Jenson Button triumphs in the rain on a day of high drama in Brazil

Season ends with gritty victory for McLaren driver after team-mate Hamilton crashes out

Sao Paulo

Sebastian Vettel finished only sixth in a dramatic climax to the Formula One season in Brazil, in which title rival Fernando Alonso finished second to winner Jenson Button, but it was enough to make him a triple world champion.

Light rain at the start, and heavier precipitation later on, rendered this one of the most exciting races of the season, and another triple champion, Brazil's Nelson Piquet, was moved to describe it as the best race he had ever seen on the Interlagos track.

Even before the start there was massive emotion on the grid, from Michael Schumacher preparing for his 306th and last grand prix to Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg as they awaited final outings with their respective teams before going elsewhere next year.

It began with Hamilton leading Button away from the front row, and local hero Felipe Massa jumping up to third to commence a supremely tactical race for Ferrari as they fought a desperate rearguard action to prevent Vettel's seemingly unstoppable progress to the title.

Tantalisingly, it all seemed to go wrong for Vettel at the fourth corner, when his Red Bull was truck from behind by Bruno Senna's Williams, which then took out the Brazilian's team-mate Pastor Maldonado and Sauber's Sergio Perez.

For a moment, Vettel faced half the field heading straight towards him, but was fortunate that they all avoided him. As Hamilton and Button duelled for the lead, he embarked on his second major comeback drive in three races. For the time being Alonso, whom Massa helped into third place by the third lap, held the title in his hand.

The weather gods did not make life easy for the drivers. Button quickly slipped ahead of Hamilton on the sixth lap, was repassed, then made the move stick on the eighth, and now the decision was whether to stay on Pirelli's slick tyres, or to opt for the intermediates. Button, and Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg who had risen to third when Alonso had a minor off-course moment in the fifth lap, elected to stay out, as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel all pitted on the 10th lap. That triggered some wholesale pit stopping all down the field. But as conditions improved a little, they fell 40 seconds or more behind the two leaders.

On the 18th lap the unthinkable happened, as Hulkenberg slipped his unfancied Force India past Button for the lead. It was a sweet moment for the German, whom McLaren had rejected in favour of Perez as Hamilton's replacement. That must have given the McLaren chief executive, Martin Whitmarsh, something to think about, especially as the Force India car uses McLaren's rear-end technology.

The complexion of the race changed five laps later, however, as the safety car was deployed until the 29th lap as debris from the first-lap incidents was cleared away. Ironically, as that threw Vettel the same sort of lifeline that had been so helpful in Abu Dhabi, it was Alonso who had been most vocal about theses dangers after seeing Nico Rosberg's Mercedes sustain a rear tyre puncture.

Thus the 40sec advantage was neutralised. Worse still, Button had grained his front tyres while running slowly behind the safety car, and as Hulkenberg sprinted away when racing resumed on the 30th lap, he fell prey again to Hamilton. The latter set off after Hulkenberg, and finally got ahead of him on the 48th lap when the German almost spun. In his final race for McLaren, Hamilton seemed set for another victory.

Conditions were worsening, however. On the 54th lap Kimi Raikkonen slid off the track and then had a lot of trouble finding his way back on. As Hamilton and Hulkenberg came up to lap him, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock just ahead of the Finn were locked in battle. Hamilton lost suffricient time for Hulkenberg to get a run on him across the start/finish line, but when he tried to dive down the inside going into the first corner, he spun and hit the McLaren hard enough to put it out of the race.

Button moved back into the lead in the melee, and Hulkenberg dropped back after a tyre stop and then having to pit again for a drive-through penalty.

Now Button's silky smooth driving style came into its own as he tiptoed round on the ice-rink surface. Further back, Massa duly surrendered second place to his team leader even though, for the third time in four races, he had the pace to stay ahead. But as Mark Webber kept fourth ahead of the recovering Hulkenberg, Vettel moved up to catch and pass Schumacher for sixth. Barring disaster, that was sufficient to make him champion again by three points.

Thus it transpired, even though a heavy crash for Force India's Paul di Resta on the 69th lap triggered another, brief, safety car intervention. That ensured that the field crossed the finish line under yellow flags, and thus a gripping season reached its dramatic conclusion. When the stewards confirmed that Vettel had not transgressed on the ninth lap, when it appeared he had passed Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber under a yellow flag, Red Bull were able to celebrate as Button and McLaren savoured victory.

There were no tears this time for Alonso, as there had been in 2010 in Abu Dhabi. He knew that victory had been a dream rather than a likelihood, and that once again it had not come true.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born