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The Formula One World Championship came to a thrilling climax Sunday after a tension-filled and action-packed Brazilian Grand Prix won by Mclaren’s Jenson Button. In the end, it was reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel who claimed victory by just three points from Spain’s Fernando Alonso.

The race began only seconds after the heavens opened, glazing the track with a sheen of near-invisible water that wrong-footed several drivers, but it was Vettel that made the first error.

After a tardy start from his 4th place grid slot the German was back among the midfield runners as the pack hurtled towards turn four, but the fast-starting Bruno Senna in his Williams was unsighted by Vettel as they turned into the corner and when the two came together at the apex it was the Red Bull that ended up facing the other cars racing past on either side. His car suffered further damage when Sergio Perez struck him a glancing blow, but it was the Mexican who came off worst with terminal damage to his Sauber machine.

Vettel swiftly got his car facing in the right direction and began the pursuit of his championship dreams, and as the rain fell harder the action was beginning to mount up front as Jenson Button re-passed Felipe Massa, who had squeezed past him at the start and applied pressure to team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Soon he was right on the tail of his compatriot and made a move to take the lead of the Grand Prix.

Behind them Alonso, now up to 3rd after a lightning start, ran wide on the wet surface into turn one and was passed by Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India, the German once again proving his class in these tricky conditions.

Button and Hamilton continued to dice to the angst of their team, but on lap 10 Hamilton dived into the pitlane for intermediate tyres, quickly followed by the rest of the field excepting Button and Hulkenberg who chose to continue on slick rubber. Although initially quick, those that made the change began to burn up their Pirelli tyres as the rain eased and the track dried. This left Hulkenberg and Button (the Force India having caught and passed the Mclaren) running 40-plus seconds ahead of anyone else and it looked like they were the only contenders for victory.

However, debris after the first lap fracas soon caused Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg to suffer a puncture and the Safety Car was sent out to slow the field while it was cleaned up, thus negating the brave work of both Hulkenberg and Button. As the teams and spectators took the temporary to breathe and take stock, the vital contenders were as follows: Hulkenberg, 1st; Button, 2nd; Hamilton, 3rd; Alonso, 4th; and Vettel, already back inside the top 10 for those crucial championship points, in 5th.

When the restart came Hulkenberg maintained the lead, while Hamilton pounced on Button who was struggling with tyre temperature, while Alonso and Vettel warily sized each other up. Mark Webber proved he wasn’t going to be the perfect team player when he attacked his teammate into the first corner but came off badly when he skidded wide. Up front, Hulkenberg span on the 48th lap and Hamilton passed the recovering Force India to take the lead.

Button had initially fallen back, but was now setting fastest laps as he closed back in on his rivals. In the end, he didn’t need to try and overtake as Hamilton and Hulkenberg came together at the tight turn one, the German snatching a brake while re-passing Hamilton and clattering into the Mclaren who was out on the spot with a smashed front suspension. Hulkenberg rejoined but it was now Button who led once again, and things got worse for Force India when their man was awarded a drive-through penalty.

With battles raging up and down the field, Kimi Raikkonen added a spot of humor when he slid off the track at the penultimate corner. He was stranded deep into the run-off area and in his desire to avoid driving over rough grass to regain the circuit he darted through an open gate, somehow ending up behind a marshal’s post and in with the crowd.

He found, to his dismay, that the exit back onto the circuit he had tried to find was closed (one he had found open when he made a similar mistake back in 2001) and he sheepishly turned the car back around and drove through the desperately scattering marshal’s around the gate to rejoin the race!

It wasn’t over yet. The rain came yet again and forced everyone to make the switch to intermediates again. Vettel had stopped two laps earlier and consequently was down in 10th when the pitstops had been completed. Alonso was running 2nd, courtesy of magnanimous teammate Massa who allowed Alonso through. Italy dared to believe the impossible was now possible. If the race ended there and then, Alonso would be champion for the first time in six years.

Unfortunately for them, Vettel was making headway into those ahead having survived an encounter with Kamui Kobayashi earlier in the race, and once he passed Michael Schumacher for 6th, the points situation made a grim reading for Ferrari. Unless Button retired and Alonso took the lead there was no way the title would be theirs.

A last moment accident injected more uncertainty briefly into the race when Paul Di Resta smashed his Force India to pieces at the top of the hill, losing control at 150 mph and slamming into a guard rail. Thankfully emerging unscathed, his mistake was to signal an ending to the entire championship saga as the Safety Car escorted the field round the 71st and final lap of the season.

Racing was suspended, and in that moment Sebastian Vettel became the sports youngest ever triple World Champion.

Symbolically, the Safety Car entered the pits, allowing the field to cross the line at speed and Jenson Button duly collected his 15th Grand Prix victory ahead of a drained Alonso, emotional Massa, Mark Webber, Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Jean Eric Vergne, Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen. Vitaly Petrov managed 11th place for Caterham which elevated them to 10th in the team’s championship ahead of rivals Marussia, a vital aim for those cash-strapped outfits that need the television money awarded with that 10th position.

Arriving in Parc Ferme, Vettel played up to the cameras while in the background Alonso stared into the middle distance, lost in his thoughts for a brief second but etched into the mind after his expression was caught on camera in what will be an iconic moment of the 2012 season.

And so the 2012 Formula One season came to an end. Eight drivers have tasted glory, six different teams victorious in twenty different races. Two men fought to the death. One of them is a triple World Champion.

Crowning the Formula 1 champion: Alonso and Vettel set for Brazilian showdown

Formula 1 finale

Now that Austin has been inaugurated onto the multi-cultural global bandwagon that is the Formula One circus, it’s only fair that you dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts and newcomers alike are kept ‘in the loop’ as part of the ever-growing Formula One family!

Just one week since the race in Austin, the Brazilian circuit of Interlagos in downtown Sao Paulo will host the Grand Prix of Brazil, the F1 season finale. Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso go head-to-head for the greatest prize in motorsport — the 2012 FIA Formula One Drivers World Championship.

The two men, spearated by just 13 points, have done battle on five different continents and remain the only two left standing, with drivers such as Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Mark Webber having fallen by the wayside.

"I and all of us believe we can do it. Now we go to Sao Paolo with the will to win, knowing we will fight for it right to the last kilometre of the last lap of the race."

Speaking in the customary pre-race press conference, the title rivals summed up their expectations as the season draws to a close. "I think the circuit seemed to suit our car in previous years." said championship leader Vettel. "I think we need to confirm it. So all eyes on Friday, to start the weekend, to get into the groove, but I think we can be as confident as we could in this stage."

Fernando Alonso knows that a large slice of luck needs to fall his way if he is to take the title from under the Red Bull driver’s nose. "I think we need to try to do a normal weekend, try to score as many points as we can, obvious it will be good to be [on] the podium and score a minimum 15 points and then when we cross the line we see where Sebastian is and we try to do some numbers after that. The first priority for us is to be in the podium...then we need to wait obviously for the results from Red Bull because it is not in our hands."

Alonso is clearly being coy. While a podium finish puts on the pressure, Ferrari knows that if Vettel finishes in fourth place or better, he wins the championship, even if Alonso wins the race.

Despite this, team matriarch Luca Di Montezemolo was upbeat about the Spaniard’s chances of taking his first crown since 2006. "I know it will be very tough, but I and all of us believe we can do it. Now we go to Sao Paolo with the will to win, knowing we will fight for it right to the last kilometre of the last lap of the race." Ferrari came agonizingly close in 2010 when Alonso led the championship by eight points heading to the final round in Abu Dhabi, only to lose the title to Vettel by virtue of a flawed strategy call.

The Sao Paulo circuit, venue for the 20th and last race of the season, is an undulating counter-clockwise track that will be hosting the 41st Grand Prix of Brazil.

With an uneven surface and fifteen challenging corners linked by high speed straights, the cars always struggle to last the distance at this track. Historically Interlagos has hosted many World Championship deciders, Alonso in 2005 and 2006, Raikkonen in 2007, Hamilton in 2008 and Button in 2009 so it is no stranger to the situation it finds itself in this weekend.

The vocal Brazilian crowd only ever have eyes for their home heroes, most notable of which at present is veteran Felipe Massa. Although he has struggled since returning from his horrific qualifying accident at the Hungaroring in 2009, Massa has won here before both in 2006 and 2008 and voiced his intention to make it a third victory this weekend. Given his recent upturn in form his threat must be taken seriously.

Nothing short of a Red Bull failure could assure Alonso of the championship this weekend.

Equally Lewis Hamilton, the winner in Austin, wants to end his Mclaren career on a high; the 2008 Champion is due to move to rivals Mercedes for 2013 and will be leaving the team that nurtured him since his earliest days in karts back in the mid-nineties. Michael Schumacher will also want to bring down the curtain on his illustrious career with a solid result, and while winning probably isn’t on his radar some points wouldn’t go amiss as Mercedes struggles to maintain 5th place in the constructors championship.

Returning to the title protagonists Vettel and Alonso, nothing short of a Red Bull failure could assure Alonso of the championship this weekend. To overcome the 13 point gap the Ferrari driver not only has to beat Vettel, he has to make sure he is on the podium to score no less than 15 points. Even if he manages the podium, he must hope Vettel places 5th or lower in order to clinch the deal.

Alonso’s only advantage lies in his slightly superior strategic mind and his faith in the Ferrari F2012 car. While the Red Bull RB8 has proved fast, it has also proved more unreliable with the alternator being the main focus of concern as proven by Mark Webber’s early retirement in Austin.

Should Vettel retire it’s hard to imagine Alonso won’t make it on to the podium, but in light of this it’s also easy to anticipate the Mclaren drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton might get themselves mixed up in the championship fight as unwitting pawns. While Felipe Massa and Mark Webber are, to an extent, at the disposal of their teammates and under the control of their teams, Mclaren are a completely rogue element and could yet affect the championship outcome.

Oh, and then there’s that ‘rain storm of ‘biblical’ proportions forecast for Sunday as well. That could make things interesting.

71 laps of the Interlagos circuit, a distance of 190 miles, will decide the World’s greatest driver of 2012.

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The Grand Prix of Brazil starts Sunday at 9:30 a.m. CT and will be aired live on Speed TV.

  • Lewis Hamilton, the first winner of the U.S. Grand Prix.
    Photo by Keith Rizzo
  • The COTA girls.
  • The inaugural start of the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas.
    Photo by Keith Rizzo
  • The University of Texas Longhorn Band played "The Eyes of Texas" before therace.
    Photo by Kevin Benz
  • Sebastian Vettel climbs into the cockpit.
    Photo by Keith Rizzo
  • Lewis Hamilton climbs into the cockpit.
    Photo by Keith Rizzo
  • A fan greets F1 driver Michael Schumacher (c) as he enters the paddock beforethe race.
    Photo by Kevin Benz

Hear them roar: The best quotes about Formula 1 weekend from around the world

International Austin

The reviews on Austin and the USGP are glowing. Not surprisingly, Austin excelled as a first-time F1 host, and it didn't take long for the national and international sports media covering the United States Grand Prix to recognize it.

The most glowing reports, of course, came from the drivers and the reporters who found themselves quoted over and over again in international press like the Oman Daily Observer, The Guardian (U.K.), BBC, Asia Eirosport, Adelaid Now (Australia), Irish Independent, New Zealand Herald, Perth Now, Times of India and Tripoli Post.

There are certainly many of us who would prefer Austin remain the secret Texas town we discovered back in the late '70s; alas, while there are still small pockets of outlaw awesomeness, the whole world now knows about it.

We thought we'd show off some of the nice things people are saying about Austin around the country and around the world. It makes ya kinda proud to live here actually.

But first, the start of an F1 race is magnificent, roaring engines you can feel to your bones. This video does not do it justice, but it will give you an idea.

Autoweek:

Unlike many road courses, it features excellent sightlines and multiple spectator areas offering great views of more than a single corner or straightaway. As a complete, modern facility, it stands absolutely unrivaled by any racing venue on this continent. Period.

The Telegraph (U.K.):

Everyone out here [in Austin] is getting pretty excited as the weekend approaches; downtown Austin is buzzing, the team’s hospitality units are groaning and the marketing men are salivating almost as much as the drivers. I can see why: the Circuit of the Americas looks mouth-watering.

Wall Street Journal:

Though the Circuit of the Americas holds a contract with F1 to host the U.S. Grand Prix through 2021, naysayers wondered whether the series would fill the grandstands. Sunday's event not only drew high praise from among the mobs of American fans, but also fans from Europe, South America and among the racing teams. The event's success, just short of a sellout, suggests that F1 might yet have a future in this country.

The New York Times:

It was a weekend full of happy surprises as the U.S. Grand Prix at Austin went far beyond expectations in just about every area — but, especially, in the racing.

If Austin provided the nightlife, fan festival and copious entertainment with musical shows and support-series races, it was the circuit itself that provided the best reward in the kind of tight racing that Americans did not get to see at the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007.

This was also a victory for Austin, which went to great lengths to ensure success after the series failed to take hold at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000 to 2007.

A three-day Formula One fan festival that included music, activities for children and other entertainment opened the event to more than racing fans, something few other series’ sites have accomplished. Good weather, including 73 degrees and sunny skies for race day, certainly helped.

There were also almost none of the anticipated traffic concerns either...

The Formula 1 drivers were perhaps the most effusive in their praise for Austin and the circuit.

Lewis Hamilton:

There are a couple of grands prix that are somehow out on their own: there's Monaco, Silverstone, Montreal, Spa and Monza. Now you can this circuit to that list - it's already one of the best racetracks in the world, maybe even right up there in the top three.... The fans have been amazing this weekend, so thank you so much. The warm welcome we’ve had has been fantastic and I think this is one of the best, if not the best grand prix we’ve had all year.

Jenson Button:

It was great to race in front of so many fantastically enthusiastic American fans - they looked like they really enjoyed themselves. Before we arrived here, we knew we were going to have to put on a good show, and I think we did just that. There was action and suspense all the way through, which is exactly what you need to create a great sporting spectacle.

I really hope the U.S. will now embrace Formula 1 at last.

Fernando Alonso:

The circuit was fantastic and the fans fantastic all weekend.

Big thanks to all the fans coming here, Americans, Mexicans and the South Americans that came also to support us. We enjoyed racing here thanks to the fans, thanks to the fantastic facilities and I hope we put on a good show for everybody and people will enjoy even more next year.

Nico Rosberg:

I hope we can be more successful next year here in Austin as I have enjoyed our visit. The track, the people and the city are absolutely fantastic.

Sergio Perez:

It was a great experience to race here in front of so many Mexicans. The COTA is a great track and I hope we can have this Grand Prix on the calendar for many years.

Jean-Eric Vergne:

This new circuit is fun to race on.

Pastor Maldanado:

I hope that this will be one of the best racing venues for Formula One.

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Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center launch $31 pet adoptions for the holidays

New home for the holidays

Two Austin organizations are looking to get local pets into their "furever" homes this holiday season. In a special December promotion, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) and Austin Animal Center are working to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, by making all adoption fees a flat $31.

The promotion runs December 1-31. According to a release, APA's director of lifesaving operations, Stephanie Bilbro, sees this as a great opportunity to clear out the shelters and make a great impact heading into 2023.

“The holidays are a great time for the Austin community to come together and add to their families. We have so many precious kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs just waiting for their turn to find a family,” said Bilbro. “We hope this is a chance for any family who’s been looking to add a pet to theirs to do so right in the middle of the holiday season. We know Austin is in the upper echelon when it comes to animal welfare. We hope this promo sets us and AAC up for a successful end to 2022 and a fast start going into 2023.”

Both shelters are also seeking fosters and volunteers throughout the holiday season, for Austinites looking to help the shelters without making a long-term commitment.

APA has two locations, one at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez St., and one in Tarrytown (3118 Windsor Rd.). Both locations operate 12-6 pm daily, except Christmas Eve (12-4 pm), Christmas Day (closed), and New Year’s Eve (12-4 pm). The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop and is open every day from 11 am-7 pm for adoptions. For holiday hours, AAC will be closing at 5 pm on December 23 and will be closed December 24-26.

'Famous' rooftop igloos return to Austin hot spot for the coolest experience this winter

Stay Cool

There aren’t so many winter wonderlands in Austin during the holiday season, but things get colder at higher elevations. The Hotel Van Zandt fourth-floor rooftop may not be high enough to change the weather, but visitors throughout December are invited to hang out in its self-proclaimed "famous" all-weather igloos, snacking on bites from inside and themed cocktails after the sun goes down.

Each private, six-seat igloo at the “South Pole” contains a Christmas tree, board and card games, festive records, and other cozy holiday decorations. It’s as private as Austin dining gets without completely breaking the bank, but the poolside mini-village of transparent igloos creates a warm feeling of togetherness. And in case it actually does get cold (a Christmas miracle!), the vinyl globes are heated.

It's not just a fun gimmick — as cute as the igloos are, Geraldine's is a great foodie destination. Visitors can expect (strong) drinks like the “Dandy Andes,” a minty chocolate mix of Grey Goose vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and matcha tea. “Santa on a Beach” combines tropical flavors with cinnamon, and other drinks include unusual ingredients like Chartreuse whipped cream, pistachio, and chocolate mole bitters.

Geraldine’s menu focuses on classic Southern cuisine without getting weighed down by tradition; that means a roster of semi-adventurous gourmet comfort foods, like mole birria short ribs, smoked carrots, and salty Brussels sprouts with serranos and mint. Shareables are a good idea, since the igloos are intimate (read: not especially convenient unless you like balancing a dinner plate on the couch).

Two rounds of two-hour seating will be available every night, and reservations will go very fast. As of December 5, there are only a few dates left. Reservations ($100 upfront) entail a $200 minimum on food and beverage, plus a 20 percent service charge. Book on Eventbrite.

Acclaimed Texas chef toasts the Italian liqueur that's perfect for the holidays

The Wine Guy

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day and covers it regularly in a column for CultureMap's Houston site. Here, he talks not about wine, but the perfect after-dinner sip.

All right, team! Listen up! I’m going to give you some very important holiday information to help you get through all of the parties, family gatherings, and large festive dinners. We are not going to talk about wine today. We’re going to talk about another love of mine — the life-saving amaro.

What is amaro, you ask? It’s an Italian herbal liqueur that’s traditionally consumed post-meal as a digestif. Think of it this way: you start your meal with an aperitif — could be a martini, Campari, or Aperol spritz — to get your palate going and your body ready to eat. After dinner, amaro will help you get through the rest of your night. This elixir will magically and quickly break down everything you just consumed.

Most amari are from Italy, but fortunately new producers with similar styles are popping up all over the world. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. You just have to find the style you like. Producers don’t traditionally tell you what’s in their amaro, because most of them are made up of dozens of herbs and spices. It’s all about trial and error to find the one you love.

I drink it neat, but some people drink it on the rocks. More and more, you’re seeing amari in cocktails, too.

The amari selection at our house is awesome. My wife and I are firm believers in this beverage as a night cap, and it’s even become part of my regiment pre-dinner as a spritz. Kill two birds, you know?

Unfortunately, not a lot of restaurants carry multiple amari, so it’s up to you guys to get this trend moving. The more you ask for it, the more they’ll stock it.

Our No. 1 go to at home? Montenegro. It’s easy to find, and it’s easy drinking. It has flavors of vanilla and orange, but it’s not too sweet and not too bitter. It’s had the same recipe since 1885, and I hope they never change it.

My wife’s favorite is Braulio. This spirit is from the Italian Alps and aged in Slavonian casks. Using more medicinal herbs and fruits means it skews more bitter than Montenegro, but it has a nice sweetness at the end.

A newish player in the amari game is Amaro Nonino. The Nonino family is historically one of the best grappa producers in the world — they’ve been distilling grappa since 1897 — but they didn’t start to produce their namesake amaro until 1992. (By newish, you get what I mean.) It has lots of honey, vanilla, licorice, and orange flavors. It’s a tad less sweet than most, but I think it’s fantastic.

Pasubio is really different from other amari. If you’re a fan of blueberries, this is for you. It literally tastes like crushed blueberries.

The next two are really cool and unusual, because they're made here in the U.S. An all-time favorite is Southern Amaro from High Wire Distilling Co. in Charleston. Yaupon is one of the main characteristics, which is found all over Texas.

High Wire built its reputation on using regionally grown and foraged ingredients. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should stop into the distillery and say hi to Scott and Ann! Also, try some of their Jimmy Red Corn whiskey. Actually, everything they make is delightful.

Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is made in Minneapolis. To me, this is fantastically bitter but also tastes like roasted pineapple in a glass. One of my new favorites, for sure.

Now, here’s a helpful tidbit of info. You may have heard of fernet. That’s a general term for an amaro with very little to no sweetness. Branca is a producer that makes fernet, and it’s the most well-known. Search out others as well, because they’re all pretty cool.

Almost everything I listed can be found at most liquor stores. Don’t be afraid to try something. Yes, sometimes it tastes like taking your medicine. But I’ll bet the smell of Jägermeister penetrates your early 20s, and surprise — that’s a style of amaro as well.