Vettel secures title hat-trick
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel has won the 2012 F1 drivers' world championship after finishing the Brazilian Grand Prix in sixth place.
Vettel rode a heartstopping rollercoaster at Interlagos en route to becoming the youngest three-time Formula One world champion.
The race proved to be one of the most dramatic in the sport's history as the destiny of the title swung one way and then the other between Red Bull star Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
The conditions over Sao Paulo played havoc, resulting in a catalogue of incidents, not least Vettel dropping to last place after the first few corners following a collision with Williams' Bruno Senna.
But through drizzle, light rain, then heavy rain, multiple pit stops, it was Vettel who emerged the man, coming home sixth to finish three points ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
The 31-year-old Spaniard could do no better than second behind race winner Jenson Button, his third victory of the season as McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton crashed out in his final race for the marque.
Kobayashi relinquished his fifth spot with damage to his front wing, and with Vettel passing Force India's Paul di Resta, he was up to sixth after eight laps.
With the rain increasing, Webber came in for intermediate tyres to aid grip, followed after 10 laps by Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel.
However, a number of cars, including the likes of the Caterhams, the Marussias and the remaining HRT of Pedro de la Rosa, all stayed out on their medium dry tyres and were in all the top 10 at one point.
It was the same for Button and Hulkenberg, running one-two after 14 laps and separated by 1.1secs, with Hamilton third and 16.4secs down, but informing the team his tyres were starting to go off.
As for the two title protagonists, after scything their way through the slower cars, Alonso was running fourth and Vettel fifth, three seconds apart.
Come the start of lap 19, Hulkenberg swept past Button to lead a race for the first time in his career.
At the end of that lap, with the inters going off on a dry-line track despite fine rain in the air, Hamilton and Alonso switched to dry tyres - hard and medium respectively - as did Vettel who switched to the medium, whilst a number of other cars followed suit.
After 22 laps, Hulkenberg and Button, yet to pit, were 1.2secs apart, with Hamilton 45secs adrift, but with debris on the track from many incidents, race director Charlie Whiting sent out the safety car.
That allowed Hulkenberg and Button to finally pit, but wiping out the advantage they had.
By the time the safety car disappeared at the end of lap 29, the running order was Hulkenberg, Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi, Webber and Di Resta.
At the re-start Vettel and Webber were both caught napping, the latter especially as he ran wide and dropped a number of places, whilst the former was passed by Kobayashi.
On lap 31 Hamilton scythed his way past Button to claim second, before Alonso and Kobayashi traded fourth place on the following lap.
A more stable race began to unfold in the drier conditions, with Vettel hanging on to seventh spot, despite the lack of downforce given the damage to his car.
However, the drizzle started to return from around lap 42 onwards, again creating a greasy, unpredictable surface which at first caught out Caterham's Vitaly Petrov, and then Hulkenberg on lap 48.
The German spun at one point, allowing Hamilton by into the lead and then Button to close to two seconds, followed by Alonso in fourth, Massa, Kobayashi, Vettel and Webber.
With fresh tyres being taken on, Vettel pitted again at the end of lap 52 for a set of medium compound tyres, dropping from seventh to 10th.
Soon after, with the drizzle heavier, Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen took an excursion down the Porsche Supercup pitlane believing he could take to the track, only to realise his mistake.
At the start of lap 55, with Hulkenberg making a move on Hamilton into turn one, and with backmarkers ahead, he lost control and slid into the Briton, breaking his front-left suspension.
It proved to be a sad end for Hamilton's McLaren career before his switch to Mercedes next season.
The accident allowed Button into the lead and Alonso second, whilst Hulkenberg earned a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.
At the same time Vettel made a fourth stop, opting for intermediate tyres, but with his team not ready for him and resulting in a slow stop, dropping him to ninth.
With everybody eventually switching to intermediates, the running order after 61 laps was Button, Massa, Alonso, Webber, Hulkenberg, Schumacher and Vettel, the latter still with one hand on the title.
It was not long before Alonso unsurprisingly passed Massa to move up to second, but with Vettel in seventh it meant the Spaniard would fall just short.
That soon became sixth as Vettel was assisted by Schumacher on lap 65 as the retiring seven-time champion put up no fight when his younger compatriot came up behind.
On lap 70, Force India's Paul Di Resta smacked into a wall into the final corner, forcing the safety car into play for a second time.
With only one lap remaining it ensured the race finished behind it, guaranteeing Button the victory but more importantly Vettel his third world title.
With Alonso second and Vettel sixth, the gap between the duo at the end of nine enthralling months and a record-breaking 20 races ended up being just three points.
That allowed Red Bull to celebrate Vettel becoming the youngest three-time F1 world champion in the sport's history.