IT looked an impossible task at the beginning of September.
When Formula 1 returned after its summer break, Ferrari’s enigmatic leader Fernando Alonso was odds-on favourite to win the championship.
He led the Red Bull Racing pair of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel by 42 and 44 points respectively, and was in the best form of his life.
But one thing he hadn’t counted on was a dramatic return to dominance of the reigning world champions who weren’t so keen on giving up the titles they’d won for two years running quite so easily.
With four wins out of nine and three other podium finishes thrown in for good measure, Vettel signalled his intent to become only the second driver ever to win three consecutive world championships.
The 2012 season will go down in history as one of the most open and exciting battles in F1 history. With six world champions on the grid, it was the strongest field of all time, and it resulted in seven different winners in the first seven races, and eight different winners overall.
Of all Red Bull’s six consecutive championship successes, the third clean-sweep was by far their most difficult.
The constructor’s championship was an easier ride for the team as their opponents fell by the wayside, but Alonso’s clockwork consistency meant Vettel needed to use all of his talent to get back in to the title fight and successfully defend his crown.
But as the cars crossed the line for the final time in Brazil, Vettel’s dramatic sixth place finish was good enough to break Spanish and Italian hearts again, while fans and hundreds of staff watching back at Red Bull’s Milton Keynes base could celebrate yet another F1 clean-sweep.
In the past, Red Bull have made winning championships look easy, but this season, they’ve had to work harder than ever to remain the team to beat in F1.
Team Principal Christian Horner guided the team to another driver’s and constructor’s championship double in 2012, but admitted this year’s campaign has had his famous leg twitching on the pitwall more than any other.
Not quite understanding the new RB8 in the early stages of the season, the Tilbrook boys won two of the opening eight races, one each for Vettel and Webber, and found themselves playing catch-up as Alonso took control at the top of the driver’s championship standings.
And despite the experience of winning both titles in the last two years, Horner said all of his staff have had to dig deep to come away from 2012 on top.
“They’ve always worked hard,” he said. “But this year has been by far our toughest challenge, both for drivers and constructors.
“We’ve had to fight hard to get back into both titles and that’s what is more satisfying. But you see the personal sacrifices that people make, both away from home and from their families, particularly here in Milton Keynes, it’s just remarkable.
“The reason this team is so successful is because of that spirit we have. We work as one unit, and there are so many heroic stories of people going beyond what they’re asked of to deliver and to get components onto the car, to hit all of the targets.
“What you see on a Sunday is a very small percentage of that team. A triple world championship win would not have been imaginable without the dedication of the staff here in Milton Keynes.
“It never gets easier and this was the hardest of the three. We’ve had to show true strength of character to fight back into the driver’s championship in particular.”
Horner also heaped praise on his world champion driver, saying that the 25-year-old German had faced a whole host of challenges to overturn Alonso’s 40-point advantage.
Despite dominating the 2011 season from start to finish, breaking records left, right and centre, Horner believes Vettel’s most recent title is his finest hour.
He said: “I think, in many respects, this championship is his best because he’s had to work so hard for it.
“He’s never given up and allowed himself to get distracted. The more pressure he has been under, the better he has delivered.
“He knew, coming out of the summer break, 40 points behind, that he had to deliver and he stepped it up a gear, especially when we got to the Asian races.
“He put a string of four race wins together which were hugely impressive. Beyond that, the way he composed himself in Abu Dhabi was massively impressive and the mental strength he showed in Brazil would have wilted other drivers.”