- Festive Fundown
F1's top races of 2012
Christmas season is upon us, so in the build-up to the big day itself we at ESPN Towers will be picking out a host of top-five moments, and then asking YOU to vote for your favourites.
What was the goal of 2012? Who are the top five bad boys of the past 12 months? Who had years to forget? Come back each day for a new topic and cast your vote to pick the winners of each category…
Pastor Maldonado's victory at the Spanish Grand PrixAfter enduring one of the most disappointing seasons of its illustrious history in 2011, there were doubts as to whether Williams would ever win again in F1. But at the Circuit de Catalunya in May this year, Pastor Maldonado returned the British outfit to the top step of the podium with an inch-perfect drive.
The race didn't have the on-track drama of some of the others in 2012, but Maldonado's battle for victory with Fernando Alonso was tense and remained on a knife edge until the chequered flag. However, the Williams driver was made to work for his debut win after Alonso muscled past him at the first corner and built a decent lead. Maldonado remained in contention and retook first place by judging his strategy to perfection and emerging from the final pit stops ahead of the Ferrari.
Williams' post-race celebrations were cut short, however, when flames engulfed the team's garage following a flash fire in the refuelling area. Mechanics from up and down the pit lane mucked in to help and their bravery and quick thinking brought the inferno under control. Needless to say, the grand prix was one of the year's more memorable weekends.
Fernando Alonso victory at the European Grand PrixThe Valencia street circuit has struggled to win the hearts of F1 fans since its introduction to the calendar in 2008. Its 3.3 miles of concrete-lined, featureless track had seen little excitement in its first four years, but in 2012 it played host to one of the most action-packed races of the season.
Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean both retired from race-winning positions with alternator failures, leaving Fernando Alonso with the opportunity to fight from 11th on the grid to victory in front of his home fans. The Pirelli tyres played their part and facilitated overtaking throughout the field, with the race providing changes for position and incidents until the very last lap.
Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher eventually joined Alonso on the podium after Pastor Maldonado took out Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap, meaning the top three had a total of ten championships between them. F1 races don't get much better.
Kimi Raikkonen's victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand PrixAfter spending two years hitting trees in the World Rally Championship, Kimi Raikkonen returned to F1 in 2012 and strung together a near-immaculate comeback season, topped off by his victory in Abu Dhabi.
It was another thrilling race and made all the more exciting by championship contender Sebastian Vettel starting from the pit lane due to a fuel technicality in qualifying. Lewis Hamilton could perhaps feel hard done by after retiring from the lead with a mechanical issue, but Raikkonen seized the opportunity and held off title contender Fernando Alonso in the closing stages.
Vettel fought his way through the field to third to keep his championship lead intact and all manner of carnage broke out further down the field as drivers scrapped for position. Lotus wanted to make sure its man was fully informed of the battle brewing behind, but Raikkonen - an 18-time race winner - didn't need telling. "Just leave me alone," he responded to his race engineer, "I know what I'm doing." He proved just that.
F1's return to the USAFormula One's return to the USA had been a long time coming. The Circuit of the Americas had battled through several difficulties ahead of the race - including workers downing tools over the winter - but when it mattered, Austin delivered. The whole city switched into party mode over the weekend and fully embraced the sport and all it had to offer. On race day 117,000 fans filled the grandstands, despite the grand prix taking place on the same weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup finale, and provided a brilliant atmosphere around the circuit.
F1 returned the favour with one of the most exciting races of the year and a straight fight between two of its most talented drivers. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton battled for 42 laps before the McLaren man got ahead and went on to take his final win for the team ahead of his move to Mercedes in 2013. Fernando Alonso joined Hamilton and Vettel on the podium, meaning the title battle remained in the balance heading to the final race...
Sebastian Vettel wins the title in BrazilThe Brazilian Grand Prix was a fitting finale to a thrilling season, with a race that had everything - from a first lap crash to a post-race controversy. Sebastian Vettel eventually emerged victorious in Brazil, but it looked anything but certain after his first lap contact with Bruno Senna. Despite struggling on with a damaged car, the Red Bull driver picked his way through the field in changing track conditions to take the necessary points to win the championship. His title rival Fernando Alonso did everything he could to haul his Ferrari up to second place, ending up three points short of Vettel in the final standings.
Both drivers got out of their cars at the end of the race in a state of disbelief, but with Red Bull mechanics celebrating up and down the pit lane there was no doubt which man had come out on top. Jenson Button, meanwhile, took the race victory after a thrilling battle of his own earlier in the afternoon with Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
The F1 world could barely compute the course of events that had unfolded over the weekend, and it took until the following week for internet rumours to emerge and prompt Ferrari to question the legality of one of Vettel's passing moves on lap four. The FIA responded by making it clear that there was no case to answer, but it was enough to kick up another controversy heading into the close season. It was a bizarre end to a thrilling year.