SAO PAULO (AP) - Sebastian Vettel captured his third straight Formula One championship title Sunday, overcoming a first-lap crash to finish sixth in a Brazilian Grand Prix won by Jenson Button under pouring rain.
“It’s difficult to find the right words,” said Vettel, who at 25 became the youngest three-time champion in F1. “It’s unbelievable. I’m still full of adrenaline. It was an incredible race.”
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, F1’s most successful driver, finished seventh in his final race after 19 seasons. Minutes before the race, he lapped the track with a flag with the words “Thank You.” He used the radio to thank the mechanics and engineers he has worked with as well as his fans watching on TV.
Vettel appeared in big trouble after he was bumped shortly after the first lap and spun. He dropped to last place before he could turn his car around and start a difficult pursuit. But he steadily worked his way up the field and did what he had to _ holding off Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the only other driver contending for the title.
“You are the man, you are a triple world champion,” a team official told Vettel on the radio after he crossed the line.
Vettel is the first driver with three titles in a row since Schumacher won five straight from 2000-04. The only other driver to win at least three consecutive championships was Juan Manuel Fangio from 1954-57.
He needed to finish fourth or better to clinch the title regardless of where Alonso crossed the line. The Spaniard would only have a chance by finishing on the podium.
Lewis Hamilton was leading in his final race with McLaren when Nico Hulkenberg crashed into him while trying to pass on a slippery track with 17 laps to go. Hamilton received a standing ovation from his McLaren team when returning to the garage.
“Mixed emotions, but I’m happy,” he said.
The race was dramatic from the start but had an anticlimactic finish behind the safety car after Paul Di Resta crashed just before the final lap.
It rained on and off throughout the race at Interlagos, making conditions difficult and forcing drivers to come in and out of the pits several times.
“It was more or less was what we wanted, mixed conditions,” Alonso said. “But it was one of the most difficult races we ever drove. You feel you are with the wrong tire on every lap. It was a risk to crash and have an accident on every lap. Obviously you are not in control of what your rivals do. We were hoping for a little miracle.”
It was dry at the start, but it was a chaotic first lap, and a perfect one for Alonso.