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GP Week : Issue 177a
F1 >>> BRAZIL How did Vettel's Red Bull survive this? 29 GPWEEK.com // 29 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: A s season finales go, the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix certainly deserves the mantle of a nail-biting epic. Before the first lap was complete there had been drama aplenty, with great leaps for ward, flying bodywork, and a title contender facing oncoming traffic at Turn 4 after he had been set spinning by a midfield colleague. And over the course of the next seventy laps of the twisty and undulating Interlagos circuit the drama continued apace, as nails were bitten down to the quick along the length of the pitlane. At the head of the pack was Nico Hulkenberg, leading a grand prix for the first time in his career, while further down the grid Marussia and Caterham were slugging it out for that all-important tenth place in the constructors’ championship. And in the middle of it all? In the middle was an all-out battle for the drivers’ title, with Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel driving their hearts out to secure what would have been either man’s third championship. As the cars left the grid for the formation lap, the light drizzle that had been falling over Sao Paulo since lunchtime grew heavier. By the time the lights went out to signify the start of the last round of the 2012 Formula One World Championship, the track was better suited to inters than the slick tyres the cars had been shod in. Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton found decent traction, and kept the lead going into the first corner. Hometown hero Felipe Massa made a great start, jumping up to keep pace with the McLarens. But further down the pack there was trouble aplenty. With drivers running wide at Turn 1 and rejoining, the pack was squeezed through the early corners. The racing line was an object of fantasy, not reality, and new apexes were being carved out between the press of racing machinery. For those who had no place to go, the only answer was to plant themselves – unwillingly – into their rivals’ cars, as happened to Sebastian Vettel. Turn 4 saw the Red Bull driver suffer significant damage to his left sidepod as he was spun around like a top by the Williams of Bruno Senna when the latter man had nowhere to go in traffic. For a lesser driver, the fat lady would have completed her warm-up exercises and picked up her sheet music. But for Sebastian Vettel, who found himself facing oncoming traffic before righting his RB8 and chasing 23 cars around the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, that early setback was merely another opportunity to prove that he deser ved that third title, no matter how hard he would be forced to fight for it. The incident did not merely affect Vettel – Sergio Perez, Bruno Senna, and Pastor Maldonado were all out of the Brazilian Grand Prix on the first lap, collateral damage in the chaos of a race start in highly changeable track conditions on barely suitable rubber. By lap 4, Vettel was in P18 and fighting his way up through the grid with sidepod damage the team were unable to fix. The German was not the only title contender to struggle in the opening phase of Sunday’s race. Fernando Alonso was much higher up the pack, having worked his way up to P3 and looking good for the title, but the Ferrari driver was being chased down by Nico Hulkenberg, who had rediscovered his 2010 Interlagos form. On lap 5, Alonso ran wide at Turn 1, handing the advantage – and third place – to the Force India driver. It was the sign many on the pit wall were waiting for, and teams began to call their drivers in to box for inters. There may not be many universal truths in Formula One, but if Fernando Alonso is struggling, track conditions are not easy. Lotus called Kimi Raikkonen in first, but the Enstone racers found themselves ruing that decision when the less experienced Romain Grosjean lost control on the following lap, slamming into the