Button wins intense race as Vettel recovers to seal third championship

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix review

Jenson Button, McLaren, Interlagos, 2012Jenson Button won a stunning race in Brazil in which the outcome of the championship remained in doubt until the final lap.

Although Fernando Alonso climbed to second, sixth place for Sebastian Vettel was enough for the Red Bull driver to clinch a third title.

It was a fraught race for Vettel who fell to the back of the field on the first lap but drove a gritty race back through the pack to seal the championship.

Vettel loses out in dramatic start

From the front row the McLaren pair made clean starts but behind them neither Red Bull got away well. Mark Webber closed out Vettel which allowed the Ferraris and Nico Hulkenberg to pass him around the outside.

Vettel’s situation got more serious when they reached Subido do Lago. Kimi Raikkonen took avoiding action to keep from hitting him but as the Red Bull turned into the corner Bruno Senna appeared on the inside.

The Williams driver was overtaking two drivers between him and Vettel, who appeared not to see Senna’s car alongside. The pair made contact – twice – leaving Vettel pointing the wrong way down the track.

The impact damaged the bodywork around Vettel’s exhaust and Red Bull were concerned it would overheat. But Vettel was able to continue – albeit now down in 22nd place.

Rain aids Vettel’s cause

Before the race began Ferrari had been hopeful that rain would arrive to level out the playing field. But when it did come it was as much to the relief of Vettel, as the drop in temperature eased the strain on his damaged car.

At the start Alonso had immediately passed Webber for third place – the minimum he needed to have a chance of winning the championship. But as rain began to fall he twitched wide at turn one, cutting across the new tarmac run-off area, sacrificing third to Nico Hulkenberg.

Webber was unable to take advantage of this opportunity to re-pass Alonso, and a few laps later Massa demoted the Red Bull driver a further position. This proved very useful for Alonso as the Ferrari drivers’ tyres cooled in the rain and the pair began to struggle.

Massa adopted a defensive stance behind his team mate and a warning about his driving was immediately conveyed by radio to Vettel. This was necessary as Vettel had carved through the field in doubt-quick time, and with others diving to the pits for intermediate tyres he soon had the Ferraris in sight again.

The McLaren drivers briefly swapped positions when the rain started to fall, but Hamilton regained the lead only to give it up again when he decided intermediate tyres were the way to go. In a re-run of last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix Button stayed out on slicks despite the drizzle, and took the lead off his team mate.

Hulkenberg also elected to chance it on his medium-compound slick tyres, but the championship contenders could afford no such gambles and were soon in for intermediate tyres as well.

“It is a safety car situation”

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Interlagos, 2012Vettel came out of the pits behind Webber and Raikkonen. The two Red Bulls quickly passed the Lotus and this time Webber offered little resistance to his team mate: “thank you Mark,” said race engineer Ciaran Pilbeam.

Massa had stayed on slicks but was easily passed by Kamui Kobayashi and a circumspect Vettel. Moments later Vettel took Kobayashi at the exit of Juncao. The pair had gone past yellow flags and yellow-and-red flags, the former forbidding overtaking. But Vettel began his move shortly after the pair passed a green light, and was drawing level with Kobayashi as they reached another yellow light. The stewards took no action.

Further ahead Alonso was making light work of the traffic. And at the front of the field Hulkenberg had sensationally caught Button’s McLaren and, on lap 19, passed him for the lead.

The weather continued to keep the teams guessing: while drivers were receiving messages telling them it was going to continue the track was already drying enough for them to abandon their intermediates. Alonso switched back to slicks followed by Vettel, who returned to the pits in sight of his championship rival.

By this point several drivers had been involved in incidents: Pastor Maldonado joined his team mate in retirement and was accompanied by Romain Grosjean, who crashed out at Mergulho, and Sergio Perez. Alonso complained about debris on the track, adding: “it is a safety car situation”.

The safety car soon appeared on the circuit, calling a temporary halt to what had been 23 laps of frantic action, with still more than two-thirds distance remaining. Hulkenberg and Button took the opportunity to pit for fresh slick tyres, and the Force India driver held his lead.

Behind them Hamilton’s disadvantage for making an extra pit stop was wiped away and the same went for most other drivers. Alonso held fourth ahead of Vettel, who was still on course to clinch the championship, followed by Kobayashi, Webber and Di Resta.

Vettel slows as track dries

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2012Within seconds of the safety car returning to the pits the action resumed. Vettel came under attack from Kobayashi and Webber – the latter ran wide but Kobayashi made the move stick. He went on to take fourth off Alonso, but only briefly, the Ferrari driver quickly taking the place back.

The safety car had put Massa back on the lead lap and as the track dried he quickly passed Di Resta. He demoted Vettel and Kobayashi too, taking up fifth behind his team mate and therefore was unlikely to progress further.

As the track continued to dry Vettel’s aerodynamic damage became more of a problem. He sat within DRS range of Kobayashi, unable to make a move on the Sauber. The loss of downforce also impaired his tyre life and as his lap times began to drop off the team considered bringing him into the pits.

There deliberations were impeded by a fault on Vettel’s radio which prevented him from being able to talk to them. This had near-disastrous consequences as the weather changed yet again. First he pitted for slicks, then returned for intermediates – but the team weren’t ready for him. He fell to tenth place, which was a serious problem as Alonso now had the podium within reach.

Hamilton and Hulkenberg collide

Hulkenberg lost his lead when he half-spun his Force India at Laranja. That allowed Hamilton, who had passed Button after the safety car came in, to retake the lead.

A few laps later Hulkenberg spied an opportunity to pass Hamilton when the leader was delayed in traffic. Hulkenberg went down the inside at turn one but the back end snapped away and he clipped Hamilton’s car. Front suspension damage ended Hamilton’s final race for McLaren.

With Hamilton out and Hulkenberg doomed to serve a drive-through penalty, Alonso now had a shot at second place. He took it despite staying out too long to switch back to intermediate tyres as the rain intensified, and nearly spinning at Curva do Sol. Massa got in front of him through the pit stops but wasted little time handing the place back.

By then Vettel had already recovered well into the top ten, eventually passing Schumacher for sixth place. But even at this late stage he could not afford to relax: a sudden retirement for new leader Button would put Alonso in the lead and Vettel would be one place shy of the world championship.

Race ends under safety car

Jenson Button, McLaren, Interlagos, 2012There was no such problem for Button, and the race had a slightly anticlimactic end as a crash for Paul di Resta brought out the safety car. He claimed his third win of the year and the Ferrari drivers joined him on the podium.

But there were no celebrations for Alonso as Vettel, sixth behind Webber and Hulkenberg, had done enough to retain the world championship.

Schumacher bowed out of F1 with a points finish for seventh, while Jean-Eric Vergne was promoted to eighth after a late spin for Kobayashi.

Kimi Raikkonen was only tenth after going off at Juncao and attempting to rejoin the track using the old circuit, which was closed off at one end.

Behind him the battle for tenth place in the constructors’ championship had been resolved with a final twist. Charles Pic, who will drive for Caterham next year, was passed by Vitaly Petrov in the dying stages. Petrov’s 11th place finish moved Caterham back ahead of Marussia in the final race.

Unfortunately for Marussia Timo Glock had been running in front of both when he was involved in an incident with Vergne which dropped him back. He came in 16th behind Daniel Ricciardo, Heikki Kovalainen and Nico Rosberg. The HRT pair were the last running drivers.

Brazil produced a suitably scintillating conclusion to an exciting championship. Vettel’s race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin admitted he feared his driver’s title hopes were lost after the first-lap collision. But an error-free recovery drive of measured aggression gained Vettel a deserved third title by the slender margin of three points.

Both he and Alonso deserve praise for their efforts this year. Alonso once again wrung all he could from his Ferrari and it’s doubtful he could have finished higher.

If a championship is valued by the quality of the opposition a driver faces, then Vettel can count this triumph as his greatest so far.

2012 Brazilian Grand Prix

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98 comments on Button wins intense race as Vettel recovers to seal third championship

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  1. Thecollaroyboys (@thecollaroyboys) said on 25th November 2012, 20:56

    A great race. Well worth the 3am start. All of those posters who were writing the season off a half a dozen rounds ago or so should take a good, hard look at themselves. This was a cracking finale to a great season.

  2. DaveF1 (@davef1) said on 25th November 2012, 21:01

    Respect to Vettel and Red Bull from an Alonso fan.

    I have to say despite my favourite driver not winning the title I am exceptionally proud to be an Formula One fan after the roller-coaster season we’ve had. I couldn’t have asked for anything better interms of the on-track racing.

    Once again congrats to Vettel, Red Bull and all their fans. Enjoy it while you can, Ferrari will be back ;)
    Bring on 2013!

    • stigrichards (@stigrichards) said on 25th November 2012, 23:23

      How well put. Even though not a Vettel or Alonso fan it was an incredible finale to an awesome season. Sure, a few races fell flat, but less than usual and the high points were extraordinary.

      • Fullhouse said on 26th November 2012, 3:14

        special mention to kimi ‘s superb reflex when vettel suddenly emergency braked, kimi reacted to it before it happens to be too late and went wide to avoid crashing into Seb during the first lap.

        Crazy bloke……

  3. When Brazil produces an entertaining race, it’s usually one of the best races ever. 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2012 are four of the best races I’ve ever seen, all of them in my top ten. 2007 and 2009 were also classic.

  4. HoHum (@hohum) said on 25th November 2012, 21:03

    But why is Massa having to give position to Alonso when until recently he couldn’t stay in sight of Alonso, what was going on ?

    • OEL F1 (@oel-f1) said on 25th November 2012, 21:31

      You see, there was a championship going on and Ferrari were trying to win it.

      • Guilherme (@guilherme) said on 25th November 2012, 21:48

        @oel-f1 I think @hohum point is that Alonso was so superior to Massa earlier in the season that he didn’t even need to be handed the positions, Massa was already miles behind. Why so suddenly Alonso started to need positions from Massa (or to have Massa be held up, like in Korea)?

    • ANDREW (@johnson102) said on 26th November 2012, 8:53

      Does anyone remember the beginning of the 2010 season when Massa was repeatedly qualifying just in front of Alonso? Many times in the races we would hear Alonso on team radio complaining that he should be let past yet at that stage Ferrari weren’t ordering their drivers about.
      I don’t think Massa has ever really been slow. The fact he can jump back to the front so quickly suggests to me that Ferrari were using his car for development purposes only and wanted him way down the order so he wouldn’t get in Alonso’s way. Once the championship became tight and they needed someone to get in the way of the championship contender, they changed a few settings and here is back at the front.

      • Andrew:”the beginning of the 2010 season….Massa was repeatedly qualifying just in front of Alonso”…
        You meant Bahrain (1) and Turkey (7). Alonso was in front of Massa in Australia (2), Malaysia (3), China (4), Spain (5), Canada (8), Europe (9), Great Britain (10), Germany(11), Hungary (12).
        And about radio “alonso is faster than you” was in Germany, maybe they should said as RB “box, box, box” or order him to safe fuel…don´t know, but the truth is Alonso was faster and he had option to win the race. Don´t forget, after 10 races, Fernando was much closer than Felipe in points (Felipe 67, Alonso 98, Vettel 121, Webber 128, Button 133, Hamilton 145) and only 9 races to go. If they race each other could had an accident and loose any option.
        That´s my opinion :-)

  5. Sevrige (@sevrige) said on 25th November 2012, 21:05

    Great race and happy for Vettel on his third WDC. I was a bit disappointed with Webber today. I realize he wants to race to win, but sometimes you need to ease up on your teammate when your not fighting for the title. Vettel may not have been down near Senna had Webber not came across to cover Vettel into turn 1. Later in the race, a noticeably slower Webber was trying pretty hard to not let Vettel through. Very frustrating to watch, probably more so for the guys on the pitwall.

    • Njack (@njack) said on 25th November 2012, 21:54

      Webber let Vettel through later in the race, FOM broadcasted a radio message with a team member thanking him. . . .

      Should have been more generous at the start though.

      • Sevrige (@sevrige) said on 25th November 2012, 22:35

        I realize, he just seemed overly aggressive towards his teammate and if Vettel had not ended up winning the WDC it would have been a huge talking point. I’ll also point out that while Webber let Vettel through on one occasion, he spent more time making Vettel’s life difficult.

        • david d.m. said on 26th November 2012, 1:07

          You’re absolutely right, I like Webber’s attitude of fighting while he’s still got a mathematical chance, but he went a bit too far in this one, he’s lucky not to have influenced the final result.

    • MattW said on 26th November 2012, 1:14

      Agreed Sevrige. As a fellow Aussie I admire his fighting spirit and not wanting the #2 label, but when your team mate is fighting for the title and you are out of contention, its time to help him out not make it any harder. Although Massa holding his job is pretty much dependant on him being Alonso’s bitch #2, it was was still a great supporting drive that I’m sure Horner would’ve been hoping for from Mark

    • Roberto38 said on 26th November 2012, 4:47

      Fully agree, although in a post-race interview he said it’s the conditions which made him close the door on Vettel and he was forced to fight the car.. not sure if this is an excuse or not, since it looked pretty deliberate on camera..

  6. gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 25th November 2012, 21:07

    Strange how JB keeps coming on top in these kinds of situations…

    Can someone explain why we got the 1st safety car ?
    I am under the impression that a radio message from FA can have quite a powerful influence…

    • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 25th November 2012, 21:12

      @gwenouille Vettel complained about debris too, so it was a smart thing to do.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 25th November 2012, 21:25

        @gwenouille We can never rule out the possibility of these being selectively edited – especially after FOM omitted important sections from two Red Bull radio messages in the last two races on the world feed. Vettel also complained about debris, as @fer-no65 says, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others did too.

        • I don’t like how they’re doing that. Either play it all, or don’t do it. It creates a certain air if they play one particular part of a radio message, they can make a driver look bad, they can give away strategy, or they may be plain useless to non-Italian speaking viewers. I also didn’t like how they cut Schumacher’s little speech short today.

        • Ogurka said on 25th November 2012, 23:02

          I’d like to hear the transmission from Pilbeam to Webber when he took Vettel and Kobayashi 3 wide into the corner. I’m sure it was something like “Mark…***!” before Webber jinked right and ran wide off the circuit. :-)

    • @gwenouille – Debris on track. And it wasn’t just Alonso complaining. I’m sure Rosberg, who got a puncture after catching a carbon piece with his rear right, wasn’t happy either and nor were Hamilton and Button who cleared some of the small pieces off track several times.

      • gwenouille (@gwenouille) said on 25th November 2012, 21:20

        OK, fair enough… I’am always so disappointed when i see the SC… I felt it was hard luck for HUL and BUT who had the guts to stay on slicks. Their reward , the 45sec gap, simply vanished with the SC…

        • sorin (@) said on 26th November 2012, 9:41

          When hamilton overtook them, they all have the same tyres. Even more, Hulk and Button had newer tyres, than Hamilton.

    • Dom (@3dom) said on 25th November 2012, 21:18

      Strange how JB keeps coming on top in these kinds of situations…

      @gwenouille JB shows his experience and insight in changeable conditions but he had some luck on his side coz LH & NH were extremely impressive also. have to say that hulkenburg was fab, same about his mistake ruining his and lewis’ races

      Can someone explain why we got the 1st safety car ?
      I am under the impression that a radio message from FA can have quite a powerful influence…

      I personally don’t think there was anything sinister here, there was a lot of debris on track, rosberg had just picked up a puncture from it. Purely from a safety point of view it made sense. Also it may have ended up being one of the championship contenders who got a puncture…

      • sorin (@) said on 26th November 2012, 9:50

        Button was good in this condition, because Hamilton wasn’t there, like Canada 2011 when JB took him, now Hulk took him, and in Hungary, last year, when Hamilton choosed bad tyres. But in every situation Hamilton was faster than Button.

    • Alex (@smallvizier) said on 25th November 2012, 21:18

      @gwenouille – I think it’s some combination of the following:

      1. Button’s good in the rain – he’s not the only one, but it’s a start.
      2. Once he’s won that way a couple of times, I imagine he gets into the habit of thinking about tactics when the conditions are changeable.
      3. He has enough confidence to tell the engineers when he disagrees. Generally most of the top engineers make the same calls… if Button is the only driver telling them when the situation feels different, that’s an advantage
      4. Like many truisms, we tend to remember the times it’s true, and forget the times it’s false. There have been several races with mixed conditions where Hamilton has finished ahead of Button. It nearly happened again today… albeit Button had a 47-second advantage before the safety car.

  7. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 25th November 2012, 21:10

    It’s so exciting to read it all again… I’ll download this race and watch it again, calmly. At one point too much was happening, and it was hard to breathe ! my dad and I were both trying to work out what had happened, while other stuff was happening and we were missing it… it was unbelievable, best 24 laps ever.

    In the end, I’m so sad about Hulkenberg. He could’ve walked away with it… a bit too harsh with the penalty too, it was a raciing incident.

  8. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 25th November 2012, 21:11

    A so well-written review. The images of this race are so intensely wired into my brain and the lines brought them alive so effectively. Thank you, Keith. For all the work you did with this site through the whole year, frankly. F1 would not have been the same without the knowledge I gained from this website.

    What a way to end an F1 season. This was a relentlessly breathtaking year right up until the end of the last Grand Prix.

  9. Alex (@smallvizier) said on 25th November 2012, 21:13

    An amazing year. Vettel and Red Bull – what a team!

    I’m already looking forward to the next season. I think most would agree that the top drivers are Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel. Next year they’ll all be at different teams. 5 teams with world-class drivers means 5 teams that will fight for victory every time their cars give them a chance.

    For now, though, I’m savouring an unpredictable race where so many drivers had a chance to shine. It feels like at least half the field had some moment of glory. None moreso than our new triple world champion.

  10. Tomsk (@tomsk) said on 25th November 2012, 21:14

    A suitably epic race report. A great read, and I agree with your closing point. More drivers were in contention in 2010, but they weren’t as impressive or consistent as Alonso this year. And this year’s Red Bull’s often been second best to the McLaren, with – on their day – Lotus, Mercedes or Williams in among them too.

  11. But Vettel began his move shortly after the pair passed a green light, and was drawing level with Kobayashi as they reached another yellow light. The stewards took no action.

    I didn’t see anything on either side of the track that would reason a yellow flag. I’m presuming it was the ‘oil flag’ light that was on, not the yellow flag.

    • FlyingLobster27 said on 25th November 2012, 22:42

      As pointed out correctly on another article, the pass took place in an area with fixed yellow lights – caution lights are not fixed, they flash. It’s a subtlety, but signalling is precise. If there are no flashing yellow lights, there is no yellow…

  12. crr917 (@crr917) said on 25th November 2012, 21:23

    Taking the finish in formation was pretty nice. There was just 1 lap left and the cars were too far for surprises. Reminded me of Le Mans and quite rightfully as the race felt as long as an endurance one.

    • Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 25th November 2012, 21:36

      Yeah, I agree. In fairness, I’d most often agree with the view that a finish under caution is somewhat dull and NASCAR’s G-W-C is actually a very good and working idea.

      But today, I just felt fitting that a breathless rush of competition throughtout the whole year, up and down, and down to the wet, foggy, soggy darkness of Interlagos to end with a gracefully slow last lap – as a sign of the end of all the fight.

  13. Guilherme (@guilherme) said on 25th November 2012, 21:36

    Hey @keithcollantine, sorry to nitpick, but…

    Vettel’s situation got more serious when they reached Subido do Lago.

    The actual name of the corner is Descida do Lago, which means “Descent of the Lake”. Subida do Lago means “Ascent of the Lake”. :P

  14. claudioff (@claudioff) said on 25th November 2012, 21:48

    If I were a Lotus mechanic I would give to Kimi a GPS!

  15. I thought it was shocking how Schumacher pulled over to let Vettel pass. They are not teammates and Schumacher owes it to Alonso, and the integrity of F1 as a competition, to at least put up reasonable resistance if they are racing for position. Schumacher has no right to manipulate the winner of a world championship to the driver he prefers. Would Mercedes be impressed that Schumacher pulled over to give away points? Other than that, which annoyed me, one of the best races I have seen!

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 25th November 2012, 22:56

      I found it disgusting too. Had they both been one position back, then that would have been a title-deciding incident, as it would have been if somebody else had somehow found their way ahead of both drivers.

      • Kimi4WDC said on 25th November 2012, 23:35

        Have you been a Ferrari fan lately? The way they drive must be pretty disgusting with that set of logic of yours.

        Michael knows more than anyone how thing Ferrari’s ethics can be stretched, considering he was way slower, you are over reacting.

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 26th November 2012, 16:39

          What does Ferrari have to do with anything? I accept that team mates will help one another, as they are team mates. Drivers who are only mates should not try and influence a championship. You are under-reacting.

    • Liz Power (@gizmopuddy) said on 25th November 2012, 23:04

      Schumacher pulling over did not affect the outcome of the title. Vettel had already won it in 7th. If Alonso got first, that sixth would have been no use to him. It was the last couple of laps of Schumi’s illustrious career, he didn’t want to crash out.

    • asingh1 (@asingh1) said on 26th November 2012, 0:20

      I don’t think it was disgusting at all. I think it showed the mark of the man: he was willing to let Vettel through so it wouldn’t cost him any time (which he didn’t have to do). It was a poignant moment in that it was his last race, and he said himself he wanted Vettel to win the championship. So if he wanted to help, there was certainly nothing wrong with that.

      It kind of had echoes of Suzuka ’98; Schumacher was making his way through and most drivers actually just let him past.

      • What bizarre logic people supporting Schumacher’s actions are using. Would any of you have been happy if Button pulled over to let Alonso win the race and the title because he liked Alonso more than he liked Vettel? Schumachers actions were grossly unfair on Alonso who had to fight for every single place and position (on a non-team mate) whereas Vettel effectively had both his team mate and Schumacher helping him. Why should Vettel get ‘free passes’ against some drivers? Schumacher should have raced properly and fairly against Vettel, in order to be fair to Alonso and to maintain the integrity of the race as a proper competitive competition. I was totally disgusted with Schumacher’s attempts to manipulate and twist the result of the race.

        • Bob (@bobthevulcan) said on 26th November 2012, 2:26

          Schumachers actions were grossly unfair on Alonso

          This “free pass” amounted to nothing. Vettel already had the WDC in the bag by being in P7. Him finishing P6 would have made no difference for Alonso. Besides that, Schumacher was considerably slower than Vettel at that stage in the race, and would have been passed further down the track anyway.

          Schumacher did not “twist the result of the race”. By then, it was a foregone conclusion that Vettel would take the title.

        • Mike (@mike) said on 26th November 2012, 2:26

          I bet Schumacher caused Hulkenburg to lose grip and hit Hamilton too! Didn’t you see him before the race? HE WAS LICKING THE TRACK I TELL YOU…..

    • Mike (@mike) said on 26th November 2012, 2:25

      That’s silly, If Schu wants to let Vettel Through, then Schu can let Vettel Through.

    • David (@neiana) said on 26th November 2012, 3:36

      And when a slower driver lets a faster driver pass who isn’t Vettel or when it doesn’t involve a win/championship, it’s perfectly fine, right? It happens nearly every race and especially when a driver is massively slower.

      Great Alonso colored glasses you’ve got, by the way.

    • Schumacher doesn’t owe Alonso a thing.

      • Maybe i’m wrong here but I just think drivers should race for position in a title deciding race and not pull over to let their friends pass. Where do we ever draw the line if we let this happen? Should Button have stopped putting pressure on Kobayashi in Japan because Kobayashi was on for a podium and it would have been nice to see that at his home race? I’m no Alonso fan but I want to see every driver racing like their life depended on it when they are racing for points and position. Disgusting to see Schumacher pulling over as if he was being lapped when he was fighting for points and position. I also note that all the Schumacher/Vettel supporters have’t addressed the point I made about whthter or not it would have been fair if Button had pulled over from the lead to let Alonos win the race and the title because he liked Alonso more than Vettel. That would have been exactly the same thing.

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