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Motorsport: F1 goes nuts in Brazil as fortunes wax and wane

Bryan Edwards

Fans were exhausted, commentators were breathless, drivers were either elated to seemingly dangerous degree or as flat as a flat thing. And all because the Brazilian Grand Prix, the last race of the 2012 Formula One season, was impossibly exciting. If anyone ever mentions a traffic-light grand-prix, tell them to watch this for the moments the lights went out, the world went crazy. And it didn't stop until the leaders had already finished

The result of the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was never in doubt: no one would have a clue - until Jenson Button crossed the line in first place, who would win. For sure, a gambling man would have put Button on the top step of the podium with three or four laps to go - but he was third just a few laps earlier.

The drivers' championship provided a backdrop for a race that had more incident per lap that Austin had in the entire race - and Austin was a superb race.

Vettel needed to finish fourth or higher to secure his third consecutive championship - if he did that, Alonso's finishing position would be irrelevant. And so, when Vettel, who had a poor start in slippery conditions, turned in onto Senna (knocking him out of his home grand prix) in the fourth corner of the race and spun to the back of the field with a damaged side pod and exhaust pipe, it looked like Alonso, provided he finished at least third, would win the Championship.

Long story short: the two McLarens hared off into the distance, an end-of-term spirit showing through into hard, wheel to wheel races between the two team-mates. Some had argued that Button is not a worthy team-leader and that McLaren need Hamilton more, partly because Hamilton is a hard charger and every team needs one (or so they say). If anyone doubted Button's ability or will to compete with Hamilton in wet, dry or slippery conditions, to suggest he can't charge or mix it up, this race put paid to any such doubts. Button was ruthless and was soon not only in front of Hamilton but pulling away at almost one second a lap. What surprised almost everyone was that Hulkenberg also passed Hamilton and gave chase after Button. By the 24th lap, still on slick tyres despite slippery conditions that led almost the whole field to swap to intermediates, Button and Hulkenberg were 40 seconds ahead.

Then there was debris right across the track, Vettel said "we need a safety car" and one lap later, out it came. But Button and Hulkenberg were so far ahead that they came in, changed tyres and went out again and still had a healthy lead until they had to hang around for the safety car and the rest of the train to catch them up.

When the race restarted, Button had trouble getting heat into his tyres. First Hulkenberg, then Hamilton passed him. Hulkenberg was significantly quicker until he touched kerb, kept the car on track (unlike Petrov who had exactly the same incident a lap earlier and went off) but that allowed Hamilton to dive up the inside and pull away.

In the meantime, Alonso fell off the track several times but kept going. Vettel climbed up into the top five. Suddenly, the team number twos were in play: Massa, at one point more than half-a-minute ahead of Alonso knew that the best he could do in front of his home crowd was to demonstrate his superiority before the inevitable call to let Alonso call and pass to try to gain extra points. Vettel, with Webber first as a rear-gunner and then clearing out back markers to garner the maximum number of points for Vettel in a perfect demonstration of why F1 is a team sport and why the now-revoked rule as to team orders was a bad idea. Vettel did indeed finish 6th, with Alonso second after Massa hung around for the Spaniard to catch up and pass him.

Kimi Raikkonen got lost. Perhaps his time in rallying while away from F1 got the better of him: he ran wide, saw some tarmac and dived along it. But it was the old circuit. No doubt he thought it would re-join the track somewhere but it didn't and he had to turn around then, when he got back to the run-off area for the current layout, he went agricultural in a way that F1 cars are not designed to do.

Shchumacher seemed to defer to Vettel, perhaps for national pride: after all MS has been a somewhat pointless protagonist in F1 for the past three years and, bluntly, he will not be missed by many. But in fact, MS's lines were compromised through a whole series of corners, not only that where Vettel passed: he was off the racing line for much of the series, seemingly travelling slowly. But then he picked up the pace to finish with some reasonable points.

At the back, the six new cars raced within a few hundred metres of each other for much of the race - and mixed it with the Torro Rossi and anyone who changed tyres and therefore dropped off. By the end, HRT were struggling but all three of the new teams should be very proud of the pace they had - albeit aided by tricky conditions.

And so to the pointy end for the end of the race: a Caterham moved off-line for Hamilton to pass on the dry line but Hamilton stayed wide, Hulkenberg - very fast when the track became slippery - saw the dry line was empty and headed for it. But as the cars all turned in, he put one back wheel onto the wet - where Hamilton already was, spun and his rear wheel hit Hamilton's front wheel, knocking it off. The Hulk was awarded a drive-through penalty for causing the collision but that seems harsh: it was not a reckless move and in the conditions so many drivers - including Champions, spent so much time off the track that his one indiscretion seems very minor in comparison.

Hamilton out, Hulkenberg recovering - Button drove serenely and calmly into the lead.

As the weather got worse, others changed tyres. Button just carried on, still more than 20 seconds ahead of Alonso who, by that time, had been handed second place. Then, with the race effectively done at the front, the safety car came out again for two laps, pulling in just in time for Button to ensure the Ferraris, now hot on his tail, didn't pass on the way to the line.

It is impossible to describe the craziness of the race: certainly none of the drivers, despite their best efforts could.

One more thing happened: Caterham, née Team Lotus finished 11th with Petrov (who was fired by Renault last year to make way for Raikkonen) one place behind the Lotus Renault Champion. That's poetic in more than one way. But equally, it's given them 10th place in the Constructors' Championship which, on some figures, is worth an additional 42 million odd euros for next season.

But this morning, as the hangovers start, spare a thought for the HRT Team. Its owners have decided to sell, the word in the paddock is that many of the team have been given notice that they are to be made redundant. No one in Spain (except Fernando Alonso, perhaps) can afford to buy a grand prix team. Whether the Brazilian race was their last is not certain but, unfortunately, it does look reasonably likely.