SAO PAULO // From start to finish, a more dramatic 71 laps there has arguably never been. Sebastian Vettel last night secured a third consecutive World Drivers' Championship after finishing sixth at an enthralling season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
Jenson Button of McLaren-Mercedes won the race in changeable conditions, but Red Bull Racing's 25 year old ensured the determined challenge of Fernando Alonso, who finished the race in second, was deemed inconsequential as Vettel topped the final standings by three points to become the sport's youngest ever three-time winner.
With intermittent rain affecting grip levels, the contest was always going to produce drama and the German, starting in fourth on the grid, was made to fight for his title after spinning on the opening lap and dropping to the back of the field.
Within eight laps, and carrying a noticeably damaged exhaust system, however, he had climbed back up to sixth.
"Where to start, really?" Vettel, who also lost radio communication with his team mid-race, said. "It's very difficult to find the right words. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, but we kept believing.
"It was my toughest ever race. Just look at what went wrong. Losing the radio - if there are any circumstances when you need to talk, it was these. And the car damaged from lap one. But we came back in changeable conditions, did a pit stop for nothing and still we finished sixth."
Vettel knew his final grid position would only become relevant if Alonso finished on the podium. The Spaniard, starting in seventh, quickly climbed to fourth and when, on the 23rd lap, he found himself 30 seconds off third place, he complained of debris on the track, the dangers of which had been epitomised moments earlier by Nico Rosberg, who suffered a puncture.
A safety car was deployed for seven laps affording Alonso the opportunity to close the gap and when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, running in first and second respectively, collided in the wet, the Ferrari driver was able to jump to second, where he managed to hold on with teammate Felipe Massa finishing third at his home grand prix.
Alonso, trailing Vettel by 13 points going into the race, had conceded he needed strange circumstances to finish the afternoon top of the standings. He got what he desired, but it was not enough.
"We were hoping for a little miracle," Alonso said. "It was more or less what we wanted. It was mixed conditions and one of the most difficult races I have ever driven.
"With these conditions, you feel on the wrong tyres every lap, but you have to keep fighting. A lot of risk to crash and end the race there, but we could not afford this. We needed second place and Sebastian to finish eighth, which would have been a strange result to see Red Bull in this position."
It is the third time in five years that Ferrari have lost the championship on the final day of the season and the second time in three years Alonso has come within a single race of a title. Yesterday's result, he said, produced different emotions to Abu Dhabi in 2010, when he lost to Vettel once again.
"I'm very satisfied," he said. "Very good feeling that I have now and different to Abu Dhabi two years ago because we had it in our hands so there was frustration there. Here is completely the opposite. I am so proud.
"This is by far the best season of my career and I will remember 2012 like some dream season.
"Obviously we didn't achieve the points to win the title, but I won so many things this year, including respect from everybody."
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