PARIS, Dec 10, 2012 (AFP / Nick Reeves) - Anyone within earshot of Fernando Alonso after the chaotic season-closing race at Interlagos could have been forgiven for believing it was the Spaniard and not Sebastian Vettel who had just won the title.
The 2012 season will be remembered as one of the most thrilling ever -- with Vettel crowned Formula One's youngest ever triple world champion by a mere three points.
The 25-year-old German's sixth to Alonso's second in Brazil made him only the third driver in history to win three successive titles, equalling the feats of the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and childhood idol Michael Schumacher, who finished seventh for Mercedes in his final race before retiring.
But while plaudits rained down on Vettel runner-up Alonso was mapping out ways to end his Red Bull rival's supremacy in 2013 after what the 2005 and 2006 champion called "the best season of my life".
The 31-year-old reckoned his title bid was undermined by his Ferrari's lack of competitiveness compared to the super reliable and super fast Red Bull, and rough justice at Spa and Suzuka.
In Belgium and Japan, Alonso finished pointless after being shunted out of contention by Lotus duo Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen.
"We definitely did not lose the title in Brazil; that happened in Spa and Suzuka," argued Alonso.
"In the end, we lost the title by three points, however I did the best season of my life and now I can only think of the year to come.
"It was a miracle to see, race after race, what we managed to achieve: Next year, we will try and improve the car, trying to start further up the grid, thus avoiding accidents. Let's hope we also have a bit more luck."
He shrugged off any anger he and Ferrari stirred up amongst Vettel's fanbase in Germany when lodging an ultimately fruitless appeal to the sport's governing body against Vettel's Brazil win.
The action was based on suggestions that Vettel may have carried out an illegal overtaking manoeuvre.
He said: "Frankly, I'm not that interested in what the opinion is of me in Germany or elsewhere.
"What I know is that people who see me in the streets hug me and call me gladiator or samurai."
The unassuming Vettel will be hard to dislodge from the top of the F1 tree -- the mantle of champion resting comfortably on his broad shoulders.
After different winners of the first seven races he took the 2012 championship by the scruff of the neck in Asia, rattling off four straight wins.
And his reputation for coolness under pressure was plain for all to see in Brazil, when he overcame a near-disastrous first-lap collision to pick his way through the pack in treacherous rain-swept conditions for the all important sixth place finish.
"He's in a club on his own now, three in a row is going some..," said his teammate Mark Webber.
Vettel, who has committed to Red Bull until 2014, reflected: "We stepped up our game in the second half of the season which allowed us to come back in this championship."
The season witnessed the end of the marriage between Lewis Hamilton and McLaren with the 2008 champion turning his back on the British team in favour of a fresh start at Ross Brawn's Mercedes, with his drive alongside Jenson Button handed to highly-rated Mexican Sergio Perez.
A 20-race menu is again on offer in 2013, but the planned Grand Prix of America on the Jersey shore opposite New York City won't be on it.
Next year's grid has been reduced to 22 cars after the HRT team missed the deadline.