Although there were seven different winners in the first seven races, the drivers' title came down to a final-race showdown at the Brazilian Grand Prix at the end of November between the two strongest drivers, each aiming to become the youngest triple world champion ever.
Both Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari's were equally deserving of the title, even if it was the younger of the two, Vettel - who had won the previous two years as well - who took the title at 25. Alonso recognized his own value after the last race.
''It was by far the best season of my career, and I will remember 2012 like some kind of a dream season,'' he said. ''I didn't win the title, but I won so much respect from everybody.''
For most of the season it looked as if the title might be won by any of five or six drivers, including one who might win the title without a single race victory. That driver, Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, finally did win a race - the third-to-last, in Abu Dhabi - but was nonetheless eliminated from the title hunt.
Raikkonen and Lotus were one of the biggest stories of the season, in fact. The Finnish driver had returned after a two-year break, during which he made an unsuccessful attempt at rally racing. Joining Lotus after he had previously raced at the illustrious McLaren and Ferrari teams seemed to many like a bad choice. But it was immediately apparent that Raikkonen, who finished in third place, had lost nothing of his speed and craft. He had returned to the series because he craved the wheel-to-wheel racing absent from rallying.
''It was my races in Nascar that reminded me of that,'' Raikkonen said, referring to the other form of racing he had tried briefly in his time off.
There was no better time to return to Formula 1 for wheel-to-wheel racing. Although the new rules to facilitate passing - including power buttons and movable rear wings - have been criticized as artificial and stacking the decks, the best teams and drivers won.
''Formula 1 is much more unpredictable,'' Martin Whitmarsh, the director of the McLaren Mercedes team, said in a podcast before the U.S. Grand Prix, ''and, as a consequence, much more entertaining than it was only a couple of years ago. We're not going to go quite as far as World Wrestling Federation-style sport.''
In fact, the season was distinguished not just by its track action and suspense, but it embellished the reputations of the top drivers. It did not all come down to a of roll the dice; Vettel and Fernando Alonso were clearly the two best drivers over the 20 races of the longest Formula One season ever. And Alonso, whether he won the title or not, burnished his reputation as he drove perfectly to three victories in a Ferrari that was far from the best car in the series.
Time and again, it seemed that skill and mental toughness were on the Spaniard's side - as well as some luck. After his opening victory in Malaysia during the rain, he was able to control the rest of his season until moments such as the Belgian Grand Prix, where he was knocked out of the race at the first corner by the young French driver Romain Grosjean, who, as Raikkonen's teammate, was a negative surprise as much as the Finn was a positive one.
Grosjean was suspended for a race after that Belgian incident, in which two other drivers were also knocked out. He crashed out of several races, too, often taking other drivers with him. At the Japanese Grand Prix, he knocked off Mark Webber of the Red Bull team, who responded by calling him a ''first-lap nut case.''
While the main technical rules were not changed this season, the key to the season lay in the perfect formula of the Pirelli tires - or rather, the imperfect formula. Answering demand from the organizers to improve the show, Pirelli came up with a rubber compound so unpredictable, so baffling to all the teams, that learning to get the most out of it was the key to the unpredictable nature of the season from race to race. That also helped make it possible for several of the teams and drivers not normally racing at the front to do so. One such driver was Pastor Maldonado in a Williams, who won the Spanish Grand Prix in April.
The season had a kind of controversy the series has rarely seen before, however, with the running of the Bahrain Grand Prix while the Gulf state was in the midst of protests against the government, a continuation of its Arab Spring.
Formula 1 had canceled the race last year because of the protests, but this year it went ahead with the race, despite calls for it to cancel from international organizations and even from British politicians. In the end, because the series had a contract with the Bahrain government and it had been assured that racing personnel would be safe, Formula 1 honored the contract, stating that another cancellation would be a political statement in itself.
The protests were never stronger than during the race weekend, as the opposition parties and populace sought to use the race as a publicity tool - just as the Bahrain government was trying to do. The race itself passed without serious incident, but a protester was killed during the race weekend.
It was also a year that saw the series successfully return to the ever elusive but potentially lucrative U.S. market. The inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, exceeded just about everyone's expectations, from the local organizers to Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 promoter.
''It is good when you do something and it works,'' Ecclestone said.
But at season's end, there remain unresolved problems within Formula 1, with several teams - from HRT at the back of the grid to the leading Lotus team - struggling for sponsorship, while the series itself and several of the top teams are financially healthy.
''There's a lot of challenge for quite a lot of teams and it's important for all of us to reach for compromise, find a way forward that's going to make sure that we can sustain all those teams,'' Whitmarsh said.