Still your favourite race after 10 years: Can anything top the 2012 Brazilian GP?

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For the past 15 years, RaceFans has invited readers to rate every Formula 1 race during the season. In that time we’ve built up a fascinating index of your favourite grands prix, as well as the most disappointing ones.

But over the 10 years nothing has displaced the championship-deciding final race of the 2012 season from the top of the list. That year’s Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos was the race which seemed to have everything.

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso facing off to see which of them would be the first to take a third world title. Lewis Hamilton bidding farewell to McLaren in a race-long scrap for victory with team mate Jenson Button and – astonishingly – Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.

Michael Schumacher bowing out of F1. The minnow teams fighting over the final prize money place in the championship. A rain-affected race full of spins, incidents and even – thanks to Kimi Raikkonen – a moment of absurd comedy.

Will we ever see another race to rival the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix for drama?

Title favourite Vettel was knocked into a spin on lap one

Vettel and Red Bull team mate Mark Webber occupied the second row of the grid behind pole-winner Hamilton and the other McLaren of Button. But the Red Bull pair started poorly and came under attack from behind.

Webber gave his team mate little room at turn one, which Vettel did not forget, while the Ferraris attacked. Felipe Massa split the McLarens for second while Alonso, crucially, moved ahead of Vettel.

It got worse for Vettel as they reached Descida do Lago. Braking cautiously for the corner, he was almost hit from behind by Kimi Raikkonen who took urgent evasive action. Then as Vettel ambitiously went for the apex from the outside, he crowded Bruno Senna and was knocked into a spin by the Williams.

Vettel rolled backwards, kept his engine running, then motored off in pursuit of the rest of the field. But the left-hand side of his car’s floor had taken a hefty hit, and his afternoon had just got a lot more difficult.

Alonso passed two at once as lap two began

It got worse for Vettel soon afterwards. While his team mate attacked Massa, who had fallen back to third, Alonso launched down the inside of the pair of them.

Hulkenberg put in a remarkable performance for Force India

Alonso’s grip on the podium places did not last, however. Hulkenberg was flying in the Force India, taking fourth place away from Webber, then grabbing third as drizzle started to fall and Alonso skidded off at the Senna S. But the Ferrari driver was still 16 places ahead of his championship rival.

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Grosjean crashed, as he did too often in 2012

The rain caught out others, too: Webber had a spin and Romain Grosjean crashed out of the race at Mergulho on lap six. Vettel was making rapid progress, meanwhile, recovering to eighth place by lap eight.

The McLaren pair exchanged the lead

McLaren’s two world champions traded the lead, Button passing Hamilton.

Vettel played it safe strategically, favouring intermediates when the rain fell

The damp conditions prompted several drivers to pit for intermediates, including the title contenders, who shadowed each others’ strategic moves. Leader Button stayed out, as did Hulkenberg, who moved up to second as Hamilton came in and lost time with a slow stop.

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Hulkenberg put Force India in the lead

By lap 17 the track was thoroughly damp yet the leaders persevered with their slicks. Now Hulkenberg was on Button’s tail and two laps later he sensationally passed his rival for the lead. “I don’t think I’ve ever commentated on 20 laps like that,” remarked Martin Brundle in the commentary box.

The Safety Car was summoned due to debris

Soon the track was drying again and those who pitted for intermediates returned to their garages for slicks, leaving Hulkenberg and Button leading by around 50 seconds.

However a series of incidents had left the track strewn with debris. Nico Rosberg suffered a right-rear puncture, and Alonso complained on his radio about the mess on the track. The Safety Car was deployed, and the advantage Hulkenberg and Button had built up was eradicated, though they at least had the opportunity to fit fresh tyres.

The drama resumed immediately after the race restarted

After seven laps behind the Safety Car the race resumed and so did the action, Webber spinning while others tangled behind him.

Hamilton regained second from his team mate

Now the track was drying, and several drivers were on the move, notably Hamilton who took second place off Button and went after leader Hulkenberg. Kamui Kobayashi temporarily took fourth place off Alonso, only to lose the place at the start of the next lap.

Vettel briefly ran immediately behind Alonso during that exchange, but then lost a position to the other Ferrari of Massa. The Red Bull driver was still on course to win the title, but as lap times fell the handling problems in his damaged car became more severe, and he caught a huge slide at Juncao on lap 38.

Schumacher put up a fight against Raikkonen

Schumacher was driving his final race but was in no mood to make way for his former adversaries. He defended firmly against Raikkonen when the Lotus driver passed him, the pair going wheel-to-wheel through the Senna S.

Hamilton hit the front

By lap 44 light rain had returned. Hamilton drew closer to Hulkenberg and grabbed the lead when the Force India driver skidded in the midfield on lap 48.

Raikkonen’s off at Juncao cost him far more time than it should have done

For those finding the nail-biting title fight a little tense, Raikkonen supplied some light relief on the 53rd tour. Having gone off at Juncao, he attempted to rejoin using an old section of track, unaware that it was blocked off before it connected to the live circuit. The Lotus driver pulled up, performed a quick U-turn and navigated his way back to the track.

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Hulkenberg took Hamilton out

This race was the last time F1 enjoyed a 24-car field, which meant the leaders had a lot of traffic to contend with on the short Interlagos circuit. Hamilton had his hands full of backmarkers which allowed Hulkenberg to draw back within range and make a dive for the lead at the first corner.

But the Force India driver misjudged the available grip and skidded into his rival, leaving Hamilton with terminal damage, collecting a penalty and handing the lead to Button.

It also moved the title rivals up a place each, and allowed Alonso to cut two more points out of Vettel’s advantage. But the worsening rain was about to complicate matters again.

Vettel was left waiting for tyres

Vettel came in for intermediate rubber again on lap 55 but his radio was not working properly and he was left waiting while the Red Bull crew searched for fresh tyres and sent him on his way.

Alonso risked staying out as long as he could in the hope the rain would ease, but had to bow to the inevitable, suffering a slow in-lap on the wet circuit and droppinv behind Massa.

Massa slowed down to let Alonso back into second place

The track was now thoroughly soaked. Massa slowed down to allow team mate Alonso to make up his six-second deficit and reclaim second place. Those 18 points would move Alonso ahead of Vettel if the Red Bull driver failed to score, but he was running seventh, which became sixth when Schumacher, his childhood hero, let him by into sixth.

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A championship fight worth millions swung with six laps to go

There was despair for Marussia when their driver Charles Pic was passed by Vitaly Petrov for 12th place with six lap to go. That ensured Caterham would beat them to 10th place in the championship, the last position which paid any prize money.

Di Resta’s crash brought the race to an early end

As the laps ticked down, Alonso’s dwindling hopes of taking the title rested on either Vettel or leader Button retiring. On the penultimate tour a driver did find the barrier – but it was Hulkenberg’s team mate Paul di Resta, who was unhurt in his high-speed crash.

Vettel clinched the title after one-and-three-quarter hours of pure drama

The Safety Car was deployed and remained out for the final lap. While Button claimed the win, sixth place for Vettel secured his third world championship title. After a race of lights-to-flag thrills, few seemed to care that it ended behind the Safety Car.

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Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2019
Vettel’s third title win was even more dramatic than his first had been

Read RaceFans’ original report on the race – and your comments on it – below, and check out our lists of the grands prix you rated as the best and worst of the last 15 years:

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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36 comments on “Still your favourite race after 10 years: Can anything top the 2012 Brazilian GP?”

  1. Yes. Monza 2021 topped it

  2. Never say never but it would take some beating – still think this has to be THE best F1 race of all time. It had pretty much everything, from an incredible title fight that flipped back and forth with fantastic displays of driving from both Vettel and Alonso, to a fascinating race where an underdog oh so nearly pulled off a win that ended in heartbreak, to the chaos with the rain, cars going off, Webber and Raikkonen having a thrill a minute it seemed, with even the backmarkers of Marussia and Catherham having a “to the death” fight.

    Also, consider the historical context of the race – last time we saw one of the greatest of all time take to the F1 track. Hamilton’s last race with McLaren, both a big moment given his long pathership with them and what happened afterwards with Mercedes. What could well be Alonso’s last ever chance to win a title. Arguably the race that put Vettel firmly in the hall of fame (3 titles seems to separate the exceptional from the great champions – not an actual rule though hence why I say arguably).

    I just can’t think of any race where that much happened, we’ve had chaotic races before and since but the first 19 laps of Brazil felt like a race in itself. An utterly breathtaking race that, personally anyway, will always be remembered.

  3. Brasil 2016 was not bad either but Spa 2009 was for me a race where i was sitting upright as a underdog almost won the GP but Kimi got it.

    1. While not a force india, ferrari certainly wasn’t flying either in 2009, could be considered an underdog as well!

  4. Not just the best race I have seen but arguably the best piece of TV I have ever seen. Interestingly, it could have been even better. Imagine there was a final twist, such as Button crashing in the final laps (something he said nearly happened) and Alonso took the title.

  5. Abu Dhabi 2021? Post race drama was even better ;)

    1. The race in its whole though wasn’t anywhere near exciting, like majority of the races at that track.

    2. The race in itself was dull. The only thing you could point about that race was the 2 laps battle between Perez and Hamilton and the last 5 laps where you have a unbalanced fight between two drivers on entire different tyre compounds. Only the title battle made it interesting whereas 2012 Brazil would have been just as good even if it was the first race of the season.

  6. Still Canada 2011 for me, but Brazil 2012 is a VERY close second.

    1. Sama here – Montreal Canada 2011 and Interlagos Brazil 2007.

      I don’t remember the 2012 too vividly, hmm.

      1. Wait, I can’t not add Abu Dhabi 2021 !!!

    2. I’m going to argue against Canada 2011 just for fun, as I see it mentioned a few times here.

      Button’s fightback is incredible no doubt, but I think the last lap pass on Vettel makes the race overall look more legendary than it actually was. I remember the crowds booing as the safety car went around for yet another lap, as the track dried from full wet conditions to intermediates without any racing going on – some things never change!

  7. Since then personally no race came even close to this one.

    In the meantime there have been only domination years since. Except a botched attempt by Ferrari there were no years where two drivers from different teams fought for the championship until the last round, which adds a whole new level of tension.

    If anything I’d say the 2016 finale was pretty tense, even if it was an intra-team battle.

    1. Archibald Bumfluff
      20th January 2023, 10:32

      did you sleep through the epic season long dual in 2021?

      1. Good point, 2021 in terms of closeness was even better than 2016, and ofc because the 2 competitors came from opponent teams.

  8. It was a mega race but as an Alonso fan yes many many many other races..

  9. But in a way Alonso and Hamilton can blame each other for not winning 3rd or 8th championship.

    1. Why can hamilton blame alonso for not winning an 8th? Cause of hungary 2021 defensive driving?

      1. I think the reference is to 2007, where both McLarens finished 1 point behind Raikkonen.
        Without their internal squabbles, either of them could have won the championship instead of the Ferrari.

  10. I hope the FIA checked Charles Pic’s telemetry and talked to him about this incident, as it was incredibly suspicious that he weakly lost that 12th position to Petrov, handing millions of pounds from Marussia to the Caterham team that Pic happened to be moving to the following season. That surely didn’t help Marussia/Manor’s future survival. They seemed to be the best of the new teams, so it was sad, but also potentially a matter of serious cheating.

    1. but also potentially a matter of serious cheating

      It’s no more ‘cheating’ than team orders are, and they are used all the time.
      Less so, arguably, as it was entirely the driver’s choice and wasn’t orchestrated by a team or manufacturer.

  11. 2012 was a year of ugly cars and good racing. Valencia was epic too.

  12. It was ex otimg just reading this race summary, but the race was something else!

    Incredible race, so much drama throughout. I had a rotten cold so I was laid up on the sofa watching this. I needed the toilet so I ran up the stairs as quickly as I could so as to miss as little as possible. I’d rushed too much for my frail state so the next thing I knew I was opening my eyes, lying on the bathroom floor and looking up at the lights. I’d totally blacked out and hit the deck! So in my haste to miss as little as possible I cost myself a lap or two whilst blacked out, absolutely bizarre.

  13. If internet voting was around 20+ years ago I suspect Europe 1999 would run Brazil 2012 VERY close!

    1. That was indeed an amazing race. But the article seems to be asking about races since 2012, in which case I would suggest a couple. Bahrain 2014 was fantastic just in how hard the two mercs were fighting and the incredible pace they unleashed after the safety car, basically the first time they were not sandbagging that year. It also showed that rosberg was a genuine contender to Hamilton though of course he tailed off a bit in the races later in the year.

      The other race I loved was Hungary 2015, which is far less heralded than many others mentioned in these comments but it has stuck in my mind. It was the first race after Bianchi died and there was a definite emotional edge to it before and after the race.

  14. I have absolutely no recollection of this race at all.

    For me, Canada 2011 was far more interesting.

  15. 2012 was the best F1 season this century, and the finale was a fitting way to close it out.

  16. I ended up taking a hiatus from F1 not long after 2012 (think after the 2014 season), I think because the 2012 season was so good it made the following ones seem incredibly dull by comparison! It was a fascinating season where lots of teams had potential race winning cars if the track suited them, even the midfield teams.

  17. Monaco 1982. I watched it, you probably didn’t. That was a mess, never seen anything close to it.

    1. But then, the reason it was so good was because it was so unpredictable.
      Something F1 hasn’t been for quite a long time.

  18. 2016 Brazil is my favourite. Absolute master class from Verstappen, will never forget it.

  19. I’d have to say Spa 2008 is my favourite.

  20. I am surprised 2021 Russia didn’t come close. A modern classic

    1. A lot of people won’t admit that anything good happened in Russia…

  21. After all these years it’s still the race that gave me the most heart failure! Truly a special one.

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