seconds on Lap 45.
Vettel had been dropping off Kobayashi very quickly all of a sudden - on Lap 50 the gap moved out by a second to 2.5 seconds, and then a lap later it was 3.7 seconds. So the Red Bull came in at the end of Lap 52 for more medium tyres.
This was happening as the track was getting slippier and on Lap 53 Alonso lost two seconds on the cars in front in Sector 2 alone. Kimi Raikkonen ran wide off track and headed for what he thought was a route back onto the track but in fact it was the old circuit and he suddenly had to spin the car round and go back the way he had come. Rallycrossing across the grass to get back on the circuit.
On Lap 54 Hamilton tried to make a move around the outside of Hulkenberg going into Turn 1. Hamilton was in front when Hulkenberg lost control of his car, his rear wheel spinning into Lewis's left front and breaking the suspension.
Hamilton was out on the spot and Hulkenberg would get a drive-through penalty for his lack of care. Jenson Button was now through into the lead but Hulkenberg continued in P2. Then to add to the drama, the rain began to get even worse.
So Vettel had to take on inters having just stopped for slicks, but more surprising, Fernando Alonso was due to come in for inters at the end of Lap 56 but kept on going, thus losing out on a whole chunk of time and allowing Felipe Massa past him. Button and Hulkenberg pitted for inters, Hulkenberg served his drive-through penalty which all shook out to.
Positions on Lap 59: 1>Button, 2.Massa, 3.Alonso, 4.Hulkenberg, 5.Webber, 6.Schumacher, 7.Vettel, 8.Kobayashi, 9.Vergne, 10.DiResta.
The intensity of the rain grew and lap times slowed and there were thoughts that the full wet tyre might soon be needed. Button's engineer asked him repeatedly if he was "happy on that tyre" (the inter). But the moment for full wets didn't arrive. Massa duly let Alonso catch him and pass him. Mark Webber passed Hulkenberg for P4 and Michael Schumacher moved over to let his fellow countryman past from P7 into P6.
Thus in the final six laps Alonso, twenty seconds in arrears, had to rely on Button falling off the road or encountering mechanical problems to win the championship. As it was, we didn't get to Lap 71 before the race was over. There was water coming off the hill down the start/finish straight which Paul DiResta's Force India hit, snapping the car into the barrier. Button had also encountered it and had held a snap slide from the MP4-27. With a broken car on the straight there was no option to bring out the Safety Car and the field cruised to the flag with Button winning the opening and closing GPs of the season.
Thus Sebastian Vettel became the youngest triple World Champion and Ferrari hearts were broken yet again. Alonso finished second ahead of Massa, Webber, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Schumacher, Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen.
Vitaly Petrov passed Charles Pic on Lap 66 to take the all-important 12th place, which became 11th at the flag with the removal of DiResta. Yet again the Brazilian Grand Prix had served up an epic drama and one which looked to have an unfortunate ending for Red Bull on Lap 1.
01. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h45:22.656
02. Alonso Ferrari + 2.754
03. Massa Ferrari + 3.615
04. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 4.936
05. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 5.708
06. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 9.453
07. Schumacher Mercedes + 11.900
08. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 28.600
09. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 31.200
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
Did Not Finish
Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 55
Grosjean Lotus-Renault 6
Maldonado Williams-Renault 2
Senna Williams-Renault 1
Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1
Any reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of 365 Media Group is strictly forbidden.