Race - Button first, Alonso second, Vettel champion 25 Nov 2012
Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel may have finished only sixth in a stunning Brazilian race on Sunday, as McLarens Jenson Button headed the Ferraris of title rival Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa home, but it was enough to make him the first triple world champion since Michael Schumacher.
Light rain made the start difficult, but then Vettel was spun through 180 degrees in Turn Four as he was hit by Bruno Sennas Williams, which then took out Sergio Perezs Sauber.
McLarens Lewis Hamilton led Button in the early stages as Massa boiled through to snatch third place and then handed the place to Alonso on the fifth lap. But soon the conditions were bad enough for some to consider switching their slicks for Pirelli's intermediates.
Button began to press Hamilton, and as Alonso ran wide in Turn One, Nico Hulkenberg took third in his Force India. Button led the sixth lap by a hair from Hamilton, who quickly repassed, but by lap eight Button was back in control and on the tenth Hamilton pitted, together with Alonso and Vettel, for the intermediates.
As mayhem reigned in the pits, Button and Hulkenberg - both still on slicks - pulled out a 40s lead, and on the 18th lap the German moved ahead. But their advantage was negated by a safety-car intervention between laps 23 and 29 to clear away debris, handing their pursuers a lifeline.
On the restart on Lap 30 Hulkenberg pulled away, but Button had grained his front tyres and was repassed by Hamilton. The latter then set about reeling in Hulkenberg and snatched the lead on the 48th lap when the Force India twitched sideways. The conditions were beginning to worsen with more rain, however, and as the two leaders come across Raikkonen on the 54th lap, rejoining after a spin, and lapped runners Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock, Hulkenberg grabbed the opportunity to dive inside Hamilton as they crossed the line to start the 55th lap.
Unfortunately he then spun under braking for the Senna S, and hit Hamiltons left-front wheel. The Britons last race for McLaren thus ended badly, and as Button resumed the lead Hulkenberg dropped back after being awarded a drive-through penalty for the incident.
There was more drama. Vettel pitted for medium tyres on the 52nd lap, then came back in on the 54th for intermediates, but the second time around the tyre warmer on the new right-front wheel proved reluctant to come off, costing him precious time.
So with 11 laps to go Button was 16s ahead of Massa, who had driven a heroic race in which he helped Alonso at every opportunity. He duly handed his second place to the Spaniard on the 62nd lap, as Vettel worked his way up to sixth behind team mate Webber, whod lost time earlier with a half spin, and Hulkenberg.
When Vettel subsequently overtook Schumacher on the 64th lap, the points situation became 281 to 278. There was to be no miracle for Ferrari, after all. Vettel was the triple consecutive world champion.
But there was one more drama to be played out. It came when Paul di Resta crashed his Force India heavily in the final sector on the 69th lap, bringing the safety car out again. Di Resta was okay, and as the safety car pulled in again before the 71st lap was over, in accordance with the rules, the field crossed the line for the last time under the yellows.
Button was delighted with a book-end victory, while Alonso was philosophical in defeat and Massa emotional on his home ground in another race in which he could have outpaced his team leader.
Ferrari thus stayed ahead of McLaren for the runner-up slot in the constructors championship. Webber was fortunate to be fourth after his adventures, as was Hulkenberg to be fifth. Vettel beamed from ear to ear, no longer caring that his damaged Red Bull had been bog slow in a straight line.
Behind Schumacher, seventh on his 306th and final outing, Jean-Eric Vergne drove a great race to eighth for Toro Rosso as Kamui Kobayashis yo-yo race yielded Sauber ninth ahead of Raikkonen, who never recovered from the off in Turn 12 where he had much trouble getting back on to the track after a trip up an escape road.
Eleventh was the subject of a massive fight between Caterham and Marussia. In the end Vitaly Petrov atoned for a spin while fighting with Charles Pic to catch and repass the Frenchman. That one move was worth 10th in the constructors standings to Tony Fernandes team, as they moved back ahead of Marussia.
Daniel Ricciardo was 13th after a late tyre stop in his Toro Rosso, but was comfortably ahead of the fight for 14th between Caterhams Heikki Kovalainen, Nico Rosberg who had an appalling day in his Mercedes, and Marussias Timo Glock.
Kovalainen's late pass on both was the icing on the cake for Caterham. Pedro de la Rosa headed Narain Karthikeyan home in the HRTs, and Di Resta was classified 19th as Hamilton, Senna and Perez were joined on the retirement list by Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado who also spun out.
For tickets and travel to 2013 FORMULA 1 races, click here.
For FORMULA 1 and F1 team merchandise, click here.