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Brazil 2012 - McLaren shine in show-stopping São Paulo finale // Button clings on to victory as the championship is decided behind him

Published by Christine

Team McLaren line up before the last race of the season
Credit: VMM

It was the epitome of chaos in Brazil as the final race of 2012 unfolded before our eyes. 71 laps of non-stop action, with rain on and off, and a Safety Car for good measure.

All eyes were on Vettel and Alonso, but there were great battles throughout the field and plenty to wrap the season up nicely.

McLaren

McLaren seem to be unable to get out of the loop of having one driver do really very well, whilst the other has a tricky weekend. The favour swings from one side of the garage to the other, but it rarely seems to split evenly between the two. At first, it looked as though they could have a good strong weekend, with their qualifying lockout of the front row. Although neither driver nor team was looking for championship glory, all wanted to go out on a high.

For Hamilton, it wasn’t the goodbye to the team he was hoping for. He had the coveted pole position, lost out after the first round of pit stops, but retook the position by being on the right tyres at the right time. Unfortunately, he was taken out from the lead in an incident with Nico Hülkenberg, something the Force India driver was penalised for. Hamilton was left afterwards saying how numb he felt - not letting the emotion of leaving, and a disappointing end, filter through.

McLaren did win the race, with Jenson Button keeping a clear head and sticking on a tyre strategy that seemed wrong but worked out perfectly. It was one of those races that ends up being more luck than judgement, but you have to be able to keep your car on track and facing the right way, and that’s what gets the victory. Button bookended his season with McLaren with trophies, and goes into next year with the same determined streak. They’re welcoming Sergio Pérez for 2013, though, so McLaren may find their split fortunes continuing for another season.

9/10

Ferrari

The driver’s championship was a two-horse race coming into the Brazilian Grand Prix, but Fernando Alonso was definitely the underdog. He already had a 13 point deficit to make up, and a car that was only good enough for the fifth fastest time on Saturday. And that wasn’t even his qualifying spot, with Felipe Massa getting ahead of his teammate for one of the few times this season.

Massa was faster than Alonso throughout the weekend, moving out of the way of the championship challenger but keeping his own race going strong. The tears on the podium in front of his home crowd spoke volumes about the relief of ending a frustrating year on a high.

For Fernando, it wasn’t a high. He did the best he could with the underperforming Ferrari car, and took second place, but it wasn’t enough to jump back in front of Sebastian Vettel. In a chaotic race such as Brazil, all you can do is keep pushing forward, and seeing Vettel drop down the order early on in the afternoon would have raised the team’s hopes that they could spring a surprise in São Paulo.

As race weekends go, moving up from fourth and sixth on the grid to a double podium finish would be a strong weekend for a team, but Ferrari wanted more. They’re already moving on to next year with Stefano Domenicali confident they will be faster at the start of the year to kick start their next campaign.

9/10

Red Bull

All eyes were on Vettel and Alonso going into the race weekend, but it was Webber and Massa that qualified ahead of their teammates and got themselves each into a great position to help out and/or have their own great end to the season.

Webber started the race third, with Vettel just alongside him in fourth. They both had a bad start to the race dropping back a little - but it was to be worse for Vettel. The soon-to-be champion was clearly feeling the pressure, and after a first lap spin saw him with extensive damage to the exhausts of the car, and facing the oncoming traffic alarmingly, he took to the radio in distress.

It felt as though Vettel had to be supported through this race a lot more than he may previously have been, but that could be just the coverage providing more of his radio traffic than we would normally hear. From the first few laps, where he needed reassurance the car wasn’t beyond racing, to the end where he needed to be reminded not to push too hard, and to settle for a championship-winning position. It was sixth, in the end, after an impressive fightback through a chaotic field.

The Red Bull car didn’t seem to quite have the speed that they’ve shown at previous events, and the pressure was clearly showing on at least one of their drivers, but there’s no doubt that they are still the dominant force to be reckoned with.

8/10

Force India

For a few laps, it really seemed as though Force India could take their first victory. Nico Hülkenberg has previously shown an amazing adeptness at Interlagos, taking that bizarre and now infamous pole position with a severely underperforming Williams in 2010. With a second chance at the circuit in a similar sort of car, it shouldn’t really have been a surprise to see him start the race up in sixth place, and make his way to fight with the front-runners.

It did raise eyebrows when he actually managed to overtake a McLaren or two to take the lead of the race, and then when he kept everyone else behind him. He and Jenson Button chose the same tyre strategy, and Nico deployed it equally as well. Where it came unstuck was in that fateful move to try and get back into the lead, the German crashing into Lewis Hamilton and taking him out of the race. A drive through penalty resulted, after which he till managed to finish fifth, ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Paul di Resta qualified 11th and was moved up a position by Pastor Maldonado’s penalty. It was tyre strategy that caught the second Force India car out, as they changed to intermediates when the track was drying and it turned out to be exactly the wrong choice. The rain was not playing fair, and came back at the end of the race, enough to send Di Resta careering off track and into the wall on the penultimate lap. A safety car finish is always an anti-climactic way to end a race, let alone a season.

7/10

Mercedes

Not one but two Mercedes drivers claim they suffered punctures at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix. I don’t recall Schumacher’s puncture, but Rosberg’s was enough that the Safety Car was called. It was also enough that the floor of the car was damaged and so there wasn’t much fight left in the car for the final race.

They gambled on some intermediates for Rosberg in the second half of the race, and whilst it was only set to get wetter out on track, the move didn’t reap rewards (although it didn’t particularly hinder him either). From ninth on the grid, Rosberg ended up 15th - disappointed but philosophical about the whole thing.

Schumacher’s puncture forced the outgoing racer to drive his heart out, and it worked. The German qualified 14th, but ended up 7th on Sunday after a race he called “tremendous fun.” The only real disappointment from Schumacher’s race was the ease with which he allowed Sebastian Vettel past him. No one is under any illusion which driver Michael would have preferred to win the title, but it could have been a bit less obvious. Still, he waved a flag, he thanked the fans, and it seemed like this really was goodbye.

6/10

Toro Rosso

You would have been forgiven for thinking Red Bull had four cars in the hunt to help Vettel secure the title, but Toro Rosso didn’t need to get involved. Both drivers were saved the ignominy of failing to get out of Q1, thanks to Romain Grosjean, but they didn’t get too much further on Saturday. It was 17th for Jean-Éric Vergne and 18th for Daniel Ricciardo, as they lined up on the grid for the final race of the year.

Vergne and Ricciardo are safe in the knowledge they have their race seats for 2013, so this race was just the icing on the cake. Ricciardo admits that for the first half of the Grand Prix, he was just trying to hang on for dear life as the conditions sorted themselves out. They made the wrong tyre call on his car, forcing an additional pitstop that lost him time, and he missed out on the points, finishing 13th.

Vergne also made a mistake strategy-wise, staying out on dry tyres for too long, but it didn’t affect him too badly. Moving up to eighth and picking up some handy points is a good way to finish the year, and he says: “The team gave me the opportunity to run the race as I saw best from the cockpit and I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons.” Put them into good use next year, young man!

5/10

Sauber

Sergio Pérez has an easy weekend to sum up. He qualified relatively poorly in 13th - we’ve come to expect more from the Sauber car, although perhaps not in this latter half of the year. At the first corner of the race, Pérez moved out of position to avoid contact but found himself punted off track anyway. His final race for the team before moving to McLaren was over, and it was one to instantly forget.

Kobayashi had a better afternoon. He’d qualified two places behind his teammate but had a good start and avoided the collisions around him. He did have some small contact with Mark Webber, and was forced to have a nose change during a routine pit stop, but he still managed to move his way up the order.

Those that have been following the Mercedes/Sauber championship fight were keeping a beady eye on his progress. The two Mercedes cars were out of the points for much of the race, with all Sauber’s hopes on their one remaining car. For a long while, it looked like Kobayashi was in with a shout at a podium, but towards the end he spun. Able to continue, he crossed the finish line in ninth, which wasn’t really what he (and we) were hoping for. With no race seat to go to yet, however, picking up points in a chaotic race like that can only speak positively for him.

4/10

Lotus

I’m almost loathe to speak about Grosjean’s weekend. He crashed with an HRT - both drivers blaming the other, no action taken - during the first session of qualifying, which meant an extra visit to the pitlane for a hurried nose change. He was out in time to complete another flying lap but couldn’t improve enough to get out of the first session.

In the race, it was just six laps before Romain lost control of the car, with no other contact from anyone else, and crashed into the barrier.

So, onto Kimi’s race, then. He started from eighth on the grid, and was running reasonably well. The car didn’t have the pace that he was looking for, and certainly wasn’t as strong as it has been at previous race weekends. As the race was drawing to a conclusion, Kimi blames poor visibility on his visor for missing a corner.

Instead of heading straight back on track, he dipped out onto some service roads, heading for a gate that was open eleven years ago, but has since been closed. He was very lucky that the road was wide enough to spin round, and he managed to get back to the track, crossing the grass he had so desperately tried to avoid. He finished tenth, scooping up the final points position.

For someone that doesn’t talk all that much, Kimi definitely adds some entertainment to F1.

4/10

Caterham

Caterham had one mission in mind in Brazil - do whatever it takes to get one of the cars up to 12th or above and retake tenth in the championship from Marussia. Luckily for them, it was a chaotic rain-hit race where such a thing would be possible.

For the first half of the race, it looked as though Heikki Kovalainen would be the one to help the team jump their rivals - at one point he was running way up in sixth place. A delayed pit stop (that tricky right rear again) and an early call for full wet tyres saw him drift out of contention.

Step up Vitaly Petrov then, and he was hustling Charles Pic in eleventh for the longest time. As they were being lapped, Petrov got past the Marussia car to move ahead and pull back the new teams championship for Caterham. Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that Pic moved out the way so that the team he is moving to next season could keep their cash boost. As we’ll see in a moment, however, it’s not Pic that Marussia blame.

5/10

Marussia

Marussia don’t believe that Pic would have allowed the Caterham driver past intentionally, with team principal Graeme Lowdon saying: “Nothing worse for him than going there after being overtaken by one of their drivers. He’s got his professional pride to look after.”

For Marussia, the blame lies squarely at the door of one Jean-Éric Vergne, after Timo Glock and the Toro Rosso driver got tangled up earlier in the race. Glock was up in 12th place, ahead of both Caterhams and behind the safety car, when Vergne, as Lowdon puts it: “just ran straight into the back of Timo and smashed Timo’s car.”

Glock had to do an entire lap with a puncture and damage, before getting back to the pits to be patched up. That put him out of the running and left all the pressure on Pic, and we know how that turned out.

4/10

HRT

The collision between Pedro de la Rosa and Romain Grosjean during the early part of Saturday’s qualifying was actually the most visible the cars were going to get all weekend. They had limited running during practice, presumably due to the lack of spare parts and useful life left on those already on the car.

Karthikeyan qualified 23rd with De la Rosa 24th, but they swapped places in the race, the Spaniard finishing ahead. They were last of the runners, though, two laps down. Credit where it’s due, though, they did get both cars to the end of a race that could easily have ended in retirement.

2/10

Williams

Qualifying was also the most visible part of Williams weekend, as Pastor Maldondo posted a speedy time to take sixth place on Saturday. Unfortunately, he missed a call to the weighbridge during the session which resulted in a reprimand. This was his third reprimand of the season, automatically handing him a ten place grid penalty. Sixth turned into 16th.

Bruno Senna started the race from 11th, having qualified 12th, but he was involved in the first lap crash with Sebastian Vettel. Taking the inside line to pass a slower car, he found an unexpected Red Bull coming in from the side. A spin and a crash with Pérez later, and Senna was out of the race on the first lap.

Maldonado, starting from 16th, disappeared from our TV screens by crashing into the wall on the second lap. Just two laps in, and both cars retired from the race, the 2012 season for Williams came to an abrupt and early end.

1/10

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