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Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel retained the World Championship in the most dramatic of styles. Leading Fernando Alonso and Ferrari into the Brazilian finale, Vettel crashed into Bruno Senna’s Williams on the opening lap. He then dragged his damaged car from the back of the field to finish sixth. With Jenson Button holding off Alonso at the front of the field, the German clinched the title by three points.
Following the dominance of 2011, Red Bull began the season slowly. However, Adrian Newey and his team developed the RB8 so that Vettel won five times and team-mate Mark Webber twice. Fernando Alonso also won two races in a car that certainly was not the class of the field before incidents in Belgium and Japan ultimately denied him that elusive first title for Ferrari. Felipe Massa recovered from a poor start to the campaign to score two podium finishes and retain his Ferrari drive for another season.
Jenson Button began and ended 2012 with victories (as well as winning at Spa-Francorchamps) but McLaren finished as a somewhat disappointing third best constructor. Lewis Hamilton also won three times in what was his final season with the team. Those included at the impressive new Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas. However, his challenge was blunted by reliability issues and pitstop errors.
Kimi Raikkonen returned to Formula 1 following a couple of disappointing seasons in the World Rally Championship. Victory in Abu Dhabi (where he told his race engineer to “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing”) was the highlight as a consistent campaign for Renault was rewarded with third in the standings. In contrast, team-mate Romain Grosjean crashed too often, including a first corner accident at Spa that resulted in a one-race ban.
Nico Rosberg continued to eclipse Michael Schumacher at Mercedes-Benz and scored his breakthrough victory in China. In his final season before retiring for a second time, Schumacher reminded us of former glories by qualifying first in Monaco only to lose five grid positions thanks to a penalty for causing an accident at the previous race. The Mercedes W03 began the year as a competitive proposition but it suffered from excessive tyre wear and slipped back as others developed their cars.
Pastor Maldonado endured a second error-strewn season with Williams that included one glorious moment when his red mist subsided for a day. The Venezuelan converted a surprise pole position in Spain into a finely judged first F1 victory.
Tyre management proved crucial as teams coped with the reduced downforce brought on by the banning of exhaust blown diffusers. This was the longest F1 season to date with 20 Grands Prix, the first seven of which were won by different drivers.