After an unpredictable qualifying session, Hamilton secures pole by the slimmest of margins from an unexpected second-placed man, a resurgent Felipe Massa. Vettel is bumped down to third, and Alonso takes a surprising eighth after late improvements by the two Lotuses and one Michael Schumacher.
All eyes focus on the start, and as the lights extinguish, the unexpected happens – a hand reaches out from its cockpit. It’s Webber, and he’s stalled his car. More cars come flying by, diving out of the way and trading positions in the process, but an unsighted Grosjean fails to react in time and ploughs straight into the back of the Red Bull. Fortunately, both drivers walk away from the nasty pile-up, and the running order emerges from Sector One thoroughly shuffled. Hamilton, Massa and Vettel are leading the pack, Alonso staying in a close fifth behind Button, and surprisingly, Kobayashi, in his last race for Sauber, in P6.
Massa’s inner speed demon is at last reawakened by the impassioned fervour of his home crowd, and at the restart, he makes a daring slingshot move past Hamilton down the pit straight, making the move stick with a firm hold of the racing line. Further back, Button struggles to hold off an eager Alonso, ultimately succumbing to the Spaniard’s furious attacks. Elsewhere, Perez, di Resta, Schumacher and Hulkenberg, F1′s young and old, are engaged in a titanic battle at the tail end of the points.
For a while, the unbearable tension in the air is palpable. Massa tries his best to eke out a steady lead over Hamilton, but the latter, in his final race for McLaren, will have none of it. The audience prays that it doesn’t end in tears. Vettel continues circulating in third, closing in on the leading pair, while Alonso sets fastest lap after fastest lap in his relentless pursuit. Raikkonen, meanwhile, is seen to visibly struggle in his car – team radio mentions a tyre heating issue – allowing the midfield train to cleave their way through, at times coming close to nudging wheels. Both Saubers, both Force Indias and the Williams of Maldonado trade positions sporadically in a multi-faceted duel. The global audience watches with bated breath, anticipating the carnage.
The pit stops loom, and the teams are faced with a dilemma – stay out on worn tyres, pitting only when the rain comes, or take an early gamble? As if in answer, the heavens finally unleash the long awaited downpour.
Cars pit and rejoin haphazardly – Alonso deftly executes the “undercut”, and emerges in the race lead. Massa, after pitting, retains the slimmest of gaps over Hamilton – the pair now run second and third. Immediately behind, Button, at home in the mixed conditions, shoots past Vettel for the all-important fourth place. The exciting clash in the midfield all but evaporates, and Perez, recalling his earlier performance at Sepang, pulls ahead on the rain-soaked track, looking to threaten Vettel’s precarious fifth.
In true unpredictable Interlagos fashion, however, the deluge transpires to be but a passing shower. The skies clear rapidly as the race nears its end, and several drivers make the decisive move to go onto slick tyres. The field is once again reshuffled. With a slow McLaren pit-stop, Button disappointingly falls back to the tail end of the points, while Alonso snatches the lead. Vettel is stuck in fifth, now behind Hamilton, and has to contend with the rapidly advancing sixth-placed Perez.
The chequered flag dances, and Alonso streaks past the line to take the race win. He immediately turns to see the screens, and to his delight, sees that Perez has dived down the inside of Vettel, depriving the Red Bull driver of fifth place. This development seemingly secures Alonso his third drivers’ crown. The crowd is then gobsmacked when a Silver Arrow comes in second. In the dying moments of his career, the one-time Regenmeister has returned in full force. Michael Schumacher, with a well-timed pit stop and having mastered the varying conditions, now takes an emphatic final podium of his career. The much-maligned Felipe Massa takes the final place on the podium in front of his home crowd.
On the twisty hills of Interlagos, on the final lap, Perez, in another attempt to one-up the outgoing Lewis Hamilton, closes in on the gearbox of the McLaren. Vettel sees his chance, and makes a Hakkinen-esque move on both of them at Turn 14, raising him to P4, where he stays till the finishing line, taking his third title by the slimmest of margins.
The world championship ends to the words:
“Congratulations, Seb, you’re a triple world champion!”
“Yes! Yes! Ring-ding-ding-ding…”
And the audience can only mutter… good god.