Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari were both trying in the last race of the 2012 season to become the youngest three-time world champion in history. The two had to battle constantly changing conditions, both on the track and with the weather, at the Brazilian Grand Prix; and in the end, it was the younger of the two who became the youngest three time champion of all time.
Alonso finished second and Vettel ended in sixth, but the German made history by winning his third championship at age 25. Vettel, who started the race with a 13-point lead, won the title by just three points over Alonso, 281-278.
Vettel also became only the third driver in Formula 1 history - after Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s and Michael Schumacher in the past decade - to win three titles in a row.
Jenson Button in a McLaren Mercedes won the race, but his day was overshadowed by the battle between the title contenders.
After both drivers qualified poorly for the race - Vettel fourth and Alonso seventh - they then found themselves battling the elements as a light rain turned the difficult, winding track in Interlagos into something resembling an amusement-park slide. The drivers - slipping, sliding and dodging cars - were challenged from the start to the finish.
Despite being run into from behind at the start by the Brazilian driver Bruno Senna, Vettel managed to rise from last place after the first lap to finish high enough to beat Alonso.
''It is very difficult to find the words after the race today. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong,'' Vettel said.
''To win that third title here, where one of my greatest idols, Ayrton Senna, was from, it is very difficult to imagine I join him and other great names by winning three successive titles,'' he said. ''My radio was not working, I was crying and you didn't hear that, and I am very happy about that. I just can't find the right words to describe how I feel right now.''
It was Senna who held the previous record for the youngest triple world champion; he took his third title at 31 in 1991, when he was just a couple of months older than Alonso is now.
Alonso looked shocked for several minutes after the race, keeping his helmet on and staring into space, but he collected his emotions, knowing he had done all he could.
''First of all, I feel very proud of my team, and very proud of the position we did. We didn't lose it here in Brazil,'' said Alonso, referring to races earlier in the season in which he was knocked off the track by other drivers and scored no points. ''But this is a sport and when you do something with your heart, you have to be proud.''
Drivers often ran their cars two and three abreast in the slippery conditions.
''It was one of the most difficult races we have driven, with those conditions,'' Alonso added. ''You feel as if you are with the wrong tire on every lap.''
Even though he lost the season title, Alonso still was proud of how the year had gone. ''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.''
Vettel did too, as he held it all together in both the race in Brazil and the Nov. 4 race in Abu Dhabi, where he started the race in last place but finished third.
''Correct me if I am wrong, but there are only two guys who have done that before,'' Vettel said of becoming only the third driver to win three titles in a row. ''You need to be in the right place at the right time. But I also believe you need to create your own luck. One of the great things about Formula One is you can compare yourself not only to your era but to 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. But things have changed for people around the world.''
The race was also the last for Michael Schumacher, who at the age of 43, has decided finally to retire from racing. He returned to race in 2010 after a three-year absence. The German driver, who took seven world titles and 91 victories in his career, started the race in 14th and finished in seventh.
It was the longest season in the series' history, with 20 races, and it was one of the best seasons for Alonso, who took three victories with a car that was not among the best. Vettel, who dominated the previous two years, had problems with his Red Bull early in the season, but he came back at the end, stringing together four victories in a row in September and October.
Vettel finished the season with five victories, while Alonso scored three, the last at the German Grand Prix in July.
''That was the most exciting race I ever saw in Formula 1,'' said Nelson Piquet, a Brazilian three-time world champion who interviewed the top three drivers on the podium.