Sebastian Vettel has won the 2012 Formula One world championship - despite a hectic final race of the season in Interlagos where he could only finish sixth. Winner Jenson Button ensured that Vettel beat Fernando Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel was basically at the back of the field by the end of the first lap at Brazil's Interlagos circuit on Sunday. But a chaotic wet race allowed him to make up ground after a first lap spin and recover to sixth place - scoring well enough to beat rival Fernando Alonso by just three points.
Alonso came from eighth on the grid to finish second in an impressive race of his own, but he fell just short of the required margin. With Vettel sixth, only a victory would have been enough for the Spanish Ferrari driver. Race winner Jenson Button effectively decided the title by staying out in front in the changeable weather conditions.
Vettel span on lap 1 and had to launch a comeback, the field - incredibly - did not collect him on the way through
"You're the world champion, you're the triple world champion! Sebastian Vettel, you are the man," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Vettel over the in-car radio after the victory. Vettel, who had been struggling with a microphone problem during the race, appeared to try to reply without success - it wasn't clear whether he was choking back tears, or whether the technology had let him down.
Vettel has won the last three F1 world championships in succession - aged just 25, he is the youngest treble champion in the sport's history. Had Alonso claimed the title, he also would have become F1's youngest ever treble champion.
The 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was the 306th, and last, for retiring seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, Germany's only other F1 title winner, who finished seventh. Schumacher made his debut at Spa in Belgium in 1991, a few weeks after Vettel celebrated his fourth birthday.
Patchy rain shuffles pack
The race at the notoriously unpredictable Interlagos circuit did not disappoint. Interlagos means "between the lakes." The track's surroundings make its habit of sudden, torrential rainfall the stuff of motorsport legend.
The rain never fell heavily but at two distinct periods in the race, prompting a string of pit stops throughout the field as drivers sought to equip their cars with the best tires.
The first wet phase at the beginning of the race helped Vettel make good on many of his first-lap losses, though it briefly seemed his chances might be foiled for real during the second shower later on. Vettel was effectively forced to make an extra pit stop at around three-quarter's distance; he had pitted for a fresh set of dry weather tires moments before the rain got heavier, so he had to come straight back in again.
Prior to this mistake, Vettel was running on Alonso's gearbox, but the extra loss of time put him several places behind the 2005 and 2006 champion.
Vettel's race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin (Rocky) radioed in twice late in the race to tell Vettel that he was on course for the title and could afford to take his foot off the gas a little.
"Sebastian, your current position is good enough," Rocky told his friend over the radio with around eight laps remaining, and then later - as Vettel continued setting quick times compared to the cars around him - he sounded a more explicit note of caution. "There's a big gap to the car in front. Just keep it on the black stuff!"
Despite the slippery conditions that led to a pair of safety car phases and a string of accidents throughout the field, Vettel was able to bring the Red Bull home. His team had already wrapped up the overall teams' championship one race ahead of schedule in the US last weekend.
Hülkenberg shines brightly, then burns out
With Vettel set to win or lose a title, and Schumacher set to retire, the other three German drivers looked in a hopeless position when it came to grabbing the headlines.
Nico Hülkenberg, however, briefly looked on course for at least a passing mention. The young German, driving for the midfield Sahara Force India outfit, led around half of the race - fighting for what would have been his first ever F1 win.
Hülkenberg's proving something of an Interlagos specialist. In similar damp conditions two seasons ago, he secured his first ever pole position against all the odds.
Hülkenberg was struggling in the drier conditions to keep the McLaren cars of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button behind. After losing the lead to Hamilton with a spin, Hülkenberg chased him back down and made a move for the lead. Seeking the overtake, Hülkenberg lost control and collided with Hamilton, ending the Briton's final race for McLaren. Hülkenberg was able to continue but was awarded a penalty for the incident that helped relegate him to fifth position.
Vettel, five seconds behind Hülkenberg on the track at the end, will stay with his current Red Bull team for at least one more season in 2013 - though the ever-churning F1 rumor mill has persistently linked him with Schumacher's old team, Ferrari.