A wonderful season of Formula 1 competition deserved a gripping, tense and eventful finale, and that is what we saw at Interlagos today. It was an "old fashioned" championship decider too, with a "race within a race" determining the destination of the title honours, whilst others contested the Grand Prix win itself.
Despite the effects of the first-lap incident, it would be stretching things to say that Sebastian Vettel made a spectacular comeback;he did not lose that much time, and was helped by the general mayhem and attrition ahead of him and around him in those early stages. Sensibly, once he established himself back in the points-scoring positions, he did not attempt any unnecessary heroics. This would have been foolhardy in the tricky conditions. Good sense and measured and prudent overtaking moves did the job of ensuring that he kept within the requisite points margin to Fernando Alonso.
Of the race itself, McLaren continued their late-season surge, and it was heartening to see a lively battle between their two drivers, which Jenson Button confessed to having enjoyed. His victory may be overlooked in the maelstrom of hype surrounding Vettel and Alonso, but at least his rollercoaster season ended on a high note. He had the opportunity to show off his renowned guile and finesse in changeable conditions, but also gave, and asked, no quarter when matters became wheel-to-wheel. Yes, he was helped by the Hamilton/Hulkenberg contretemps, but it must also be borne in mind that Jenson lost out greatly during the earlier pace-car period, when he and Hulkenberg looked well set.
Lewis Hamilton again raced with the clarity of vision and panache of someone who has had a burden removed from his shoulders. He can leave McLaren with his head held high, and look to the challenges awaiting him at Mercedes.
Although he made a couple of important errors when under pressure, Nico Hulkenberg once again made a huge impression, exhibiting that unfussy but highly effective driving style. After earlier relinquishing the lead to Hamilton with a half-spin, he then lost control at Turn 1, and took the Englishman out of the race. Hulkenberg had earlier complained of gear-change difficulties, and I wonder whether these problems contributed to the incidents? Whatever the case, he could hardly complain when subjected to a drive-through penalty.
I thought that Alonso did everything that he realistically could. The McLarens were just that little bit out of reach, and Hulkenberg's intervention was not completely unexpected. The Spaniard was ably and admirably supported by Felipe Massa, who delivered the kind of performance which makes him so valued in the current Ferrari set-up.
Mention should also be made of a couple of other drivers. Kamui Kobayashi raced purposefully and tenaciously all afternoon, in the knowledge that he was possibly fighting for his Formula 1 future. It was good to see him show such spirit, and I earnestly hope that we have not seen the last of him in a Grand Prix car. The latter sentiments would apply to Heikki Kovalainen.
The final race in the F1 career of the great Michael Schumacher passed with comparatively little fanfare, because of the title showdown, but after an unpromising beginning to the race, it was nice to see the seven-times champion achieve a creditable points finish. After Michael had seemingly let Vettel through in the closing stages, it was significant that they exchanged gestures of mutual affection and respect immediately after the race. Symbolic of a torch being fully passed at last?
So what of the merits of Sebastian Vettel's third consecutive championship? It is fair to say that Red Bull only attained any form of all-round superiority towards the end of the season, and even then the margin involved was not sizeable. At some races during 2012, the German had to show real nous and resolve to salvage points from unpromising situations, and at times the car's deficit in straightline speed was a handicap. Due to these factors, and also simply because he won more races than anybody else, Vettel is a worthy champion.
In fairness, Fernando Alonso would also have been a deserving world champion this year, performing wonders to remain in contention, and extracting every ounce of performance from the car, whilst the Ferrari team laboured constantly to boost the strength of the package, and to give him the tools to compete on something like an equal footing with Red Bull and McLaren.
Of 2012 in general, I think that it will be remembered as a superbly competitive and entertaining season of Formula 1 racing. 2013 will have a real task to surpass it.....