Coming into the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of Brazil, it had always seemed probable that Sebastian Vettel would clinch his third world championship title over Fernando Alonso. And so it proved.
But before delivering that expected outcome, the race delivered an extraordinary rollercoaster ride of drama and emotion that saw fortunes swing all over the place, as both the championship and the race win itself could have ended up being decided in any number of permutations each more unpredictable than the last.
The drivers had arrived in Sao Paulo to predictions of 100 per cent certainty of rain on race day, but by Sunday itself the forecasts had swung around to confidently predict a dry race. Naturally, then, the fine drizzle started around 20 minutes before the hour - enough to jangle the nerves of the drivers on the grid just that little bit more ahead of the 2012 season finale deciding the world championship battle.
The shower was very light and the forecasters were all saying it would soon be over, so no one was tempted to move away from their slick tyre choice as they formed up behind the lights. When the lights went out, Lewis Hamilton got a flying start and swooped across the track to ensure that Jenson Button had no chance of challenging for the lead into turn one, leaving Button had his hands full dealing with the fast-starting Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The local hero was able to pass the McLaren and then had a try for the lead around Hamilton, but that one was firmly repulsed.
The Red Bulls meanwhile had suffered a poor start, Vettel particularly struggling to launch off the grid while Webber was briefly bested by Alonso for fourth place. Webber won that initial encounter but on lap 2 the Australian was too busy focussing on making an attack on Massa ahead of him to react in time when Alonso dived through for third place. That was the minimum he needed to stand a chance of claiming the world championship - but he still needed Sebastian Vettel to finish out of the points to succeed, and how likely was that?
Likelier than anyone had thought, it turned out: a first lap collision with Bruno Senna into the turn 4 left hander spun Vettel's Red Bull around and left him facing the oncoming traffic. Miraculously there was no further contact for Vettel as he rolled backwards to a stop, and while there was sidepod damage to his car from the initial hit with Senna, Vettel was able to get underway and was soon chasing down the backmarkers to recover his lost positions. Senna meanwhile had gone on to run over the back of Sergio Perez' Sauber, and both cars became the first retirements of the race, and were joined by Senna's team mate Pastor Maldonado in a separate spin of his own on lap 2.
As everyone was reeling from the implications for what this all meant to the tittle battle, there were bigger problems for the entire field: the weather wasn't obeying the forecasters' prognostications, and the drizzle not only continued to fall, it even picked up strength. The forecasters still maintained it wouldn't last, so the teams were unwilling to switch to intermediate tyres; but in the meantime the drivers were finding it increasingly difficult to locate any grip out on the track.
Sure enough, Alonso lost his much-needed third place by running wide at turn one on lap 4, and he had to be thankful that it was now a concrete run-off and not grass. Even so, it still put him down to fourth behind the hard-charging Nico Hulkenberg who was driving in his final outing for Force India. Then there was Mark Webber, spinning around after contact with the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi; and then Romain Grosjean flew off at high speed into a hard impact with the tyre wall on lap 7.
With flags denoting slippery conditions now on display all around the circuit, Jenson Button proved to be most adept handling the situation and moved into the lead around a struggling Lewis Hamilton on lap 8; Hamilton continued to fight his way around for a few more laps, but on lap 11 he'd had enough and with the light rain still persisting he joined the growing number of drivers that included Vettel and Alonso diving into pit lane for a change to inters. Whether that was a good move depended very much on how long the rain continued to be a factor, but in the meantime Jenson Button was staying out on the slick tyres along with Nico Hulkenberg who was himself soon challenging for the outright lead of the race - finally claiming it at the start of lap 19