The Interlagos circuit in Sao Paolo was the setting for the finale of 2012 Formula1 season and boy was it a fitting finale!
THE BUILDUP – After 19 races, Alonso was 13 points behind Vettel, the only 2 drivers in contention for the crown. The weekend started with a hot Friday and Red Bull and McLaren looking very strong. Rain had been predicted for Sunday but the predictions were beginning to disappear as the weekend progressed. On Saturday, McLaren stole the thunder as they grabbed their 62nd front row lockout in an all time record. Red Bulls occupied row 2 and crucially Vettel was in P4, he didn’t put a particularly clean lap, just ahead of a heroic Massa. This man simply comes alive in his home race and the emotions could be seen throughout the weekend. Alonso could only manage P8, which was later elevated to P7 as Maldonado added yet another penalty to the wrong side of his CV. This time he missed the weighbridge direction in Q2 and as a result would start on P16. Earlier Massa and Alonso had barely scraped through to Q3 under changeable track conditions but Alonso’s race craft was not to be doubted, a podium was always a real possibility.
THE RACE DAY – Come Sunday and it was a day of many farewells and many firsts. It was a chance for Alonso and Vettel to become a triple world champion. The most successful driver in F1 history, Micheal Schumacher, was in his last grand prix. Nico Hulkenburg, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Kamui Kobayashi, Charles Pic were all doing their last grand prix for their current teams with many other like Heikki, Vitaly Petrov, Pedro de la Rosa, Karthikeyan without a confirmed race seat for 2013 were out their to prove a point. HRT, in all probability, will not make the grid in 2013 which is sad as they had moved to a dedicated factory in Spain only this year.
POSITIONS UP FOR GRABS IN THE STANDINGS – The fight was limited not only to the front of the grid. Even though Red Bull had sealed the Constructor’s title at Austin, the second place was being fiercely contested by Ferrari and McLaren. Force India were hot on the heels of Sauber who were themselves chasing Mercedes for the fifth position. Further down, Caterham and Marussia had more than 10 million pounds at stake for the tenth spot. Caterham needed a 12th or better finish in the race to take back the 10th spot in the standings. The competition in driver’s standings was limited to Alonso chasing Vettel for the title and Kimi being pursued by Hamilton for the third spot.
THE RACE – Clouds had begun to form as the teams were preparing on the grid but all decided to start on slick tyres. Micheal Schumacher was very composed on the outside before getting in the car but as he lined up on the grid his emotions were there for all to see as he thanked the team, his fans and followers all over the world. What a legend this man has been! Many of the fans can simply be attributed to be watching the sport just because of him.
It was time for the 5 red lights to go out and signal the final 71 laps of 2012 season. The Red Bulls had a poor start and simultaneously, the Ferrari’s had a brilliant start. Massa was already in P2 as the cars reached the Senna ‘S’s and Alonso had also made 3 positions. Vettel, then started to move backwards and into the dangerous mid field. He got tagged by Bruno Senna whose home race was over by turn 4 and Vettel was left facing the wrong direction and at the back of the field. He had visible damage to his car (side pod and exhaust) but thankfully he could continue racing. Red Bulls couldn’t repair such damage anyways during the race. The conditions were very slippery and cars began going up and down the order. Lap 2 saw Massa losing positions on turn 1 as Alonso and the McLarens continued on the charge. Another man on charge for Sahara Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and before many noticed, he was leading the race. He proved that his pole position for Williams in 2010 in a damp Interlagos was not fluke and he really likes this track when wet.
The Ferrari’s and Red Bulls pitted for tyres but the Hulk continued on his charge and lead for over 30 laps. Vettel kept moving in and out of championship winning positions as he kept on pitting and his last stop was particularly poor with the car stationary for over 10 seconds. The drama on the track continued as Hulk, who had slipped to second began attacking Hamilton for the lead and after a good run down the start finish straight, slightly lost the rear end of his car and hit Lewis. Lewis’s race was yet again over from the race lead and Hulk was handed a drive through penalty. Alonso fans were given some hope that Vettel might a penalty too as he seemed to overtake under yellow flag, which were actually the orange markers on the barriers. Another interesting and rather funny moment came when Kimi went off the track due to low visibility and foggy visor and decided to take the support race pit lane as an escape road only to find the gates closed and had to come back all the way to the race track.
In the last few laps, Alonso having already done whatever he could, could now only hope for Button, who was leading by 20 seconds or Vettel, whose tyres were almost gone, to have an issue but both were advised by their pit wall to keep the car on the track and cruise. di Resta had a big shunt on the final corner on lap 69 which brought out the safety car and with the scale of the accident and resultant yellow flags, there was no more scope for any position changes. The title had been decided. As the chequered flag fell after lap 71, Button won the race with Alonso and Massa in P3 in his home race. Alonso had fought hard, almost like the Samurai but Vettel was equally up to the task.
Fans of Vettel and Alonso can be proud of what their drivers have achieved this season making it the most exciting one for years. Vettel will savor this third consecutive title while Alonso was so composed and motivated to come back in 2013 with the same spirit. Massa was in tears on the podium as he endured a very tough year that saw him come back from almost being sacked to end the season with some really strong finishes. In my opinion, Alonso the driver, deserved the title more but he was ultimately beaten by a much stronger car being driven by an equally competitive driver. Ferrari must now put in all efforts to provide Alonso with a more deserving car next season.