The Formula One season ended the way it started, with a victory of Jenson Button, but the turbulent 71 laps in Brazil on Sunday were also a condensed version of the whole 2012 campaign before Sebastian Vettel was crowned triple world champion.

Vettel and his Red Bull team partied hard in a luxury hotel in Sao Paulo until the early hours of Monday after he held off Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by three points in heart-stopping fashion in an epic race.

Hit by the Williams of Bruno Senna, Vettel found himself turned around with a damaged car but was able to continue and worked his way up from last to sixth, overcoming a tyre gamble, which went wrong and a breakdown in team radio communications.

He eventually placed sixth as the race ended behind the safety car after a crash from Paul di Resta, which was good enough to hold off the 2005 and 2006 champion Alonso, who finished second, as in 2010.

“Super-Alonso heroic, Vettel like a world champion,” said Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport paper on Monday.

“Not he (Alonso), but Ferrari lost the championship because they could not provide him with a winning car. He was perfect but the German escaped. Seb fought back after the crash with Senna in the rain. What a reaction! Credit to the champion, he deserves the title.” There was huge relief in the Red Bull camp after a difficult season in which Alonso led 44 points, after winning at Vettel’s home race at Hockenheim in July.

“It was a very, very tough season for us, on track, off track, a season with ups and downs for everyone but we always remained ourselves and kept doing it our way, and I think that made the difference in the end,” Vettel said.

The German matched Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the third man in the sport to win three titles in a row, is the ninth overall to win three trophies, but by far the youngest at age 25 to do so, which promises much more silverware over the coming years.

But he already vowed “that the story is not over yet” as his hunger for success remains despite the latest triumph.

While Vettel and company will now visit the team’s factory in Milton Keynes, Britain, for further celebrations on Tuesday, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was apologetic to Alonso for not succeeding in what was arguably his best-ever season.

“We cannot ignore the fact we were unable to give him and Felipe (Massa) a quicker car, especially at the start of the season,” Domenicali said.

“Our main aim for 2013 should be precisely that of giving our drivers the equipment with which they can win immediately. We owe our drivers and we want to wipe out that debt as soon as possible.” Vettel won five races and Alonso three in a thrilling season, which stunningly saw seven different winners in the first seven races, including first-timers Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado.

In the end, eight drivers topped the podium in 20 races and it could have even been nine on Sunday, had not Force India’s Nico Huelkenberg been first slowed down by the first safety car and then crashed into the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton while fighting for the lead.

That incident saw Hamilton retire and kept Kimi Raikkonen in third overall in a strong comeback for Lotus after two years away from F1.

Raikkonen’s return meant that the 2012 field featured six world champions and the Finn made headlines en route to his win in Abu Dhabi when he told the team “Leave me alone, I know what I am doing.” Hamilton could have finished third had he not been forced to retire in leading position in two races in his farewell season at McLaren before a 2013 move to Mercedes.

There he takes the place of the record champion Schumacher, who headed into retirement for good at age 43 in seventh place on Sunday and got a big send-off from everyone.

Schumacher let Vettel, who was named “Baby-Schumi” at the start of his career, pass late in Sunday’s race in a clear sign he was handing over the reins for good.

“Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel on claiming his third world title in a row. I’m very proud of Sebastian and really thrilled for him,” Schumacher said.

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