Slater: The best end to an F1 season

ESPNSTAR.com columnist Steve Slater recaps the end of one of the best Formula One seasons in recent memory.

Steve Slater

In keeping with a cracker of a 2012 season, the Brazilian Grand Prix simply had everything. It didn't matter if you were a Vettel or Alonso fan, whether you supported McLaren, Force India; Kimi Raikkonen or Michael Schumacher; the race gave the ultimate in highs and lows.

Rain storms of ever-varying intensity gave the Interlagos track a completely random set of variables. As the team's played ‘tyre poker;' we were all left guessing on the destiny of both the winners crown and the title itself, right up to the closing stages.

It is just how our sport should be - and a suitable end to a season that started with six world champions on the grid, gave us eight different race-winning drivers and the youngest-ever three-times world champion.

Sebastian Vettel certainly rode his luck. In any other race his first lap spin after being biffed by Bruno Senna would probably have ended his title ambitions.

Somehow though, Vettel managed first to reverse up the track at about 200km/h without hitting anything. Then when he put the car back into gear, miraculously, everything still worked. At that moment one feels that Vettel must have guessed that destiny was on his side.

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso did everything that could be done. The odds were stacked against the Spaniard overcoming his 13 point deficit at the start of the race in a Ferrari which clearly lacked the pace to be a front runner. OK, the rain-soaked conditions played into his favour, but it is a measure of the man that no-one in the Sao Paolo paddock ever predicted Vettel's title was going to be a walk-over.

For Felipe Massa too, third place was a vindication after two seasons where the Brazilian has, in his own words, "taken a kicking" from the pundits, including myself. If there is one true personal story in the F1 paddock, it is the way that Massa has turned around, not just his pace, but his self-confidence. I, for one take, off my hat to the resilient Brazilian.

At McLaren, there must have been mixed feelings. Clearly, delight with Jenson Button's victory, but also frustration with Lewis Hamilton's retirement and losing second place in the constructors championship (and with it about £10 million in prize money) to Ferrari.

A word. though. in defence of Nico Hulkenberg, who had after all, led the race for Force India. The German's accident, taking out Hamilton in his bid for the lead into the Senna-S, shows just how fine a line it is between being a hero and zero in Formula One.

If Hulkenberg had pulled off that overtake, it would have probably have gone down as the best passing manoeuvre of the season. Chasing Hamilton as he came up behind the slower-moving Marussia and Caterham cars, Hulkenberg saw an opportunity and went for it.

He completely boxed Hamilton in behind the slower cars and, had he not misjudged the tardy pace of Kovalainen's Caterham, would have regained the race lead. As it was, he was forced to brake just a little harder; the tail of the Force India stepped out and wrecked Hamilton's front suspension.

It was a disappointing end to Hamilton's last drive for McLaren, but the team ended the season with a pleasing symmetry for Jenson Button; winner of the first Grand Prix of the year in Australia at mid-season in Belgium, and the last. Meanwhile, Hamilton's tigerish performance will certainly motivate Mercedes as Michael Schumacher rides off into the sunset.

So what's next? 

How about another storming season: Vettel fighting for a fourth successive title, a feat only achieved by Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio. Alonso and Massa will hope for a re-invigorated Ferrari, there will be an ever-gutsy Hamilton at Mercedes and Button will be kept on his mettle by young gun Sergio Perez at McLaren. 

Roll on next March and the 2013 Australian Grand Prix!



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