far off the pace Ferrari had been in testing and in the Australian opener.
Alonso, lucky to escape unhurt after Romain Grosjean's Lotus skimmed past his head in Belgium in an incident that got the Frenchman banned for a race, and Vettel were the main men in a field of six champions - five of them race winners in 2012.
SCHUMACHER AND STONER LEAVE
There were few gasps of surprise when seven times world champion Michael Schumacher, three years into an unimpressive comeback with Mercedes and six years on from his last win with Ferrari, decided to call it a day for the second time at the age of 43.
There were rather more when 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton cut the umbilical cord with super-successful McLaren and signed for Mercedes, whose otherwise bleak year was illuminated only by their first win as a works team since 1955.
That bombshell was comparable to the shock in MotoGP when Australian Casey Stoner announced in May that he was calling it a day at the age of 26 because he had fallen out of love with the sport.
Spain's Jorge Lorenzo won that title with Yamaha, the second of his career.
Hamilton leaving McLaren for a far less successful team would have been dismissed by many at the end of 2011, and they might have scoffed also at the idea of Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado winning the Spanish Grand Prix for Williams - whose chairman Adam Parr had resigned only weeks after being lined up as founder Frank Williams' heir apparent.
How many would have expected Mercedes to dominate the Chinese Grand Prix or for Jenson Button, winning the first and last races of the year, to end up scoring more points than Hamilton over their three year McLaren partnership? But he did.
There would have been few bets on Ferrari academy youngster Sergio Perez ending the season, after the Mexican had celebrated three podium finishes for mid-table Sauber, with a McLaren contract in his pocket.
The United States returned to the calendar in Austin, the Texan capital that prides itself on being weird and showed it by taking foreign Formula One to