Sebastian Vettel has made history by winning his third consecutive F1 World Championship with a sixth place finish. Meanwhile, Jenson Button claimed victory in a thrilling, action packed race.
Things were far from plain sailing in a rain affected race for Vettel, who becomes the youngest three times champion ever and only the third man in history to win three titles in a row. Sebastian made a bad start from fourth on the grid, and immediately lost several positions.
Things looked over for Vettel before they’d even begun as he was hit by Bruno Senna and spun around at turn four, ending the first lap at the rear of the pack. The chaos at claimed several victims, with Senna, Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado all out of the race.
Up front, it was the two McLarens surging ahead with Fernando Alonso in third, who had made a typically strong start to move into third in the opening laps, with Mark Webber, Nico Hulkenberg and Massa behind. Hulkenberg, who would star in the race, soon passed Webber for fourth.
By lap five, the rain was getting heavier and caught out Alonso, who ran wide at turn one, losing a place to Hulkenberg. With action all through the pack, Vettel was soon making progress. His car was damaged, but not terminally and has soon set a fastest lap.
By lap six, Webber had been passed by Massa, whilst behind Romain Grosjean was caught out in the conditions, hitting the wall heavily towards the end of the lap and becoming the fourth retirement of the race.
Up front, Lewis Hamilton and Button were battling for the lead, changing position multiple times whilst Webber was hit and spun at the first corner by Kamui Kobayashi. Red Bull’s day turned from bad to worse. Button would take the lead by lap eight, with Vettel already up to sixth as Kobayashi pitted.
The rain was now bad enough for many drivers to change on to intermediate tyres, with Webber, Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel all pitting in short succession. Vettel re-joined in eighteenth behind Webber, with Alonso twelfth. Crucially however, two cars stayed out on slick tyres – Button and Hulkenberg.
Button is renowned for being the best driver in tricky conditions and it was proving to be true once again, seemingly coping fine on slick tyres despite the conditions. However, Hulkenberg was never far behind and was soon shaping up for an overtake on the British driver.
Vettel was once again charging back through the pack, with Webber and the Toro Rossos predictably not proving too difficult to overtake. By lap fourteen he was in eleventh place.
It became evident that Button and Hulkenberg were on the correct strategy, and with little rain falling now, the track was drying up. To the surprise of everybody however, Hulkenberg soon put a pass on Button for the lead as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel were back in the pits and changing to slick tyres once more.
The strategy call had given Hulkenberg and Button a huge lead and had pulled a forty second advantage out over the rest of the pack – but would soon be undone. With the track littered with debris from numerous incidents, the safety car was scrambled to clear up the track on lap twenty three.
The top two took this time to pit and were able to re-join comfortably back in the lead, with Hamilton third, Alonso fourth, Vettel fifth, Kobayashi sixth, Webber seventh, Paul di Resta eighth, Daniel Ricciardo ninth and Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the top ten.
The safety car released the field on lap thirty as Kobayashi immediately passed the wounded Red Bull of Vettel, whilst Hulkenberg continued to lead. Hamilton soon fought his way past Button into second place by lap thirty one and set off after the Force India driver, setting multiple fastest laps in the process.
Kobayashi was now locked in combat with Alonso. The Japanese driver passed Alonso for fourth a lap later, before Fernando repaid the compliment.
Massa was still attempting to aid Fernando’s cause, and having been one of the last cars to pit for intermediate tyres was soon racing back up the pack and passed Vettel in the DRS zone on the lap thirty four, demoting Vettel to seventh, but still enough for him to win the championship.
By now however, the weather was changing again, with rain starting to fall heavily once more as the charging Massa passed Kobayashi for fifth. Behind meanwhile, Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, in his final Grand Prix, duelled over tenth position at the first corner.
Further down the field, there was an intense battle between Marussia and Caterham over the much converted tenth place in the team’s championship. The advantage changed between Caterham and Marussia several times, with Vitaly Petrov crucially spinning and losing positions at one stage.
All the cars remained on slick tyres, but the track was becoming increasingly slippery once again. On lap forty eight it claimed its first victim, as Hulkenberg spun in the exact same place as Petrov had, handing the lead to Lewis Hamilton.
Nico Rosberg, having been compromised by a puncture earlier in the race was one of the first to switch to intermediate tyres, whilst Toro Rosso gambled by sending Daniel Ricciardo out on another set of slick tyres.
It soon became apparent that Vettel’s radio was broken, limiting communication between the driver and pit wall. He too came in for slick tyres on lap fifty three, a strategy call that looked to have back fired with rain coming down heavier all the time and the weather noticeably closing in.
Raikkonen meanwhile had dropped out of the points as he had his own adventure, getting caught out at the treacherous final corner and running straight on. He attempted to re-join the track through an escape road, only to find it wasn’t a re-entry, and had to go back the way he’d come. The delay lost him several positions.
Hulkenberg had now caught Hamilton once more by now and was once again soon challenging for the lead. It ended in disaster on lap fifty-five however. Hamilton was attempting to lap a Marussia as Hulkenberg dived for the inside line, spun, and collected the McLaren driver, terminally damaging Hamilton’s car. It was disappointing end to Hamilton’s McLaren career.
The drama promoted Button back into the lead, with Alonso second. Vettel realising his tactical error was back into the pits for intermediates, and with Alonso now second, it suddenly looked like the championship could be going Ferrari’s way once more.
Alonso reacted to Vettel’s second stop, having attempted to say out longer. But with conditions deteriorating all the time, intermediate tyres were definitely the right call and Alonso emerged back in fourth place after his pit stop on lap fifty seven.
Hulkenberg had managed to continue despite his contact with Hamilton, but a change to intermediates and a drive through penalty for the incident dropped him out of contention for the victory. Button meanwhile made his final stop on lap fifty eight and had a comfortable margin, re-joining clearly in the lead.
Button continued to lead with Massa second now and Alonso third, but predictably the Brazilian moved over for Alonso on lap sixty two to promote Fernando to second place once more. Vettel was now seventh – just enough he needed to claim the title for a third straight year, but was closing down quickly on Michael Schumacher.
Only a couple of laps later, Michael let his friend and fellow countryman through to sixth place. The title was beginning to look safer for Vettel, with Alonso now requiring a problem from Button to have any chance of being champion.
There continued to be drama further down the field, as Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov managed to re-pass Charles Pic’s Marussia for twelfth place, a crucial move in giving Caterham tenth place in the championship.
Di Resta meaning made a move on Jean-Eric Vergne for ninth, whilst Kobayashi made light contact and spun whilst trying to find a way past Schumacher. Only a couple of laps later however, and di Resta’s race ended in disaster as he crashed heavily after aquaplaning on the pit straight. The safety car was called for once more, yet with the race now being on lap seventy, that was it.
Button therefore claimed the final victory of the year for McLaren, with Alonso coming home second – losing out by just three points to Vettel in the standings. Massa took his second podium of the year with third, as Webber recovered from his moments earlier in the race to claim fourth. Hulkenberg ended up fifth, with Vettel – the now triple World Champion – finishing sixth. Michael Schumacher took points on his final race with seventh, with Vergne, Kobayashi and Raikkonen completing the top ten.
Petrov’s eleventh place was enough to elevate Caterham ahead of Marussia in the championship, with Pic taking twelfth. Di Resta, Hamilton, Grosjean, Maldonado, Senna and Perez were the six retirements in an action packed race to cap off an incredible 2012 season.
Sebastian Vettel’s performance means he emulates the feats of just two men – Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – in winning three consecutive championships. He also becomes the youngest ever triple World Champion, taking the record away from Ayrton Senna. His name is now firmly in the record books for all time.