The Formula 1 2012 season, has finally ended.
Against the changing conditions of mother nature – braving the cold, the wet and the slippery, a Briton was awarded the race victory, but another man – one who had battled ferociously throughout the duration of the entire race, sliding up and down the race pack, enduring not just changing track conditions but also irreparable damage to his car to bring his car home in 6th – earned something so much more.
Something prestigious, something illustrious, something that will be celebrated by generations to come.
Because Sebastian Vettel is Formula 1’s youngest back-to-back triple Formula 1 world champion.
In the ultimate Brazilian Grand Prix, F1 fans witnessed an epic finale that appropriately summed up the 2012 season: action-packed, unpredictable, and, for lack of a better word, absolutely crazy. In 2 hours of yesterday’s race, we have witnessed the order of the cars on the track constantly being reshuffled, as some drivers benefitted from the changing circumstances and stayed out in front, while others fell victim to the volatile conditions, and were left trailing behind.
The start of the race was heart-stopping, as everyone thought for 1 fleeting second that like SebastianVettel’s RB8, his championship hopes had crashed and spun just out of his reach, after a collision with the Williams of Bruno Senna at turn 4. Vettel, after having slid down the grid from P4 to P6 due to a slow start, had attempted an overtaking manoeuvre on Senna by taking the outside line, however, he had not expected Senna to be within such close proximity, and a swerve to the left took out Senna’s front wing and caused Vettel to spin on track. But the damage did not end there. In addition to the fact that Vettel was now the last car on track, his car had emerged with structural destruction to the area around his exhaust pipes – and Red Bull had told him that the damage was irreparable.
But there were some further up the grid who had positive starts to the race, as home hero Felipe Massa squeezed his way between race leader Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as well as Fernando Alonso who charged through the grid and made his way to P4. The damp track conditions already proved to be a challenge as Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber spun off track in their struggle to maintain some grip on the slippery circuit.
By lap 8, Vettel, who after his incident had rejoined the pack right from the tail end, managed to climb his way back up the grid, making his way past the backmarkers and midfielders, and had already settled in a points-scoring position in P7. In lap 13, teammate Webber, who was in front of him, executed his role as a team player and swiftly let Vettel pass, earning a few words of gratitude from his team on the pit wall.
As the battle for the championship title continued between Alonso and Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India and McLaren’s Jenson Button were in a fight of their own – one for the race lead. While everyone else on track had pitted and emerged with intermediate tyres as the rain fell harder and stronger, Hulkenberg and Button were battling it out for 1st, still on slick tyres, with Lewis Hamilton quite a distance behind in 3rd. In lap 19, Nico Hulkenberg successfully took the race lead from Button, giving Force India their first race lead this season. Impressively, this fight for 1st took place an entire 45 seconds in front of the rest of the grid, almost two-thirds of the length of the circuit!
With the lack of grip posed by the slippery track surface, coupled with the car debris scattered all over the track from the various collisions, race control finally made the decision to bring out the safety car (Nico Rosberg’s tyre had been punctured by a piece of razor-sharp carbon fibre and Alonso had made complaints to his engineers of the precipitous track conditions). Button and Hulkenberg took this opportunity to make a pit stop, both exiting the pitlane in front of Hamilton, Hulkenberg in front of Button. As the lapped cars were allowed to unlap themselves, the cars fell back into order, the gaps between the cars gradually narrowing to less than 1 second. When the safety car finally re-entered the pit lane on lap 31, the cars charged along the circuit, Hulkenberg trying to establish a substantial gap between himself and Button, while Vettel, Kobayashi and Webber ran 3 abreast, which resulted in Webber “sacrificing” himself and running off the track to avoid a collision between himself, his teammate, and the Sauber.
The distance between Fernando Alonso in 4th and Vettel in 6th seemed to widen with Kobayashi in between, also with the prospect of a looming Felipe Massa behind Vettel. Massa overtook Vettel, pushing the championship contender down to 7th, and was intent on ensuring that Vettel was retained far behind Alonso to aid his teammate in keeping his championship flame alive.
In lap 49, an avoidable spin by Hulkenberg enabled Lewis Hamilton, who by then had overtaken his teammate in 2nd, to snatch the race lead. However, unfortunately for Hamilton, Hulkenberg’s attempts to reclaim the race lead were futile as a careless manoeuvre caused him to clash with the McLaren, damaging Hamilton’s suspension and front tyre. An innocent victim of this collision, Hulkenberg rained on Hamilton’s parade as Hamilton’s hopes of ending his final race with McLaren on a high were crushed in that transient second of recklessness on Hulkenberg’s part. A stark contrast to the battle between Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher earlier on, experienced world champions, who knew how and when to compromise – to be on the offensive and attack aggressively but at the same time leaving adequate space for the opponent, or to withdraw and back off once acknowledging that the attempt would be either fruitless, or end in a preventable collision.
As this battle unfolded, more off-track drama was taking place. Kimi Raikkonen had lost grip and spun off the track, and he drove down a side road in the attempt of finding a shortcut back to the main track, but instead led him to the old Interlagos track of the 1970s! Meanwhile, Vettel’s intial tyre strategy backfired as he had to re-enter the pit lane a few laps after he had switched to the softer medium tyres, as the fickle weather conditions forecasted more rain to come. A late call, Vettel entered the pits before his pit crew had gotten ready, and had to endure a few extra precious seconds as his car stood stationary, awaiting a frantic mechanic who ran out of the garage carrying an intermediate tyre.
As the end of the race drew near, Jenson Button had once again regained the race lead, with crowd favourite Massa in second, and Alonso some 5 seconds away in 3rd. Unsurprisingly, Massa showed a sudden decrease in pace as the gap between himself and teammate Alonso rapidly decreased, before Alonso swiftly overtook Massa to claim 2nd place. This meant that in order for Alonso to win the championship title, Vettel had to finish in 8th place or lower. However, by this time, Vettel was safely in P6.
In response to Paul di Resta’s crash in the penultimate lap of not just the race, but the season, the safety car was once again deployed, ending the final race of the season on a somewhat anti-climatic note. As Jenson Button crossed the finish line, I personally thought that it was a nice touch that the first winner of the season won the final race, and to me, it felt as if we had come full circle.
But Jenson Button was not the man of the moment.
As Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line, his team crew in the pit lane jumped about in euphoria, congratulating one another on securing the driver’s title once again this year, in addition to their constructor’s championship. Vettel’s radio was filled with the sound of Christian Horner’s voice, elatedly congratulating him on another job well done. Unfortunately, due to Vettel’s broken radio (which had malfunctioned halfway through the race), we heard nothing beyond a “oh my god, boys” (or something to that extent) before we were promptly cut off.
Parking his car in Parc Ferme, Vettel was flocked by cameramen and journalists alike as he stood up in triumph, waving his signature index finger to signify that yes, once again, for the third time in a row, he was Number 1. However, a distance away, a lone man in red stood dejectedly, and even with his helmet on, the crestfallen expression was evident in his eyes, as once again, the championship title was just out of his grasp, having lost it by a millimeter margin.
Happy as I am for Vettel, I feel absolutely and truly gutted for Alonso. Both men, I feel, are deserving of the championship title, and both have earned it in very different ways. This weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix is an apt example of how both men have driven throughout the season: Alonso keeps a very calm and collected head, he achieves results through consistency, and although he struggles with a mediocre car that cannot compare with the McLaren or the Red Bull, his strength and resilience pulls through in the face of adversity (cliche, I know, but it is true!). Vettel, on the other hand, may not be as consistent, and he is more prone to mistakes (as seen from his collision with Senna, or his accidents in Abu Dhabi), but when he is pushed down to the back of the grid, he fights fiercely, he is predatory as one by one he hunts down the cars in front of him and battles to the top, defying criticisms that “Vettel cannot overtake”. This championship battle has come so close, it has been fought for with such passion and intensity, that I feel the utmost respect for these two drivers who have fought not just with their heads and minds, but with their hearts and souls. This is why these 2 men are double world champions (one now a triple world champion), and legends of their era in Formula 1 racing.
But, apart from the celebration that comes with the electricity and adrenaline of a championship decider, a teary farewell was also bid to one of the iconic figures in Formula 1, an inspiration, a pioneer of the sport – 7-time world champion, Michael Schumacher. In the past, with 68 pole positions and 91 race victories, Schumacher’s comeback might not have gone as well as he had planned, but nevertheless, Schumacher has proven in one way or another, the true legend he is in Formula 1. Last year in Spa-Francorchamps, he started from the back of the grid, in 24th position, but finished the race in a stunning 5th place. This year, he regained former glory as he clinched pole position in Monaco and stood on the podium in Valencia. He has held his head up in this era of F1, where the cars have become so much more developed and sophisticated, with fresh rule changes and track advancements, competing against drivers much younger than himself. Yet, Schumacher’s amazing defence skills are still intact, and he has made himself one of the hardest drivers to overtake this season. Schumacher lives up to his legacy as a 7-time world champion, and personally, as a teenager, I am grateful that he made an F1 return, because this gave me the privilege to watch him race, right before my eyes.
We may also be bidding farewell to some other drivers, such as Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi, who have yet to secure seats for next season. Kovalainen, together with Petrov, brought Caterham to finish in 10th place in the constructor’s standings, a difficult feat especially with the threat of the Marussias. Kobayashi obtained his first podium finish this season, fittingly in Suzuka, Japan, in front of his home crowd. Hopefully, we will see these drivers again next season, because it would be such a shame to lose such talents in F1.
Also, next year, we may only see 11 teams in the pitlane and 22 cars on the starting grid, as HRT ceases operations due to financial drawbacks. Although typically a backmarker team on track with a relatively slow car, HRT has proved to be a resilient team, weathering the harsh criticisms, car development limitations as well as the sheer pace and competitiveness of the faster teams on track. If HRT does not receive financial support in the coming months, the Brazilian Grand Prix would have been the last time we see the HRT cars in action, as the drivers and pit crew pack their bags for one final time as they head home.
As F1 takes a break for the next 3 months, let us bask in the exhilaration and incredulity of the 2012 season – there have been many ups and downs, unexpected feats and accomplishments from the underdogs, and brilliant comebacks by drivers who have had to brave the harsh criticisms of cynics. It has been an adventure, a roller coaster ride with the gradual ascent to victory and the rapid plunge to unexpected retirement, 360-degree loops of uncertainty and danger, and now, we have arrived at the end, as we slow down to a gradual halt, after being swept up by a crazy whirlwind adventure, with our hearts beating at lightning speed and adrenaline still coursing through our veins.
Let us thank the drivers, teams and management for providing us with such a hectic, chaotic season, adding flavour to our lives and bringing smiles to our faces and tears to our eyes as we watch history being made, champions being crowned and legends blazing trails in their wake. Thank you for fighting, thank you for never giving up, thank you for always believing; thank you for being our inspiration, our motivation, our role models; our family, our friends, our sport.
In short, I direct this to everyone – the teams, the drivers, the officials, the various race organisers and the fans:
Thank you, for a great season.