Sao Paulo, Brazil – Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull captured his third consecutive Formula One world championship with a come-from-behind sixth-place finish in Sunday's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
In a wet and wild affair from start to finish in the 71-lap race, Vettel managed to bounce back from an opening-lap crash. Vettel started fourth but got turned around when Williams' Bruno Senna went into the side of him before making contact with Sergio Perez from Sauber. Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen ran off course and then bumped into Senna in the corner, which triggered the melee.
Vettel sustained damage to the left-rear of his car and fell back to the tail end of the field, while Senna and Perez were both knocked out of the race.
After making four pit stops during the event, including two for intermediate tires, Vettel ran in the sixth position before Force India's Paul di Resta crashed with less than two laps to go, resulting in the deployment of the safety car. The race ended with the field behind the safety car, as heavy rain fell on the 2.677-mile Interlagos circuit. McLaren's Jenson Button won the Brazilian GP, while Vettel's championship rival, Fernando Alonso, crossed the finish line second in his Ferrari.
"It's very difficult to find the right words, especially after the race today," said Vettel. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong. We always kept believing instead of getting angry or getting frustrated."
Vettel defeated Alonso for the title by just three points. He entered the season-finale with a 13-point advantage over Alonso. Vettel needed to finish fourth or better to be guaranteed of clinching the championship, regardless of where Alonso placed.
"It was an incredible race," Vettel noted. "It was harder for us, not just the others."
At age 25, Vettel became the youngest driver to win three world championships in the sport's 63-year history. The German also joined Juan Manuel Fangio and fellow compatriot Michael Schumacher as the only competitors to claim three or more consecutive titles. Fangio won four titles in a row from 1954-57, while Schumacher captured five straight from 2000-04.
"I have to say a big thanks to everyone on the team," Vettel said. "I feel like one of the guys on the team. I don't feel more or less important. I drive the car. What we achieved today was what we have been working for since I joined the team. It was a massive amount of work getting it done through the whole year."
Last weekend, Red Bull clinched its third straight constructors' championship in the United States Grand Prix, which was held at the brand new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Button picked up his third win of the season and the 15th of his F1 career. He began the season with a victory in the March 18 Australian Grand Prix. Button also won the Sept. 2 Belgian Grand Prix.
"First of all, I want to congratulate the whole team," Button said. "This is the perfect way for us to end the season. We started on a high and then had our ups and downs, but to end on a high is fantastic. It bodes very well for 2013."
In his last race with McLaren, Lewis Hamilton started on the pole and held the lead before he crashed on lap 55. Nico Hulkenberg was attempting to pass him for the top spot, but the Force India driver made contact with Hamilton, which damaged the left-front side of his car and therefore led to his retirement. Button was running third prior to the incident but took over the lead and held it from there. Race stewards later penalized Hulkenberg with a drive-through on pit lane for causing the wreck.
"Now that the 2012 season is done and dusted, I feel a bit numb," Hamilton said. "It's been a day of mixed emotions. I'm sad that I didn't finish the race, but I'm excited about the future. I'll miss my friends and Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, but I'm optimistic about what lies ahead for me."
Hamilton, who won the United States GP, is moving over to Mercedes to replace Schumacher for the 2013 season. Schumacher, the record seven-time F1 titleholder and winner of 91 races, finished seventh in the last grand prix of his illustrious career.
"My final Formula One race was tremendous fun, and I would once again like to thank the team and all my fans for their support over the past years," Schumacher said. "I've enjoyed the time we've spent together very much indeed."
Alonso, 31, was attempting to win his third F1 championship as well. The Spaniard charged from seventh to third just prior to Vettel's incident on the first lap.
"I'm very proud of my team and very proud of the season we had," Alonso said. "When you do something with your heart and you give it 100 percent, you have to be proud of yourself and the team. I'm happy for them, and we will try again next year."
Alonso's teammate and Sao Paulo-native Felipe Massa finished third to the delight of his home crowd. It was Massa's second podium appearance of the season.
"The second part of the year was preparation for next year," Massa said. "It was so emotional to race here, and I thought the race was really fantastic. For sure, it could have been a better position than where I finished."
Mark Webber from Red Bull took the fourth spot, while Hulkenberg ended up finishing fifth. Hulkenberg led in a grand prix for the first time in his F1 career.
Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi from Sauber and Raikkonen completed the top-10.
The Brazilian GP ended a F1 record 20-race schedule this season.