How on earth could the final act of the gripping and dramatic 2012 F1 season surpass what had gone before? Surely it couldn't happen? Well it did.
Then again, given this was Interlagos, there was rain around and that it was entirely in keeping with this year for there to be nothing close to a tepid finale, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised.
The Brazilian Grand Prix was a race of incredible ebb and flow, twist and turn, and championship favourite Sebastian Vettel's race had more of these than most. Nevertheless, by the end he was in sixth place which was just enough for him to stumble over the line for his third world title.
It all started with Seb facing the wrong way after four corners, having turned in on Bruno Senna and getting a double-clout for his trouble. It defied belief that Seb could continue at all after the whacks as well as that his damaged exhaust area lasted, perhaps the relatively cool temperatures saved him (and we've also seen penalties given for less than what he did to Senna). He was also fortunate not to be collected by any of the cars following.
Nevertheless, he didn't require much luck from that moment on as he moved through the field back into contention at a super-quick rate (though appeared to pass Kobayashi under yellow flags, however the official line is it was actually red and yellow striped flags he passed under) and thus was back on the championship box seat almost before we could draw breath. Later, an ill-timed tyre stop just before it rained, then a tardy stop for the inters (not helped by a dud radio) set him back further. But it wasn't enough to deny him the points he needed to just creep over the line by a nose for the title.
Fernando will have to wait for next year to challenge again for the championship.
Fernando Alonso meanwhile did what he's been doing all season, his determined and tenacious best, which was awarded with second place at Interlagos. At various points it looked like the highly improbable might just happen, but as it transpired only a win would have seized the championship, which was asking a lot on a day that he never had the legs of the McLarens nor of Nico Hulkenberg.
Yes, you read that right, as the Hulk put in a prodigious performance today, looking supremely confident and fast even in perfidious conditions (not for the first time around this track). He even looked an unlikely winner for much of the way, particularly at the points when the rain fell. As it was, he (and Button) had a 40-plus second advantage wiped out by a mid-race safety car, and after a lairy moment lost him the lead to Lewis the Hulk looked all set to take it back, only to put a swapper on as he was doing the deed which sent him into his rival. It ended Lewis's race and ended up spoiling Hulk's too, as he first got delayed and then got a drive through penalty for his pains, all meaning that fifth place was his meagre reward. But Hulk looked like he absolutely belonged at the sharp end. You wonder that if McLaren could make its Lewis replacement pick again right now whether they'd still go for Sergio Perez...
The win was taken by one Jenson Button, who once again showed his magical touch and freakish sixth sense of what to do on days that the weather varies. He and Hulkenberg played a blinder by not pitting for intermediates early when everyone else did, both it seemed re-defining the laws of physics with their speed on slicks on a greasy track, though as mentioned their advantage accrued was wiped by a safety car. But it didn't matter for Jenson, as the Hulk-Lewis contretemps opened up his path to victory, which he never looked like wavering from. Given one season feeds into the next, and that there aren't many tech changes for next year, McLaren indeed looks well-placed for 2013.
Thus the title goes to Seb, and couple more records went to him at the same time: that he's the youngest three-times champion ever as well as is only the third driver in history (after no less than Fangio and Schumacher) to win three on the bounce. Whichever way one slices it, such achievements are not to be sniffed at.
And one of the beauties of the F1 world drivers' championship is that it is not the sort of prize you can just luck into, and it can't be said that Seb is at all undeserving. It was no walk in the park for him for much of this year, yet Seb scored consistently and determinedly when the Bull was up against it (which was most of the first two-thirds of the season) and then he was imperious as we've grown to expect when the Bull kicked late on. It's difficult to see how much more could have been expected of him. And he demonstrated today, for the nth time, that he can race.
And while, yes, Seb has benefitted from excellent machinery much of the time over the last three years, only a churl would deny that Seb himself has brought something to the party too. If nothing else, where has Mark Webber been while all this was going on?
Hulkenberg was having the race of his life until that mistake with Hamilton. Here with Button.
But while Seb wasn't an undeserving champion this year, it can also be said that Alonso certainly wasn't a deserving loser. It's not something I say lightly, but his was a season of driving I struggle to find parallel with in the entire history of F1. Don't believe me? Well ask yourself when the last time was that someone got so close to winning the drivers' championship in a year in which his car wasn't the best in any round?
Yet, once the dust has settled Alonso can be content that some things mean more than numbers and titles, and his was a year wherein he won a lot of friends and did a great deal to ensure his transition into an all-time great. After all, Stirling Moss won no world championships at all...
And more broadly, and without hyperbole, surely 2012 will be a season that is remembered as one of the best ever. Eight different winners, (including an unprecedented seven from the first seven rounds), consistently exciting racing, excellent driving from one of F1's strongest ever fields, a host of fantastic races, and a tight championship battle with a corkscrew plot and which was decided by a neck at the very last. What else could you ask for? Even if you could somehow control the racing gods you probably wouldn't have picked much more than what I just listed.
As they say, don't be sad that it's over, be glad that it happened.