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The Alonso stare and Hulkenberg's 'what if' moment - Brazil 2012 revisited

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'I thought I had lost my legs then and there' (3:06)

F2 driver Juan Manuel Correa opens up about his life-changing injuries from crash with Anthoine Hubert. (3:06)

The 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was one of the greatest season finales of all time. It had drama, changing conditions and the screaming soundtrack of 24 V8 Formula One cars. But don't worry if you missed it the first time because it's now possible to watch the whole thing from start to finish on Formula One's official YouTube channel, and that's exactly what we've been doing.

The background

The championship was a straight fight between Sebastian Vettel driving for reigning champions Red Bull and Fernando Alonso driving for Ferrari. The Red Bull was a quick but sometimes temperamental car, while the Ferrari was so bad it had no right to be in a title fight this late in the season.

The atmosphere ahead of the race was pumping, with samba in the grandstands and rain in the air. Vendors outside the track had managed to get hold of some official Vettel three-time world champion T-shirts, but the celebration was so nearly premature. You probably already know the result, but with the benefit of hindsight, it's worth looking back at some of the defining moments from one of the greatest races of the modern era.


Every finale should be at Interlagos

If Liberty Media is serious about injecting some excitement into Formula One, making Interlagos the season finale every year would be an easy place to start. The circuit layout and the Sao Paulo weather combine to make thrilling racing more often than not, and in 2012 it did just that. By the fourth corner of the race, Vettel was facing backwards with serious damage to his car, and he was then tasked with battling back through the field.

The constant drizzle, occasionally broken up by heavy rain, ensured unpredictability throughout, with Alonso and Vettel both occupying positions at different times of the race that would have seen each crowned champion. Add to that the old paddock that was so small that there were very few places for people to hide other than the kitchens of the makeshift huts posing as hospitality units and Interlagos couldn't be beat for atmosphere.

Sadly, the race is now under threat from a rival project in Rio de Janeiro, which is likely to host the Brazilian Grand Prix from 2021 onwards. If a race takes place at Interlagos this year, make sure you tune in and make the most of it. It might be the last.

The Alonso stare

Fernando Alonso's 1000-mile stare after the race is often referred to as the iconic moment in his Ferrari career. Through an open visor, his eyes appeared caught in the middle distance, focusing on nothing in particular while reflecting on what could have been. The elusive third title had escaped him again, and the images of his unblinking eyes seemed to personify the emotion of narrow defeat.

But in a recent interview with F1 Racing, the still-two-time world champion said that was not the case.

"There are lies about my career that are not the truth," Alonso to said. "I got out of my car and I was looking at Felipe [Massa, Alonso's Ferrari teammate], who for some reason could not stop crying.

"He was with his mechanics and wife, so I was standing there waiting for him, seeing if he was OK.

"The story was that I was in shock or sad -- no I didn't care that much. I wanted to give Felipe a hug."

The 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was the closest Alonso came to a third title as 2013 and 2014 saw Ferrari head into a gradual decline before he made an ill-fated move to McLaren in 2015. Knowing what came next makes it even more tempting to take some kind of meaning from his stare, but perhaps he simply was watching Massa's emotional farewell from Ferrari.

Webber blocking Vettel ... and what came next

How Vettel's Red Bull survived all 71 laps of the race is one of F1's modern miracles. The hit his car took as he was turned round by Bruno Senna on the opening lap left a hole in the side of the bodywork and visible damage to the exhaust inside. By rights, his race should have been over, but somehow the car held together until the chequered flag.

Yet an equally intriguing element of Vettel's struggle that day was the series of battles he had with teammate Mark Webber. In normal circumstances, the teammate of a championship contender would be expected to help his sister car -- as Massa did by giving Alonso second place later in the race -- but Vettel and Webber were not normal teammates.

The relationship had originally gone sour in 2010 when the pair clashed at the Turkish Grand Prix, and it never really recovered. That much was clear that day in Brazil, as Webber squeezed Vettel in the very first corner -- contributing to his slip down the field that led to the collision with Senna at Turn 4.

Again on lap 12 Webber got in the way of his teammate after seemingly giving way to Alonso just a handful of laps earlier. Then on lap 30, after a Safety Car, Webber went three wide with his teammate and notorious late braker Kamui Kobayashi into Turn 1, putting Vettel's damaged Red Bull at risk once more.

In a recent F1 podcast, team boss Christian Horner revealed that Vettel's infamous refusal to follow team orders and stay behind Webber on track at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix -- known as Multi-21 thanks to the radio message given to Vettel -- was a "hangover" from the race in Interlagos.

"It probably culminated at the end of 2012 when Sebastian was fighting Alonso for the championship and Mark squeezed him up against the pit wall at the start of the race in Brazil, in the championship decider, which ultimately resulted in him getting turned round by Bruno Senna. Sebastian was hugely angry about that," Horner said.

"There was a hangover of that that led into Malaysia, literally two races later, split by four or five months. You had a situation where you have Mark in the car ahead, Sebastian on new tyres in the car behind. The tyres were pretty fragile, we're telling them hold position and Sebastian thought 'F--- you'."

Asked whether the Multi-21 incident was payback for Brazil, Horner added: "100%! "[Vettel] told [Webber] that after the race or when they sat down in China. That was probably as tense as it could get."

What could have been for Hulkenberg

The 2012 season is famous for having seven different winners in the first seven races and, in stark contrast to recent years, saw six different teams secure victories in the space of 20 races. But the last truly competitive F1 season so nearly had one last surprise at the final race as Nico Hulkenberg came within 16 laps of a victory that might have sent his career on a completely different trajectory.

Driving for Force India at the time but with a move to Sauber secured for the next year, Hulkenberg took the lead of the Brazilian Grand Prix on lap 19. His car and driving style seemed to suit the conditions, which required drivers to maintain temperature in their slick Pirelli tyres despite the constant drizzle that hung over the circuit.

But despite taking both McLarens on using inferior machinery, Hulkenberg's race started to go wrong on lap 48 when a half spin in the middle sector of the lap let Hamilton through. Unperturbed, he was still the fastest car on track and over the next seven laps closed in on Hamilton as the lead McLaren came up behind lapped cars.

In an attempt to spring a surprise, he launched his car to the inside of Turn 1 as Hamilton lapped a Marussia. It so nearly worked and so nearly promoted the Force India back into the lead, but as he got back on the throttle, the car snapped into oversteer and clattered into the side of the McLaren. Hamilton was out of the race on the spot, and Hulkenberg dropped to fifth with a drive-through penalty.

There's no guarantee a win would have spurred Hulkenberg onto greater success (he was moving to Sauber for 2013 after all), but it would have silenced the critics who so regularly pointed to his lack of podiums during the remainder of his F1 career.

McLaren's last victory

It's bizarre when you think about it, but the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was McLaren's last victory in Formula One. From that point onwards, it went into steady decline and is only just starting to mount the early stages of recovery now.

On a basic level, a flawed chassis redesign for 2013 produced an uncompetitive car the next year, but from a much wider point of view, the rise of the Mercedes factory team meant that McLaren was no longer a works outfit. Mercedes had been selling back its 40% stake since 2010, and McLaren needed to look elsewhere for its engines and its financial support.

It was also Lewis Hamilton's last race for the team as he prepared to move to Mercedes and replace Michael Schumacher, who took part in the final F1 race of his career in Interlagos, finishing seventh. Hamilton's decision had been criticised by many, who saw him jumping ship from a race-winning team to an unproven outfit, but it was vindicated in style over the following years as he went on to become a six-time world champion.

In the end, the loss of Mercedes as a works partner led McLaren back to Honda, but dreams of reproducing the glory years of the late 1980s never materialised. Only now, as it prepares to return to Mercedes as a customer team in 2021, is McLaren starting to make significant steps back up the grid. Yet it's still easy to imagine the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix passing without another McLaren victory in sight.