Sebastian Vettel has become the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history after finishing in sixth place in a classic Brazilian Grand Prix.
Vettel recovered from a collision with Bruno Senna on the opening lap which left him at the back of the field to take the title by just three points from Fernando Alonso.
With Alonso finishing second, a seventh place was all Vettel needed to take his third successive championship, making him only the third driver in Formula One history to achieve the feat.
Jenson Button took his third win of the season after Nico Hulkenberg and Lewis Hamilton collided when battling for the lead on lap 54.
With rain hitting the Interlagos circuit shortly before the start, the race began on a greasy track. Hamilton made a good start from pole, but Felipe Massa made the best start in the difficult conditions and moved from fifth to second.
Button quickly regained second place from Massa, but further back there was carnage, as Bruno Senna and Vettel collided into turn four, with Senna being eliminated and the Red Bull suffering damage to its exhaust.
Somehow Vettel was able to continue without pitting, and set about making his way back up through the field.
Alonso had to finish on the podium to have any chance of winning the championship, and at the start of lap two pulled off a stunning overtake on both Massa and Mark Webber at the Senna-S to take third place.
But Alonso only managed to stay in a podium position for three laps, as a mistake at the Senna-S on lap five forced him off the track and allowed Nico Hulkenberg, who had passed both Webber and Massa, to move into third.
Meanwhile with the track conditions worsening, Vettel made rapid progress back through the field, and by lap eight had already made his way back into seventh position.
Out front a battle for the lead developed between the two McLarens, with Button putting intense pressure on his teammate, and on lap eight he got his reward when Hamilton ran wide into turn 5, allowing Button to move into the lead.
By now the track had become treacherous, Romain Grosjean finding that out to his cost as he spun into the wall at Mergulho, and nearly all of the frontrunners pitted for intermediates.
The two exceptions were Button and Hulkenberg, who risked staying out on slick tyres and gained a huge advantage when the track began to dry out, meaning those who had pitted for inters had to pit again to put dry tyres back on.
And Hulkenberg was relishing his opportunity to fight it out at the front. He began to close in on Button, and the Force India driver then incredibly took the lead on lap 19 when he made good use of his KERS to take the Englishman around the outside into the Senna-S.
But the top two’s advantage was wiped out on lap 23 when the safety car was deployed for debris, which had previously caused Nico Rosberg to suffer a puncture, and Hulkenberg and Button’s 45 second lead over the field was obliterated.
Hamilton made best use of the chance to close up, and a lap after the restart passed Button for second place.
In the fight for the championship, Vettel was running seventh, which would give him the title with Alonso not on the podium. But the track did not stay dry for long, and rain soon began to fall once more on the Interlagos circuit.
And, having driven brilliantly to lead the Grand Prix, Hulkenberg was caught out by the damp track on lap 49, putting a wheel on the wet kerb at turn eight, causing the German to slide wide and giving Hamilton the opportunity he needed to take the lead.
Hulkenberg fought back, and at the end of lap 53 was right behind the McLaren, but with the track getting worse, he got it wrong under braking and hit Hamilton’s car, forcing the Briton to retire in his final race for the McLaren team and ending the Force India driver’s hopes of an incredible victory.
Hamilton’s retirement, and a drive-through for Hulkenberg for causing the collision elevated the Ferraris to second and third.
With the rain intensifying, the cars were forced to pit again for intermediates, but Red Bull almost made a costly decision with Vettel, pitting him for a new set of slicks and having to call him in again to change to wets.
Massa pitted the lap before Alonso, meaning the Brazilian jumped his teammate to briefly run second in front of his home crowd, but with the championship at stake he was forced to yield to the Spaniard and settled for third.
Vettel was knocked back to tenth place for a time, but managed to gain places again quickly, and his pass on Kamui Kobayashi moved the German up into seventh and back into the provisional lead of the championship.
And Vettel’s position was consolidated further when Michael Schumacher, driving in his last race before his second retirement from the sport, yielded sixth place to his compatriot.
The title was then made secure when Paul di Resta had a huge accident on the run to the pit straight, bringing out the safety car and neutralising the race once more with just two laps remaining.
Button duly cruised to the line, taking his third win of the year and ending the season the same way he began it, becoming the first driver since Alain Prost in 1988 to win the first and last races of the year and not win the championship.
That honour fell to Sebastian Vettel, who finished the race in sixth place and became only the third man in Formula One history – after Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – to win three successive world championships.
1) Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes – 1:45:22.656
2) Fernando Alonso Ferrari – +2.754 seconds
3) Felipe Massa Ferrari – +3.615 seconds
4) Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault – +4.936 seconds
5) Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes – +5.708 seconds
6) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault – +9.453 seconds
7) Michael Schumacher Mercedes – +11.907 seconds
8) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +28.653 seconds
9) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari – +31.250 seconds
10) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault– Lapped
11) Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault – Lapped
12) Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
13) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari – Lapped
14) Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault – Lapped
15) Nico Rosberg Mercedes – Lapped
16) Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth – Lapped
17) Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth – Lapped
18) Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth – Lapped
19) Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes – Retired
20) Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes – Retired
21) Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault – Retired
22) Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault – Lapped
23) Bruno Senna Williams-Renault – Retired
24) Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari – Retired