Michael Bailey: It was all about the journey as Vettel’s legend grows and Caterham salvage their season

Sebastian Vettel celebrates with Red Bull technical chief and F1 genius Adrian Newey (left) and team principal Christian Horner. Photo by Paul Gilham Sebastian Vettel celebrates with Red Bull technical chief and F1 genius Adrian Newey (left) and team principal Christian Horner. Photo by Paul Gilham

Thursday, November 29, 2012
3:45 PM

In the end it didn’t matter whether Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso swam home to the drivers’ title in Brazil – it was all about the journey. Indeed, you can argue both drivers deserved 2012 glory, albeit for differing reasons.

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Alonso out-performed his Ferrari more often than HRT appeared on our TV screens. And Vettel grew up, kept his cool and led Red Bull along a well trodden path like the two-time champion he was.

Either was worthy, but it was Vettel who earned his third stripe. One roll of the eyes from Alonso said all you needed to know.

Now, I know from the reaction to one of my Sunday tweets that some are yet to be won over by F1’s new German superstar – one congratulated on Sunday by the only other living driver to have three successive titles, compatriot Michael Schumacher.

But I’m not going to lament how F1 is stuck in similar doldrums to those processional Schumacher championships. Certainly not on the evidence of this season anyway.

Good week, bad week

GW – Lewis Hamilton: Good luck remained elusive right up to his last race, as Nico Hulkenberg sent him spinning. A sad end at McLaren.

BW – Kamui Kobayashi: The lively Japanese star is facing his F1 exit after losing his seat at Sauber for 2013 – although a £500,000 kitty raised by fans and talks with Force India may yet reopen the door for him.

A title race heading into the final laps of the year, a host of grand prix winners and big stories up and down the grid – 2012 was far from boring. The journey of each race – admittedly sometimes away from the race leader – was almost always worth the time and effort of the watch.

That’s not to say 2011 matched it – and I worry about 2013 too.

DRS is set to be tweaked again, which should help the show, and there will be a number of driver switches to ensure a fascinating start to the year.

But there are few rule changes – and although that means reduced costs for teams, it also delivers similar cars next season. With the way Red Bull have finished this season, a clearly dominant RB8 developed through it’s early season exhaust problems – brought about by last winter’s technical changes – makes for ominous signs ahead of the RB9.

But that’s for then. This is now – confirmation of an F1 great, Vettel’s name sits side by side with only Schumi and Juan Manuel Fangio to have taken three successive titles.

In truth there is no more growing room left for Vettel at Red Bull. There won’t be any more winning people over – if it hasn’t happened already, it won’t happen next season either.

No, it will take a move out of Red Bull to do that – you can almost see a certain Ferrari team-leader and beaten world title contender rolling those eyes again from here.

It never should have come down to the final race, and when the adrenaline stops Caterham will still find themselves frustrated at an ultimately flawed year.

But that shouldn’t – and won’t – detract from what was an incredible performance in Brazil.

The price on finishing 10th in the constructors’ championship was placed between £7m and £15m – the current Concorde Agreement makes it difficult to find an exact number. And the Hingham marque needed a best ever-equalling 12th finish ahead of both Marussia cars in Brazil to pip their nearest rivals to the biggest prize on offer without scoring a championship point.

So for Vitaly Petrov to bag 11th, knocking on the door of their first point since arriving on the grid, was something special for those at Hingham and Leafield.

It certainly now promises an interesting few weeks. New team principal Cyril Abiteboul, chief executive Riad Asmat and their colleagues are yet to decide who gets the drive alongside Charles Pic – a young man moving from Marussia in the winter, and coincidentally the man who let Petrov through to take 11th.

Heikki Kovalainen and Petrov both want to stay on, but the Russian’s season-saving drive and ability to bring sponsors arguably make him favourite.

Eddie Jordan was trying his hand at mischief making in the Sao Paulo paddock, suggesting Williams star Bruno Senna is being lined up by Hingham.

But whoever it is, Caterham need to make sure there is a better car underneath them next year – because 2012 just wasn’t good enough.

This is my last F1 column of the year, so an opportune moment to thank everyone who has been in contact, spread the word and got involved during a stunning 2012 season.

We have one more podcast to put together – our review of the season, which should be available by the end of next week. Check out the link at the top right of this page to have a listen, subscribe via itunes and all the rest.

After that, it’s the winter’s break – we will see you the other side for the first tests of 2013, when we get to do it all again.

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