This review of the final race at Interlagos in 2012 was done by Gary Anderson and posted originally here. Gary Anderson, BBC F1's technical analyst, is the former technical director of the Jordan, Stewart and Jaguar teams.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso did not lose the world championship to Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel in Brazil on Sunday - it was gone long before that. Thirteen points is a lot to make up in one race. Alonso almost managed it - he ended the season just three points behind - but in the end it was too much to do.
The Brazilian Grand Prix was a lottery; races run in changeable conditions always are. It could have gone many different ways. Winner Jenson Button did two stops, Alonso did three, and Vettel did four. That sort of thing can change the outcome of the race dramatically.
Everything went wrong for Vettel - although he was lucky he did not have to retire as a result of his first-lap collision with Williams's Bruno Senna - and Alonso could very easily have walked away with the championship. Ferrari might look back and wonder whether they might have won the race - and the championship - had they played it differently.
Alonso - like Vettel and Lewis Hamilton - came in to the pits to fit intermediate tyres when it started to rain after about 10 laps. But Button and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg did not. A few laps later, Alonso and the others needed to come back in for dry tyres. That lost Alonso 40 seconds to the leaders in a race he really needed to win, even if that deficit was wiped out by the safety car later.
He would have had to have beaten a faster car in the McLaren and in Button a driver who excels in such conditions. But 40 seconds is a large amount of time to throw away.
Alonso and Ferrari
There are two championships in Formula 1 - the constructors' and the drivers'.
With Red Bull's two drivers, and their total commitment to development of the car, they certainly deserve to win constructors. But there is a sense that Vettel won the drivers' championship because the Red Bull was a better car than the Ferrari and was better developed.
That's OK, because that's what happens, but if Alonso had won the championship it would have been a true drivers' championship because it would have been in a car that wasn't worthy of it. The Ferrari was really not very good at the start of the year but, in all the confusion the teams were having over how best to use the new Pirelli tyre, Alonso was able to pull some results out of it. He was very good at picking up the characteristics of the tyre. He just knew what to do with it.
The Pirellis don't like it when a driver tries to brake and turn in at the same time. Alonso picked that up in no time and adapted himself to it. So he was able to pull out some really good results even though the car wasn't competitive.
Through Spain, Monaco and Canada, the Ferrari had a bit of an update that made it reasonable. That was really the package with which they should have started the season. From there on, it was down to Ferrari to find the solutions to the car's problems.
It's strange that while Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa was struggling with the car at the start of the year, he was able to drive it well at the end. Massa's biggest problem is probably that he over-drives the car - so he ends up making a lot of mistakes.
But Ferrari's development direction through the season gave them a car Massa could drive and at that point Alonso fell back a bit, in terms of being able to use his talent to drag something out of the car. That suggests that initially they had a car with very peaky downforce but that if you had a driver who could feel it - ie Alonso - it was quicker relative to the opposition. It seems Ferrari made the car more driveable but lost out-and-out performance.
They need to worry about having made Massa into as good a driver as Alonso. I believe Alonso is better, so it's strange that is the case. They need to regroup for next year and understand what happened, because for the last third of the season you'd have to say they probably threw away the championship by not developing the car enough when Red Bull were coming on strong.
Alonso got them into a position they should never have been in. They got to a point where he was bringing in decent points and had a 40-point lead in the championship and I think they stood back a bit. They have been fiddling about with the rear wing since the Singapore Grand Prix, trying to fix an aerodynamic problem at the rear of the car.
The wing they ran in Brazil has been around for five races on and off and last weekend was the first time they'd actually raced it. If it was good to race it in Brazil, it was good to race five races ago. It looks like they don't understand how to fix the problem they have, and are just poking around a bit.
Alonso did have some bad luck in crashing out in Japan and Belgium when it was not his fault. But Vettel had two alternator failures in races. OK, they are things the team have influence over but he still lost as many races as Alonso.
Equally, Red Bull allow their drivers to race early in the season, whereas Ferrari have a defined number one. If you take Red Bull and give Vettel their big points from every race, Vettel thrashes Alonso comprehensively.
But Ferrari shouldn't go away from Brazil unhappy. They definitely have some good stuff on that car somewhere, even though there is a lot of stuff that's not good.
Vettel has won his three championships in three different scenarios.
In 2010 he won from behind, keeping his head down and delivering the results after losing points to reliability problems and errors early in the season.
In 2011 he won it from the front, which is a different set of pressures.
In 2012 it was a bit of both - he had to catch up, did and then took the pressure on the way.
|I win again! Again! Again!|
Red Bull started 2012 poorly by their standards. Their toys were taken away, in the form of the exhaust-blown diffuser around which the aerodynamic philosophy of their car was developed. As a result of that, the car lacked out-and-out performance on new tyres in qualifying which affected their philosophy of how they run the car, which is to stick it on pole and control the race from the front.
At the start of the season, they didn't have a car to exploit that approach. But they turned it around and that's what it's about. You're going into a new season and if you haven't shown you can turn it around, how can you have confidence in what you're doing?
Vettel turned around his season compared to Webber, who was a bit stronger in the first half of the season. Red Bull developed the car to suit Vettel, as they're always going to do. They are Vettel fans. He drives the Red Bull concept - he turns in on the brakes, which gives understeer, then when he gets the brakes off, the front grips, the car rotates around the nose and he nails the throttle because he's got confidence that the rear aerodynamics will make the back grip.
Alonso could drive like this, too. But the Ferrari doesn't have the rear downforce to allow it.
Following the big developments at the rear that Red Bull made from Singapore onwards, that's what happened with the car again, even if not to the same extent as in 2011. That's what design chief Adrian Newey told Vettel would happen if he drove that way - and Vettel believed him and did it. But Webber does not have the confidence to drive that way - it's counter-intuitive.
McLaren ended the season as they started it - locking out the front row and Jenson Button winning the race. Overall they had the quickest car and so should have a lot of confidence for next year. I would imagine they'll raise the underside of the chassis so it is as high as on other cars - there is still a tenth of a second or two in that for them.
McLaren have lost their strongest asset in Hamilton but Button proved in 2009 that if you give him a car he likes he's a rocket ship and now they only have one driver to listen to. For the last three years they had two - but Button and Hamilton drive their cars differently, and you have to believe in one driver to follow a development direction. So in some ways Hamilton leaving might help.
F1 should be a contest between Red Bull and McLaren next year - if Ferrari can do anything to get on to the back of them they haven't shown it.
Expect it to be a fantastic battle.