Sebastian Vettel`s triumph caps electrifying F1 season

Sao Paulo: Sebastian Vettel`s triumph in the rain here Sunday ended one of the most exciting seasons in Formula 1 history, one in which records were smashed and legends battled emerging talents.

Of the record six former champions on the grid, it was the youngest who triumphed, doing just enough at the final race showdown to edge out Fernando Alonso, who lost the title at the last race for the third time in his career.

The pervasive tension, thrilling overtakes and hazardous wet conditions made it a fitting finale to a season widely hailed as one of the greatest.

The first seven races produced seven winners in a first for the sport and lesser-known drivers found themselves challenging the biggest names.

Vettel again had the fastest car in the field but his reduced advantage compared to last season allowed him to finally lay to rest some long-running criticism of his overtaking abilities.

The Red Bull only pulled clear of the field towards the end of the season and the German was forced to battle with others unlike last year.

Vettel`s four-win run meant he entered the shootout here with a 13-point lead over Alonso.

Ferrari saw their title hopes dismissed because of the new F2012`s sluggish performance, leaving the Italian giants far behind.

As he has done throughout his career, Alonso transcended the car`s abilities to earn consistently strong results.

Alonso won just three rounds (Malaysia, Valencia and Germany) but had a constant presence on the podium, using his experience to dodge many crashes and hold-ups that waylaid many of his rivals.

He took the risk of sacrificing qualifying speed here to set his car for the wet weather he was relying on for an unlikely charge to the championship.

Alonso got the podium finish he wanted despite starting seventh but Vettel`s consistency ensured the German clung on to the lead.

Brazil was the last race for seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, who finally called time on his career after the largely disappointing comeback he started with Mercedes in 2010.

Schumacher (43) salvaged some pride in Valencia in May with his first podium since returning becoming the oldest man to finish on the podium since 1970.

Mercedes` decision to return to the sport in 2010 was vindicated too when Nico Rosberg`s win in China gave the German outfit its first win since quitting the sport in tragic circumstances 57 years earlier. Mercedes have hired Lewis Hamilton to replace Schumacher.

Ex-champion Kimi Raikkonen returned with Lotus after three seasons in rallying and finished the season third in the championship. It was testament to the Finn`s sticking power that he remained in the title race until Nov 4, when he won for the first time since 2009 in Abu Dhabi, but saw his title chances vanish.

On the commercial side, F1 made another attempt to return to the world`s biggest market, the United States. The race at the new Circuit of the Americas in Texas was widely hailed as a triumph in front of a sell-out crowd and could herald a resurgence for the sport in the US.

Some stars of the future took notable steps. Pastor Maldonado`s win in Barcelona was a surprise triumph for a man who was better known for his repeated run-ins with other drivers.

Sauber`s Sergio Perez drove to three podiums. He was linked with Massa`s seat at Ferrari before McLaren signed him as Hamilton`s replacement, which will make Perez the first Mexican to drive for a leading team in 40 years.

Raikkonen`s teammate Romain Grosjean was one of the most spectacular figures of the year ricocheting from impressive points finishes to spectacular first-corner crashes, and being publically labelled a "nutcase" by Red Bull`s Mark Webber.

Despite Grosjean`s proven pace Lotus is yet to confirm him for 2013.

After the chequered flag in Brazil, Vettel posed for pictures with Schumacher - the only two drivers alive to have won three consecutive titles.

Schumacher bows out holding almost all of sport`s records but Vettel is known for his obsession with the sport`s statistics. At the age of 25 and with top designer Andrian Newey, Vettel has plenty of time to knock Schumacher off the top of some of those tables.