Formula One

 
            === The Inside Line: Dramatic season for Formula One ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - From seven different winners in the first
 seven grand prix to Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso's hotly contested
 battle for the world championship, the 2012 Formula One season was truly a
 memorable one.
 
 A record 20 races were on this year's F1 schedule, beginning on March 18 in
 Melbourne, Australia and concluding last Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
 
 After Vettel and Red Bull won the drivers' and constructors' championships in
 dominating fashion in 2011, F1's top boss, Bernie Ecclestone, hoped this
 season would not be another lackluster. His dream came true, with the season
 featuring eight different race winners and Vettel capturing his third
 consecutive championship by just a three-point margin over Alonso.
 
 With plenty of action on the track and activity off the track, the season had
 many notable moments worth recalling.
 
 
 THREE CHEERS FOR VETTEL
 
 Vettel became just the third driver in F1's 63-year history to win three
 successive world championships, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael
 Schumacher. The 25-year-old German also became the youngest driver in the
 sport to win his third title.
 
 Unlike his phenomenal year in 2011, Vettel needed a late-season surge to help
 him win this year's championship. He was 39 points out of the lead following
 his retirement in the Sept. 9 Italian Grand Prix. But the Red Bull driver went
 on a tear from there, winning the next four races -- Singapore, Japan, Korea
 and India. He then finished third in Abu Dhabi, after starting from the rear
 of the field there, and second in Austin, Texas before clinching the title
 with a sixth-place run in Brazil.
 
 "I had a very smart guy who once told me the hardest thing was winning after
 winning, because you get the attention and the pressure, but you focus on how
 to win again, rather than focusing on the small steps it takes," Vettel said.
 "That's what I always try to remember or remind the guys on the team. It's
 just another day, another race and we have to be ourselves and make sure we
 enjoy it and the rest will be just fine."
 
 Vettel concluded the season with five wins and 10 podium finishes. Last year,
 he had 11 victories and 17 podium appearances in 19 grand prix. He had
 clinched his second straight F1 title with four races to go.
 
 Even though this season featured six world champions on the grid, including
 the return of 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel was once again the heavy
 favorite to win the title. But after the season began with a record seven
 different winners in as many grand prix, there was no clear favorite.
 
 Vettel's first win of the season came on April 22 in Bahrain, a race that was
 canceled last year due to anti-government protests in that Middle Eastern
 country.
 
 "It has been a tough year, extremely close," he said. "We had seven different
 winners in the first seven races, ups and downs for everyone. Back then, I
 already knew that every place, every point will probably matter in the end. It
 was closer than what we hoped for, but at some stage, people were not even
 mentioning us when they were talking about the championship. I think the most
 important thing was that we always kept believing."
 
 Vettel and Red Bull are the latest dynasty in F1, so the big question for next
 season is simply this: Can anyone dethrone them?
 
 "I'm very happy with what we have achieved so far, and I don't think this
 story is over yet," Vettel added. I'm very happy and extremely committed to
 give everything I have, also in the next years when I'm with them. At the
 moment, I don't see any point thinking about another team or something else.
 I'm extremely happy in the position I'm in. It's incredible what we have
 achieved."
 
 Vettel is under contract with Red Bull for the next two seasons.
 
 
 ALONSO'S BEST SEASON?
 
 Fernando Alonso won back-to-back championships from 2005-06, but the Spaniard
 claimed this was the best season of his F1 career. The Ferrari driver notched
 three wins and 13 podium finishes for the year. He finished either second or
 third in the last five grand prix, but it wasn't good enough for him to beat
 Vettel for the title.
 
 After enduring numerous performance and reliability issues with its cars
 during pre-season testing, it looked as though Ferrari would have a disastrous
 year. But Alonso gave the Italian team a huge boost by winning the second
 grand prix of the season on March 25 in Malaysia. Alonso then became the first
 repeat winner of the year with his stunning victory in the June 24 European
 Grand Prix. After starting 11th, the Ferrari driver delighted the Spanish
 crowd on hand at Valencia when he overtook Vettel for the lead after Vettel
 suffered mechanical failure and was forced to retire.
 
 Alonso emerged as the title favorite when he scored his third win of the
 season on July 22 in Germany. Vettel trailed Alonso by 44 points at the time.
 
 "I will remember 2012 like this was some dream season," Alonso said. "We
 didn't achieve the points to win the title, but I won so many things this year
 and so much respect from everybody."
 
 But Alonso had his misfortunes in the Sept. 2 Belgian Grand Prix and the Oct.
 7 Japanese Grand Prix.
 
 Alonso was involved in a horrifying multi-car crash on the opening lap in
 Belgium. Romain Grosjean's Lotus sailed over Alonso's car during the incident.
 There were no injuries, but Alonso was shaken up when he slowly climbed out of
 his heavily-damaged car.
 
 In Japan, Alonso wrecked on the first lap when Grosjean's teammate, Raikkonen,
 made contact with him and punctured his left-rear tire. One week after Japan,
 Vettel won the Korean Grand Prix and took over the points lead, which he held
 for the remainder of the season.
 
 "I had two retirements in the year, over 20 races and the two retirements was
 not engine problem, not gear problem, not driver error," Alonso said. "It was
 nothing. It was one car puncturing your rear tire, and one car passing over
 you. Nothing really you could do in these two starts. So for sure there you
 lose a couple of points. There were also some races that we had some strange
 decisions and some penalties, so maybe we lost also there."
 
 Alonso's teammate, Felipe Massa, saved his job at Ferrari after turning his
 season around in the late going. Massa finished second in Japan and then third
 in front of his home crowd in Brazil.
 
 
 FIRST-TIME WINNERS
 
 Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado from Williams scored their maiden
 F1 wins this year. Rosberg picked up the victory in the Apr. 15 Chinese Grand
 Prix, and Maldonado took the checkered flag for the May 13 Spanish Grand Prix.
 
 Rosberg's inaugural race win as well as his first pole position came in his
 111th start. The German also gave Mercedes its first victory since the 1955
 Italian GP.
 
 Maldonado was perhaps the biggest surprise winner of the season. He swapped
 the lead with Alonso several times throughout the 66-lap race in Barcelona
 before beating Alonso at the finish by 3.2 seconds to become the first
 Venezuelan driver to win an F1 grand prix. Maldonado also gave Williams its
 first victory since Juan Pablo Montoya took the checkered flag for the 2004
 Brazilian Grand Prix.
 
 Williams' celebration in Barcelona was quickly interrupted when a fire broke
 out in their garage area. The fire caused extensive damage to the team's
 equipment, particularly with Bruno Senna's car. Senna had been involved in an
 early-race collision with Schumacher from Mercedes.
 
 
 HAMILTON'S LAST YEAR WITH MCLAREN
 
 Lewis Hamilton had an up and down year in what turned out to be his last
 one with McLaren. Hamilton began the season with a trio of third-place
 finishes and then earned his first win of the year in the June 10 Canadian
 Grand Prix. Then his season turned for the worse, as he failed to finish in
 Valencia, Germany, Belgium and Singapore.
 
 Two months ago, Mercedes announced that Hamilton signed a three-year contract
 with the team, starting next season. The signing of Hamilton ended months of
 speculation that he would depart McLaren and join Mercedes after this season
 concluded.
 
 Despite four wins, Hamilton ended his season 91 points behind Vettel. He also
 won seven poles, which was the most in F1 this year.
 
 "I feel comfortable going into this winter, because I feel I did a good job
 this year," Hamilton said. "I gave 2012 everything I had. I couldn't have done
 anything more."
 
 Hamilton had a remarkable six-year tenure with McLaren, scoring 21 victories
 and capturing the 2008 championship.
 
 Sergio Perez will take over Hamilton's place and pair with Jenson Button at
 McLaren next year. Perez spent his first two F1 seasons with Sauber. The 22-
 year-old Mexican finished a career-best second in this year's races in
 Malaysia and Italy.
 
 
 SCHUMACHER'S LAST SEASON IN F1
 
 With Hamilton moving over to Mercedes next year, Schumacher decided to retire
 for good this time. Schumacher, the record seven-time F1 titleholder, had been
 with Mercedes since he came out of his first retirement in 2010. The 43-year-
 old German struggled in his three years with the team, recording only one
 podium finish -- a third-place run in this year's European GP.
 
 Schumacher, who drove the No. 7 car this season, concluded his illustrious 19-
 year career in F1 with a seventh-place finish in Brazil.
 
 "It's a strange sort of coincidence that I've ended my Formula One career now
 in P7, which was my first ever qualifying result at Spa-Francorchamps 308
 races ago," Schumacher said. "It also occurs to me that I was driving with the
 number seven on my car, and that I have seven world championship trophies in
 my cabinet."
 
 Schumacher accumulated just 49 points for the season to finish 13th in the
 rankings.
 
 
 RAIKKONEN'S RETURN
 
 After spending the past two seasons in the World Rally Championship, Raikkonen
 had a great comeback in F1 this year. Raikkonen finished the season third in
 points (-74). Earlier this month, the Finn won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after
 holding off Alonso at the finish by less than one second. It was his first win
 since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix, when he drove for Ferrari, and the first
 victory for Lotus since the 1987 United States Grand Prix in Detroit.
 
 Raikkonen became the eighth different winner of the year, which was the most
 in an F1 season since 2003.
 
 11/28 22:37:10 ET

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