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2012 Formula 1 Season Ends With A Vettel Triple

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 26 2012

Sebastian Vettel won his third straight world driving championship on a crazy day in Brazil. (File photos courtesy of COTA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The message filling Sebastian Vettel’s helmet as he crossed the finish line behind Formula One’s Safety Car Sunday was loud-and-proud: “You’re a triple World Champion. You are The Man!”

Unfortunately, the radio in Vettel’s dinged-up race car was only half-working and his Red Bull Racing/Renault teammates couldn’t hear his reply. “I was crying in the car, so maybe I’m happy for that,” said Vettel, at 25, the youngest three-time World Driving Champion in the 62-year history of F1.

Vettel’s sixth-place finish in the rain-plagued Brazilian Grand Prix locked up his historic third consecutive World Championship, and a place alongside F1 legends Juan Manuel Fangio (1954-56) of Argentina and fellow-German Michael Schumacher (2000-02) as the only drivers to prevail back-to-back-to-back.

Vettel, who began the weekend around the Interlagos Circuit with a 13-point lead over Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, finished with a three-point (281-278) advantage after the latter’s runnerup result to race-winner Jenson Button of McLaren/Mercedes. Vettel added the Driver’s title to the Constructors Championship he and teammate Mark Webber secured one week earlier during the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Vettel, whose race began with an opening-lap crash after contact with the

Sebastian Vettel made history in Brazil.

Williams/Renault being driven for the final time by Brazilian Bruno Senna. “We are in Sao Paulo here, the place where (triple World Champion) Ayrton Senna was born and came from and the place where he was buried. To come here and win the championship for the third time, I don’t really know what to say.

“I’d say big thanks to everyone in the team. Of course, this sounds like a bit of a standard phrase and sometimes we get criticized. I really feel as one of the guys. I don’t feel more important, less important. I know I’m driving the car. And of course, I know if I turn right in a straight line I hit the wall and that’s it. It’s pretty easy in that regard. But I really feel as one of them and what we achieved today is not what happened in the race. It’s what we’ve been working for since I joined the team _ everyone here at the track, back in the factory. It’s a massive amount of work that’s been done throughout the whole year. Now (Monday) the season is over and the guys are already flat-out for the last couple of weeks preparing for next year. You cannot afford to lift.”

Vettel, who qualified fourth, nearly had his race ended moments after the green lights flashed. As pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, McLaren teammate Button and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa bolted away under drizzly conditions, Vettel slipped to seventh heading into Turn 1 and paid for it when he was tapped from behind by Bruno Senna, nephew of Ayrton, in the Turn 2-4 section.

“Imagine yourself (facing) the wrong way around at (Turns) 2 and 4,” Vettel said. “It looked exactly like that. I had a lot of cars coming and I was in the wrong way.” Vettel’s car suffered damage to its front wing, rear diffuser and along the left rear sidepod area near the exhaust outlet.

“Obviously, we could see in the dry conditions later on the pace wasn’t there and I was really slow down the straights, which made it very easy for others to pass us and very difficult for us to pass someone,” said Vettel, who fell to a race-low 22nd on the 24-car grid. “But then we lost the radio.”

Despite those problems, Vettel quickly worked up to fifth on Lap 17, one spot behind Alonso before pitting a second time for Pirelli’s hard compound dry tire on Lap 20. The Mercedes-Benz Safety Car made its first of two appearances on Lap 23 for debris, eliminating the 43-second lead Nico Hulkenberg of Force India/Mercedes had built over Button and Hamilton. Hulkenberg, who is headed for Sauber/Ferrari next season, took the lead for the first time in his F1 career on Lap 18 when he passed Hamilton, the 2008 World Champion making his final start for McLaren.

At the halfway mark, Vettel’s lead had been whittled to seven points. “We did the pit stop at the wrong time (on Lap 54 of 71) – I went for another set of drys and it started to rain,” Vettel said. “Came in for the inters (intermediate tires on Lap 56) and inters weren’t ready because we had no radio communication, they couldn’t hear me. And then got caught back up in the wet in intermediate conditions and fortunately the pace was there.”

Hulkenberg’s heroics ended on Lap 56, when the back end of his car slid out while passing Hamilton for the lead heading into Turn 1, relegating Lewis to a 20th-place finish. At that moment, Alonso enjoyed a brief two-point advantage over Vettel in the championship after the latter’s extended pit stop.

Alonso passed teammate Massa for second on Lap 62. But Vettel’s seventh-place standing put him back into the championship lead. As Alonso tried to cut into Button’s 21-second lead, Vettel passed Schumacher on Lap 65 to go three points up on Alonso.

The race finished behind the Safety Car after Paul di Resta of Force India crashed heavily into the wall opposite the pit entrance, securing Button’s third win of the season and 15th of his F1 career.

“To limp home behind the Safety Car…obviously at that moment I didn’t know (about clinching),” Vettel said. “I was told a couple laps before it should be fine, but then I saw the crash from Nico and Hamilton retiring and I knew that Fernando was ahead. So I didn’t know, but then to get told was unbelievable.”

Button said the changing conditions made tire selection “very tricky” right through the final stint, which finished in a downpour.

“I kept asking the team, ‘What’s going to happen with the weather? It’s supposed to be light showers,’^” said Button, who gave McLaren its seventh win of the season and 182nd overall. “Well OK, we’ll see how we go but it was so, so difficult. You’re locking up tires here and there but you’ve just got to push to the limit. You have to wait for the team to give you the information about all the other people on inters so it’s not just about driving the car at that point. You need every single piece of information that’s out there to know that you’re doing the right thing. But it was a really good race.

“Obviously things were made more difficult with the first Safety Car. Lost 40 seconds, the race was between me and Nico then. It was made a lot more difficult. And then when the Safety Car came in I grained the front-right tire. I really struggled but when that went away it was good.”

Button won the season-opener in Australia on March 18, and the Brit bookended the year in Brazil eight months later.

“Really happy with the end result,” Button said. “We started the year so strong and we’ve ended it so strong. Just a few areas that we need to improve in the middle of the season. It’s sad that Lewis isn’t here to enjoy his last race with the team but it’s racing and these things happen. I’d like to bid him farewell. We’ve had a good time together over the last three years and I think we’ve proved that on the first 10 laps of the race with how close our fighting was. I hope he has a good career in his next team (Mercedes AMG). Lastly, I’d like to congratulation Sebastian on his third title in a row. He’s very, very impressive so congratulations to him and also Red Bull for clinching the Constructors at the previous race.”

Alonso, a two-time World Champion, said the unsettled conditions played into the Ferrari game plan for himself and teammate Massa, who finished an emotional third in his native land.

“Mixed conditions and very, very difficult race,” said Alonso, a three-time winner this season. “It was one of the most difficult races we ever drove, I think, with the conditions out there and you feel that you are with the wrong tire every lap. But you ask the team and everyone is in the same position so you need to keep fighting. There was a lot of risk every lap to crash and have an accident and finish the race there. So we could not afford this for sure because we needed a podium finish to have any chance, so it was a very delicate situation but we managed very well.

“We were hoping (for) a little miracle, as we were hoping for all through the year. I think from the start to the end it was a dream and we had this little present to fight for the championship until the last race. So we enjoyed the race, we did our job and the dream continued until today. And this was… ‘Thank you’ for the team to have a perfect season.”

Alonso now has lost three championships in season-ending races, but insisted he was satisfied with the Scuderia’s efforts to improve the car in-season.

“I think it’s very good feeling what I have now,” Alonso said. “It was very frustrating maybe in Abu Dhabi, two years ago, because we have in our hands and we lost it. It was some kind of frustration there. Here is completely the opposite. I’m so proud and I’m so happy to fight until the last lap with the package we have in hands. That is the best thing for me, to feel proud of myself; it was by far the best season of my career and I will remember this 2012 like some dream season. Obviously we didn’t achieve the points to win the title but I won so many things this year…so much respect from everybody.”

One of the first drivers to greet Vettel after exiting his car was Schumacher, competing in his 306th and final F1 race. The seven-time World Champion finished seventh, failing to add to his 155 podiums.

“It’s been a beautiful time, with lots of good moments _ some of them tough,” said Schumacher, who posted a record 68 poles and 91 wins with Benetton and Ferrari but failed to deliver either for Mercedes AMG. “I have felt a lot of support over the last three years and the fans have always been behind me. I would love to say ‘Thank you’_ to all of them.” Schumacher’s day began with a solo lap of honor around the 2.677-mile layout, also known as Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace.

Schumacher added he was pleased to see Vettel earn his latest championship on the day he retired…for the second time. “I’m proud of him,” Schumacher said of Vettel. “He’s a good friend of mine. In a way, he’s now won his third title as I am finishing here, so he’s kind of carrying it on from there. Now it’s very simple: I go back to the life I had when I first retired from Formula 1. It’s not too sentimental yet…we still have the debrief and everything to go through…but maybe it will sink in a bit later.”

Vettel, who is 10 years younger than Schumacher was when he won his third title, displayed an appreciation for the history attached to the accomplishment.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s only two guys that have done that before,” said Vettel, referring to Fangio and Schumacher. “Obviously, you need to be in the right place at the right time. But I also believe that you can create your own luck, and work hard for what is coming up. One of the great things about Formula One is that you can not necessarily compare only yourself but also you can compare your time, your era, to 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. Obviously, times have changed but I think they will keep changing because that’s what we do.

“But I think you do this job…there might be some…but all the guys in the garage and all the people I know in the factory you do this job not because you really care what is written on the check you get after the end of the month. I think you do this job because you just love Formula One, you love motorsports, you love the excitement here. And I said to the guys yesterday, ‘Am I nervous? Yes, I’m nervous.’ But then again we are nervous every time and it’s what we need to get us started, to get us in the groove, so that we are sharp as soon as the lights go off.

“And most importantly, I said to them yesterday and throughout the year – ‘Enjoy!’ It’s a privilege to race in front of such a big crowd, so many people coming to see you racing. And having the chance we had today just makes it more enjoyable. I think many times in these situations it’s so easy to lose the focus. We have won 2010, 2011…and I had a very smart guy who once told me that hardest thing is winning after winning because you get the attention, you get the pressure but you focus on how to win again rather than focusing on the small steps it takes. That’s what I always try to remember myself, or the guys on the team – it’s just another day, another race and we have to be ourselves and make sure we enjoy – and the rest will be fine.”

FIA Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix results with car number in parentheses, driver, country, chassis/engine and time/laps differential:

1. (3) Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 2 minutes, 30.470-seconds

2. (5) Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 2:11.080, plus 2.700-seconds

3. (6) Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 2:10.711, plus 3.600-seconds

4. (2) Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 2:08.725, plus 4.900-seconds

5. (12) Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, 2:08.613, plus 5.700-seconds

6. (1) Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 2:00.530, plus 9.400-seconds

7. (7) Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:50.452, plus 11.900-seconds

8. (17) Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:48.911, plus 28.600-seconds

9. (14) Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:49.427, plus 31.200-seconds

10. (9) Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault, 2:29.918, plus 1 lap

11. (21) Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, 2:06.690, plus 1 lap

12. (25) Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, 2:04.971, plus 1 lap

13. (16) Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:54.110, plus 1 lap

14. (20) Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, 1:46.261, plus 1 lap

15. (8) Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:47.184, plus 1 lap

16. (24) Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:48.371, plus 1 lap

17. (22) Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth, 2:11.506, plus 2 laps

18. (23) Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth, 1:46.537, plus 2 laps

19. (11) Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, retired, plus 3 laps

20. (4) Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, retired, plus 17 laps

21. (10) Romain Grosjean, France, Lotus/Renault, 56, retired, plus 66 laps

22. (18) Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, retired, plus 70 laps

23. (19) Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, retired, 71 laps

24. (15) Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, retired, 71 laps

Driver standings (after 20 of 20 races) _ 1. Sebastian Vettel, 281 points; 2. Fernando Alonso, 278; 3. Kimi Raikkonen, 207; 4. Lewis Hamilton, 190; 5. Jenson Button, 188; 6. Mark Webber, 179; 7. Felipe Massa, 122; 8. Romain Grosjean, 96; 9. Nico Rosberg, 93; 10. Sergio Perez, 66; 11. Nico Hulkenberg, 63; 12. Kamui Kobayashi, 60; 13. Michael Schumacher, 49; 14. Paul di Resta, 46; 15. Pastor Maldonado, 45; 16. Bruno Senna, 31; 17.Jean-Eric Vergne, 16; 18. Daniel Ricciardo, 10; 19. Vitaly Petrov, 0; 20.Timo Glock, 0.

Constructors standings _ 1. Red Bull Racing, 460 points; 2. Scuderia Ferrari, 400; 3. McLaren/Mercedes, 378; 4. Lotus F1 Team, 303; 5. Mercedes AMG, 142; 6. Sauber F1 Team, 126; 7. Sahara Force India, 109; 8. Williams F1 Team, 76; 9. Scuderia Toro Rosso, 26; 10. Catherham F1 Team, 0; 11. Marussia Racing, 0; 12. HRT F1 Team, 0.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 26 2012
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