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Seven Up for Webber at last

Aussie heads up another Red Bull 1-2... Button beats off Alonso for final podium spot... Hamilton’s season ends on a low note... Vettel ends with pole record

Mark Webber kept us waiting, but the Australian’s seventh win of his F1 career was all the sweeter as it sends him into the off-season on a high as he regroups and returns to try and match runaway teammate Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing next year.

Vettel had started from pole at Interlagos, where he eclipsed the record of 14 pole positions in a season set by Nigel Mansell for Williams in the Englishman’s World Championship-winning season of 1992.

The German was away to a great start as usual, but for once Webber, starting beside him on the front row, did not dwell on the line. He placed his car superbly to keep the fast-starting Button’s McLaren and Alonso’s Ferrari at bay as they funnelled into the first corner.

The two Red Bulls pulled away from the field imperiously but as early as lap 14 of the scheduled 71 Vettel was receiving radio warnings about the state of his gearbox and being instructed to short-shift in a bid to nurse the car home.

Vettel still led through the first series of pit stops around laps 16-17-18 but by the end of lap 29 Webber was through and into a lead which he relinquished only briefly to his teammate as they both made two further stops.

“A little bit of a rub of the green,” conceded Webber, “but still it’s a win you’ll take, for sure. It was very important for me and the team to finish on a high – I really enjoyed driving those last few laps! It was a nice little kick to finish the year – today was a very special day.”

It was all the more so as this was the first time Webber had won twice on the same track following his victory at Interlagos in the penultimate race of 2009. Not only that, but with Fernando Alonso unable to cling on to a podium finish, the win vaulted Webber into third place in the Drivers’ World Championship. He celebrated in style by setting the fastest lap – his seventh of the season – with a time of 1:15.324, an average speed of 205.942 km/h, on the very last lap of the race.

Button meanwhile had been mugged by Alonso on the opening lap, but the savvy Englishman bided his time through two stints on the harder Pirelli compound and repaid the compliment with less than 10 laps remaining.

Webber’s victory means the ‘Big Five’ has again monopolised the race wins; the 19 in 2011 were shared between Vettel (11), Hamilton and Button (three apiece), Alonso and Webber (one apiece).

Massa, the ‘other’ Ferrari driver, made history of a less happy kind by finishing outside the top three in his home race. Not only did the Brazilian not win in 2011, he is the first Maranello driver to endure a season without a single podium finish since Ivan Capelli back in 1992.

Hamilton’s season ended on a low note when his McLaren Mercedes found itself with a gearbox of neutrals at three-quarter distance, leaving Massa to claim fifth place and risk the wrath of officialdom by performing doughnuts at the end of the race, probably in relief that a difficult season was at an end.

The impressive Adrian Sutil cemented Force India’s strong season and his own place in the drivers’ top 10 with a fine sixth as teammate Paul di Resta finished eighth to match the team’s best showing of the year.

“We made the right calls with the strategy because we knew there was a chance to beat Mercedes, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Sutil. “So I’m very happy with my sixth place – it’s the best way to end the year and it also means that I move up to ninth place in the drivers’ championship, which was my aim.”

Between them was the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, while Kamui Kobayashi’s ninth place sealed seventh in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Toro Rosso, for whom neither driver scored. The final point of the season went to Vitaly Petrov in the Lotus Renault, whose teammate Bruno Senna was given F1’s equivalent of a yellow card – a drive-through penalty – for his part in a minor clash with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes after just 12 laps.

Daniel Ricciardo again brought his HRT home in 20th place, the last of the classified finishers, to end his rookie season strongly and did no harm to his chances of retaining a seat in F1 for next year.

Speaking of which, there was to be no fairy-tale ending for the massed Brazilian fans as their current favourite son, Rubens Barrichello, got off to a dreadful start in his Williams and could do no better than 14th – but still insisted post-race that he would be back in F1 for a 20th season in 2012.

After Red Bull’s third 1-2 result of the season, Webber was modest in victory but Vettel was equally gracious in defeat. “It would be over the top to be upset now,” he said. “It’s been a phenomenal year and a very strong finish as well so now we are all ready for the winter.” The 24-year-old German even borrowed a Webber word to describe his second title-winning season – ‘Phenomenal!”

Drivers’ Championship: final standings

1. Vettel 392 points

2. Button 270

3. Webber 258

4. Alonso 257

5. Hamilton 227

6. Massa 118

7. Rosberg 89

8. Schumacher 76

9. Sutil 42

10. Petrov 37

11. Heidfeld 34

12. Kobayashi 30

13. Di Resta 27

14. Alguersuari 26

15. Buemi 15

16. Perez 14

17. Barrichello 4

18. Senna 2

19. Maldonado 1

20. De la Rosa 0

21. Trulli 0

22. Kovalainen 0

23. Liuzzi 0

24. D’Ambrosio 0

25. Glock 0

26. Karthikeyan 0

27. Ricciardo 0

28. Chandhok 0

Constructors’ Championship: final standings

1. Red Bull Racing 650 points

2. McLaren-Mercedes 497

3. Ferrari 375

4. Mercedes 165

5. Lotus Renault 73

6. Sahara Force India 69

7. Sauber 44

8. Scuderia Toro Rosso 41

9. Williams 5

10. Team Lotus 0

11. HRT 0

12. Marussia Virgin 0

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