Interlagos 2012 will be remembered. A Brazilian GP for the ages. Not because it was Michael Schumacher’s last F1 race once and for all, but because it provided the most dramatic possible climax to a closely fought Formula One Season in recent history.
First things first- the legend, a struggling shiny Hyundai car in an era of Mercs and Ferraris, has retired. After a second innings that resembled that of Ramgopal Varma and Subhash Ghai, many fans will be relieved to see Schumacher walk off into the sunset after refusing to add to his accolades over 2.5 painful years. He remains the legend that he was back in 2006, when he took the battle down to the last race, with his reputation slightly tarnished by his eagerness to have ‘fun’ in this modern world of F1. No more victories, no more pole positions and no more trophies. A bruised ego and a reality check, albeit a fierce desire and will to compete with drivers half his age, and even outdo them at times- will be remembered. 308 races, and he finished the same way he started- 7th on a circuit that required tremendous skill, awareness and poise to see the car home in any position. Signing off with a wet-weather drive that took him from a lap down 20 laps into the race to a very respectable 7th position in a seesaw chaotic race, is fitting for the man they call Michael Schumacher.
Jenson Button, meanwhile, has established a reputation of sorts- of winning in the most difficult conditions possible, year after year, but failing to finish straightforward races. McLaren Mercedes finish on a high- with both their drivers winning the last two races, in Hamilton’s final season. Lewis will be satisfied, despite his error while leading once again, and will look to fill in the not-so-huge shoes of Michael Schumacher the second.
But, as expected, in a race that wasn’t expected to throw up as many surprises as it did, it all came down to the emotionally-draining battle between two Champion drivers- both easily the most consistent F1 drivers in 2012, both with a lot at stake- and it all came down to the final few laps of the final race of an electrifying season. 2012, in most ways, will be a season for the ages.
Fernando Alonso, according to many, the man who deserved the title this year- fell 3 points short at the end. One position short. There was a time when he was 3rd, and Vettel 16th after a disastrous first curve for the German. But, as we’ve seen so many times this year, Vettel just refused to go away and fought his way back only another older German could have been familiar with.
There were so many changes in track position so often in an hour, it became impossible to keep up with their real positions sans pitstops- and with the rain playing peek-a-boo, nothing was going to be straightforward for any of them. For starters, both of them needed to complete the race- irrespective of the other mini-battles in the field.
And they did, in style- with Alonso’s heartbroken face standing out at the end, on the podium. It will be a face that will be under the scanner till the opening Australian GP in 2013. It will be interesting to watch how the best driver of his generation hits back- despite not holding a title since 2006, and finishing behind the youngest triple world champion of all time for the second time in three years, in the last race.
That is not to take away anything from Sebastian Vettel, babyface Seb, the boy who is just 4 titles away from his childhood idol. Midway through the season, Red Bull may not have been expecting this tremendous late surge by their no. 1 driver, but when it did happen- one couldn’t help but feel that it was long overdue after a barren ordinary first half. Normalcy, in a way, was restored as he snapped up 3 in a row, and came back to haunt Alonso the same way Alonso had hunted down Schumacher in 2006.
Many Schumacher fans will believe that what goes around had to come around for the Spaniard- and it could have been poetic justice for them to watch the young and old German embrace afterwards.
2013 will be a time of reckoning for Alonso- a crossroad that could propel him into one of two leagues: One that involves greatness being cut short by circumstances, and another that involves circumstances challenged by greatness.
For now, though, he will have to be satisfied with being the almost-man of Formula One. As often proved, Spaniards and ‘almost’ never go together anymore.
Sebastian Vettel- World Champion for 2012, 2011 and 2010. Age 25.
Next season, though, it will be Kimi on the run right from the beginning. No more easing in, trying to survive.
Next season, it will be Button and Hamilton in different teams– still cancelling out each other.
Next season, it will be Fernando Alonso. Period.