Brazil GPR Recap: Button wins damp, messy race, Ferrari completes podium, Vettel becomes 3-time champion

Jenson Button won the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix after an early rainy and greasy start that saw championship leader Sebastian Vettel sat facing the rest of the oncoming field. Button had fought teammate Lewis Hamilton for the lead early on, only to lose both first and second to Nico Hulkenberg. There was much dicing early on, then a SC for the load of debris on the track as it caused a puncture for Nico Rosberg. Rain fell and stopped falling throughout the race. Hulkenberg looked solidly ready for the win even after halfway until a spin gave Hamilton back the lead, then traffic caught them both out and Hulkenberg ended the Briton’s race and received a drive-through himself.

That drama left Button in the lead, while a fight from Alonso had brought the Spaniard to third, then teammate Felipe Massa gave him second. That podium was still not enough to win him the drivers’ championship, as Vettel had driven his way up to sixth and kept his points lead. Paul Di Resta crashed through the final turn on the second to last lap, ended the race under a SC, then yellow flag conditions. This last race of 2012 saw championship fights further down the field right to the flag, dicing from the expected and unexpected drivers, and was absolutely worthy of a championship deciding race.

Hamilton won pole during Saturday’s damp then dry qualifying sessions, beating out teammate Button in their last season as McLaren teammates. It was a day for teammates beating each other, as Webber qualified third, ahead of championship leader Vettel, while Massa out-qualified his own championship contending teammate Alonso to start fifth. The latter qualified eighth, but a post-qualifying penalty moved the Spaniard up to start seventh. The stewards gave Maldonado his third reprimand of the season for missing a stop at the weight bridge during Q2, resulting in an automatic ten grid position penalty. The Venezuelan had qualified sixth, but started sixteenth after his penalty.

Hamilton looked to be a solid pick for pole all weekend, leading both Friday practice sessions. Button took charge of the third, while Vettel always sat second to either teammate. Both Friday sessions saw typical running for all drivers at the perennial circuit, though the weather remained unchangeably sunny. Saturday’s morning session was also dry, though rain fell a half hour before qualifying, resulting in rapidly changing conditions for the three quali sessions. Button posted the fastest time in the final practice, while Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Massa, and Grosjean all joined the McLaren duo in the top five during the various practices. HRT posted few laps, as the team’s multitudinous issues since its conception continued, while Raikkonen lost a lot of time and forced a lot of work for his crew with another blown Renault engine in the final practice.

Rain was forecast as a given earlier in the week, only to have the chance decrease as race day dawned. A few drops fell a could of hours before lights out, only to have the sky become more threatening as drivers left the garage to form on the grid. The temperature dropped, and drops were falling on the grid twenty minutes before the race, though no massive rain seemed likely. Rain began truly drizzling down in the final ten minutes before lights out. As for the grid, de la Rosa suffered a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change, moving back from starting twenty-fourth to start twenty-fourth in what was generally considered the last race for HRT.

Race Start:
The conditions were not yet wet as the lights went out, though the track had become greasy. Schumacher, Grosjean, and Kobayashi all started on the hard tyres, the only drivers on the grid to do so. Hamilton got away well, with Button slotting in behind. Massa looked to take second from Button into the first turn and did so, while Alonso also moved right up on the start. Vettel had dropped back through the back, getting caught up by Webber, then in a bit of a melee as Raikkonen locked up and stacked drivers up behind him. Vettel  turned in early, spun and hit Senna, then sat facing the rest of the field. He continued on at the end of the field only to have the team tell him that he could not come in, that they could not fix the damage to the front wing. Massa, meanwhile, lost position to Button, then came under attack from Webber, leaving space enough for Alonso to sneak in and move up to third on the inside of both. At the end of L2, Hamilton led Button, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Webber, Massa, Di Resta, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, and Rosberg the top ten. Senna, Maldonado, and Perez were all knocked out in that early incident.

Though DRS had been enabled, it was soon disabled as the rain fell harder. Alonso had a massive off, going well wide and diving back onto the slippery track. He lost a few positions, then went three wide. Race control re-enabled DRS, even as Raikkonen and Schumacher pitted for another set of the hard tyres. Meanwhile, Massa got back around Webber, with Alonso directly behind him. Webber continued to have a go at Alonso with a number of drivers all stacked up together. Button had gotten around Hamilton across the line as L7 began, but Hamilton got the lead back. Meanwhile, Grosjean had crashed in a slippery turn, ending his race. Soon thereafter Webber also spun, losing a bit of front wing in contact. Button retook the lead as the conditions continued to be messy. Vettel, though had already made his way back up to eighth, even as Alonso sat five and a half seconds behind Hulkenberg. At the end of L8, Button led Hamilton, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Massa, Vettel, Di Resta, Rosberg, Ricciardo, and Vergne as the top ten. Kovalainen, Glock, Petrov, de la Dorsa, Pic, Webber, Karthikeyan, Raikkonen, and Schumacher rounded out the runners. Kobayashi had just pitted for inters, then so did Schumacher.

End L10 of 71:
Rosberg, Ricciardo, and Webber all pitted on L10 with the rain continuing to fall, and fall a bit harder. Webber had damage and slid while entering his box, forcing his mechanics to jump out of the way. Hamilton pitted at the end of L10, soon after Alonso went off through the Senna Esses for the second time. Alonso, Vettel, and Di Resta all followed Hamilton in for inters. Button still led after those stops, with Hulkenberg second. The former radioed that it wasn’t raining.

Massa had moved up to third, Hamilton sat fourth, Vergne fifth, with Kovalainen, Petrov, Glock, de la Rosa, and Pic moving well up the order, having not yet stopped. Alonso led Kobayashi, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Webber, and Vettel in twelfth through seventeenth after stopping. Webber soon allowed Vettel through. At the end of L13, Button led Hulkenberg, Hamilton, Massa, Vergne, Alonso, Glock, Kovalainen, Kobayashi, and Petrov as the top ten. Vettel soon got around Rosberg and sat ready to pounce on Petrov.

Karthikeyan and Pic, then Glock, Petrov, and de la Rosa all pitted with most teams suggesting that the rain would last another five minutes. Hamilton began complaining that his tyres had gone off. Alonso had moved up around Massa, who soon dropped down the order on his slick tyres. He pitted on L16, as did Vergne and Kovalainen. Vettel had passed Kobayashi to go into fifth, but it clearly looked as though he did so under waving yellow flags. It would later be explained that that the waving flags were red/yellow lightsindicating a slippery track. At the front, Hulkenberg had well caught up to Button, having a look or two to take the lead from the Briton. Neither of the two leading drivers had pitted, the only men on the track to do so.

About that time, McLaren told Hamilton that the rain would be lasting for another half hour and his tyres would need to last. Hamilton responded that they were already done. He pitted for the second time, moving back to the slicks. Alonso, Kobayashi, Rosberg, and Di Resta also pitted. At the front, Button got a bit out of shape and did not fight too hard when Hulkenberg took advantage and took the lead. Vettel pitted, as did Webber, as L20 began. Their Toro Rosso brothers followed them in, as did Massa, Glock, Petrov, and Kovalainen. Rosberg soon dropped out of the order with a puncture on his right rear.

At the end of L21, Hulkenberg led Button by more than a second. Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi, Webber, Di Resta, Ricciardo, and Vergne completed the top ten. Vettel’s Red Bull looked terribly worn from his first lap hit. Alonso had radioed Ferrari about the amount of debris, that which likely caused Rosberg’s puncture.

Safety Car (L23 of 71)/Restart (L29/30 of 71):
Hulkenberg and Button both pitted under the SC, as track workers moved to collect the bits and pieces strewn across the track. They retained the lead and order. Hulkenberg, Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi, Webber, Di Resta, Ricciardo, and Raikkonen were the top ten behind the SC, with Massa eleventh and Schumacher fifteenth. A number of drivers had to make their way around the SC as the leaders went through their stop, then those cars one lap behind had the opportunity to get around and unlap themselves. More rain was forecast for fifteen minutes after L27.

On the restart, Hulkenberg kept the lead. Kobayashi took the inside to take a place from Vettel, allowing Webber to come to the outside and slide off the track. The Japanese driver was soon on Alonso’s gearbox, while Hamilton pushed Button. After the first restart lap, Hulkenberg led Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Kobayashi, Vettel, Di Resta, Massa, Ricciardo, and Raikkonen. Hamilton pushed through on the inside of Button to take second. Meanwhile, DRS was enabled. Alonso remained close behind Button as the field stayed close, though more than two seconds behind Hulkenberg. Kobayashi took fourth from Alonso, slipping through underneath the Spaniard into Turn 4.

Things were far better for teammate Massa, taking seventh from Di Resta and setting off after Vettel. However, Alonso went back again at Kobayashi to take back fourth, leaving room for the Japanese driver to go wide and drop down the order. Massa had a go at Vettel and neatly took sixth from the championship leader.

Halfway (End L36 of 71):
Hulkenberg maintained a two second gap over Hamilton in the lead, with Button, Alonso, Kobayashi, Massa, Vettel, Ricciardo, di Resta, and Webber the top ten at halfway. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Petrov, Pic, Kovalainen, Rosberg, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Vergne, and Glock completed the running order. Vettel lost a bit of time with a wiggle, having dropped his right rear onto the still wet white line on the drying track. Massa continued his charge, taking Kobayashi and fifth place to hold station three seconds behind his teammate. Raikkonen and Schumacher were inches apart going through the Esses as the latter looked for a way around the outside of the retiring German. He managed the pass for tenth a turn later. Di Resta also passed Schumacher, moving back up to positions he had lost in a spin.

Webber took an easy pass on Ricciardo to take his own station behind teammate Vettel. Meanwhile, McLaren told Hamilton that he was in the window for another stop, while Hamilton wondered about the rain. It soon began to drizzle again. Webber soon had a massive sideways spin, but kept his position ahead of Ricciardo. Hamilton began taking chunks of time out of Hulkenberg, with both McLarens the fastest on the track. Vettel had also caught up Kobayashi. He seemed ready to hold station behind the Japanese driver, with teammate Webber and sister team driver Ricciardo buffering him from a closing Raikkonen, but also received tips on KERS induced overtaking from his race engineer.

At the front, Hulkenberg also lost the rear and spun sideways enough to allow Hamilton through and back into the lead. Most everyone looked ready for new tyres, but all were looking for the weather to make the decision for them. All the drivers in the top ten had a relatively clear lap, with no one less than a second apart and most two seconds from the driver ahead and behind with twenty-one laps remaining. Soon, Vettel learned that his radio did not work, and he would have to move the microphone about inside his helmet. Still, his race engineer told him that “everyone is struggling” that his his lap times matched Alonso.

Rosberg and de la Rosa pitted from eighteenth and nineteenth, with the former switched to inters. Ricciardo also stopped, going for another set of dry tyres. Vettel pitted on L52 for another set of slicks, this time medium. He rejoined in tenth, with a crack on the sidepod that ran down to the floor on his Red Bull. Raikkonen spun and looked to use an escape road to get back on track, only to find a locked gate, turn around, and take a trip across the mud to rejoin. He pitted. Caught in traffic, Hulkenberg took a look for the lead. Hamilton went to fight back, only to get behind a Caterham and look to its inside. Hulkenberg slid and bounced into Hamilton, breaking the latter’s left front suspension. That ended Hamilton’s race and put Button into the lead. Hulkenberg managed to save second for himself.

Meanwhile, Vettel dove into the pits where tyres were not ready for him. He had a eleven plus second stop for inters. Massa soon followed, as did Webber. As the rain fell, Alonso had a huge moment in third in the rain, but managed to save it. Alonso pitted on L56 for his own set of inters, dropping to fourth. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg received a drive-through for causing a penalty. Button soon pitted for his first set of inters, as did Hulkenberg, while Vergne, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Glock, and Karthikeyan all also pitted. Back on track, Kobayashi had gone wide, allowing Vettel to get in on the inside, forcing the Japanese driver well off the track. At the end of L59, Button led Massa, Alonso, Webber, as Hulkenberg dropped to fifth on his penalty, Schumacher, Vettel, Kobayashi, Vergne, and Di Resta the top ten.

10 Laps Remaining:
With ten laps to go, Alonso had nearly caught his teammate to move up to second. Button had nearly twenty seconds on the two Ferraris as the rain fell harder. They executed the switch neatly, but it was still not enough to win him the championship with Vettel in seventh and catching Schumacher. Red Bull continued to remind him that his current position was enough, even as the rain continued to fall harder. Vettel was soon directly behind Schumacher, with the spray clouding his vision. Schumacher let Vettel go and get into sixth.

The championship looked solidly Vettel’s with six laps to go, as Button maintained twenty seconds or more on Alonso. Further back, Kobayashi and Schumacher touched lightly, and Kobayashi spun nearly to be collected by a Toro Rosso as he rejoined. Moments later the race ended behind the Safety Car, as Di Resta spun and crashed heavily into the wall, sitting at the final turn. He was unhurt, leaving the race to come to both a climatic and anti-climactic end. The SC returned to to the pits rather than lead the field across the line, but the yellows in the final turn kept any drivers from passing. IN the end, Button won, leading Alonso across the line, with Massa making a Ferrari 2-3 podium, and Vettel becoming the world champion for the third time.

Final Positions, 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix:

1. Jenson ButtonMcLaren2
2. Fernando AlonsoFerrari2.73
3. Felipe MassaFerrari3.63
4. Mark WebberRed Bull4.93
5. Nico HulkenbergForce India5.73
6. Sebastian VettelRed Bull9.44
7. Michael SchumacherMercedes11.94
8. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso28.64
9. Kamui KobayashiSauber31.23
10. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1 Lap3
11. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1 Lap3
12. Charles PicMarussia1 Lap3
13. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1 Lap5
14. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1 Lap5
15. Nico RosbergMercedes1 Lap3
16. Timo GlockMarussia1 Lap3
17. Pedro de la RosaHRT2 Laps3
18. Narain KarthikeyanHRT2 Laps3
19. Paul Di RestaForce India3 Laps3
 Lewis HamiltonMcLaren17 Laps2
 Romain GrosjeanLotus66 Laps
 Pastor MaldonadoWilliams70 Laps
 Bruno SennaWilliams
 Sergio PerezSauber
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