SAO PAULO: Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos, the drama and the tears a quite extraordinary race took place at Interlagos on Sunday. It would be futile even to attempt to describe it blow by blow. The important point, the only one that matters in the final analysis, is that Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel secured his third world title by the tightest of margins from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, having dropped to the back of the field on the first lap.
The German's recovery to finish sixth in a race won by McLaren's Jenson Button ensured that the 25-year-old joined two of the greats of the sport in Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher in winning three consecutive titles. All the rest is hot air.
Some of the hottest came from Vettel himself. Overcome emotionally and physically in the aftermath of his victory, the newly crowned triple world champion suggested Red Bull's rivals had resorted to ''dirty tricks'' in an effort to derail their title march. ''We always kept believing,'' Vettel said. ''A lot of people tried to play dirty tricks, we never get irritated, we kept going.''
Three-peat … Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel celebrates his third straight drivers' championship after finishing sixth in a thrilling climax to the season in Sao Paolo. Photo: Getty Images
The German later refused to be drawn on exactly what he was implying, saying that it was ''not for him to comment'' on the subject, but presumably he meant the sniping at the legality of Red Bull's car.
Vettel's comments will make headlines but nothing could completely overshadow such an epic finale. Lewis Hamilton, in his final race for McLaren, missed out agonisingly on what could have been a hugely emotional victory after Force India's Nico Hulkenberg lost control of his car as the pair vied for the lead; Schumacher, in his final race, bowed out with a little reminder of what a great driver he is, engaging in some fierce but fair wheel-to-wheel action with Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen; Button's win, meanwhile, ensured that he amassed more points than his teammate Hamilton over their three seasons together.
Then there was Alonso. The Spaniard might have been aided by teammate Felipe Massa in recent weeks but Alonso's performance this year in a car which was rarely as quick as those of Red Bull or McLaren was extraordinary.
With rain forecast, sure enough, as the cars amassed on the grid a few light raindrops began to fall, hinting at the drama in store. No one, though, could have predicted just how quickly things would descend into chaos. Within a lap, Vettel had spun - hit side-on by Bruno Senna's Williams at turn four - and been relegated to the back of the field.
Alonso, meanwhile, got off to a flyer, rising from seventh on the grid to fourth. With the Spaniard needing a podium finish to stand any chance of claiming the title, Alonso made full use of his teammate, passing both the Brazilian and Red Bull's Mark Webber as they tangled on lap two. Had the race ended then, the Spaniard would have been champion.
The drama was only just beginning. Vettel climbed back through the field, making light of problems with his team radio, never quite knowing whether the damage he had suffered to the rear bodywork during his first-lap collision would prove terminal.
Alonso did everything he could, cajoling race control when he felt a safety car could prove advantageous, taking advantage of Massa's generosity and Hulkenberg's lunge on Hamilton with 27 laps remaining. In the end he could do no more. The race ended under the second safety car after Force India's Paul di Resta crashed with one lap remaining.
As Red Bull celebrated wildly and Ferrari dissolved into tears, Alonso was dignity personified. ''I'm proud of my team,'' he said. ''When you do something with your heart, 100 per cent, you have to be happy.''
The last word, as it has for the past three years, went to Vettel. ''Everything which could go wrong did go wrong,'' he said. ''For sure it was the toughest [championship]. People tried everything - inside the lines, outside the lines - to beat us. But we stayed true to ourselves.''