Brazil certainly did deliver the unexpected. An absolutely electrifying race delivered action from the outset with Championship contender Fernando Alonso making another good start propelling himself into fourth place by Turn 1, with his team mate, Felipe Massa, making a start equally as good to take second. His rival, Sebastian Vettel, was cautious into turn 1 and ended up dropping down the field, turned in on Bruno Senna causing contact, and found himself facing the wrong way on the track watching everyone whooshing past him, together it seemed, with his title chances. Team radio was aired telling Vettel that the considerable damage to the floor of his car couldn’t be fixed making his chances seem slim at this point in the race.
With virtually the whole race left to run though, the German had plenty of time to change his fortunes and the Championship pendulum had swung back in his favour as he clawed his way back up to eighth place by lap 8. Meanwhile, Alonso had taken advantage of a tussling Mark Webber and Felipe Massa to duck past into third, but a lock up saw him run wide on lap five allowing Nico Hulkenberg to snatch the precious final podium place he needed to keep his title hopes alive.
As the rain began to fall more heavily, Kimi Raikkonen became the first man in for intermediate tyres while his team mate, Romain Grosjean, had a meeting with the barriers after touching the white line made slippery in the wet conditions. Kamui Kobayashi, in his final race for Sauber, nudged Mark Webber causing him to run off the track while team mates Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton battled over the lead, a battle eventually one by the former. Lap 10 saw Mark Webber come in for intermediate tyres, closely followed by both title chasers. Following the pit stops, Vettel was down in 17th with Alonso in 12th, while drivers like Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock and Vitaly Petrov moved up in the points due to their decisions not to stop. Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg made good calls not coming in, therefore preserving their lead over the rest of the field. The Championship leaders would certainly have benefited from making the same brave decision, but, having more to lose, they didn’t want to take the risk of a spin on slicks.
By lap 18, the track was drying and Nico Hulkenberg overtook Button for the lead. Alonso and Hamilton came in for dry tyres, Red Bull followed suit a lap later for Vettel. On lap 19, Vettel was lying fifth behind his title rival in fourth. Due to debris on the track a safety car was employed allowing Hulkenberg and Button to dive into the pits for their tyre stops. Hulkenberg exited the pits in front of Button preserving his lead. When the safety car peeled away at the end of lap 29, a lapse of concentraction for Vettel saw him drop down to sixth and two laps later, Kamui Kobayashi took fourth place from Alonso, a move that was rectified by Fernando on lap 33 using slipstream from the Sauber. With a drying track showing the imperfections in Vettel’s car and his lack of pace becoming more and more evident, the German was overtaken by Massa on lap 34.
The pendulum took a swing back in Fernando Alonso’s favour when the back end of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India slid out while trying to make a move on Lewis Hamilton for the lead, a move that resulted in retirement for the McLaren driver in his final race for the team. A heartfelt round of applause awaited Lewis as he walked into the pit garage for the last time. The contact between Hulkenberg and Hamilton promoted Alonso into third, putting him back in championship contention. His prospects looked more promising when Red Bull weren’t ready with the right tyres when Vettel took another stop for intermediates. However, struggling on dry tyres, Alonso just managed to save himself from spinning, then had a slow journey to the pits to follow suit in the use of intermediates. He emerged fourth, with the swing back towards Vettel who was now leading the championship by three points. On lap 62, ‘Fernando was faster than Massa’ and took second but it wasn’t enough as the race finished behind the safety car due to Paul Di Resta’s crash. Sebastian Vettel was crowned 2012 World Champion on lap 70 of a 71 lap race. Ending the year as he started it in Australia, Jenson Button took the victory for McLaren.
There was a touching moment between Vettel and Schumacher at the end of the race with the retiree handing over the baton of most recent driver to be decorated with the accolade of winning three consecutive World Championships. Any sadness Michael had on completion of his final race seemed to be overcome by happiness and pride for Sebastian and his achievements. The seven time World Champion gave the fans a final showing of his legendary brilliance behind the wheel when battling Kimi Raikkonen for tenth place on lap 39. Finishing seventh was a great effort and fitting farewell before bowing out of the sport.
In the same vein as the rest of the season, Fernando Alonso remained positive, refused to give up and gave it absolutely everything, but it wasn’t to be. The quality he has shown all year, achieving magical things with an inferior car, has treated us to a thrilling title fight. For that, the Ferrari man is a true winner.