Sebastian Vettel won his third consecutive Formula One championship and Jenson Button won the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix..

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SÃO PAULO — Sebastian Vettel found himself spinning around on the track just after the start, watching helplessly as other cars whizzed past him. The German’s Formula One title hopes seemed to be drifting away with them.

It was only the start of Vettel’s problems Sunday in what he called the toughest race of his career. But the Red Bull driver overcame all of the difficulty and came away with the only prize that mattered — his third straight championship title.

Vettel shook off a first-lap crash and other woes to finish sixth at the Brazilian Grand Prix, good enough to protect his lead over challenger Fernando Alonso of Spain and become F1’s youngest three-time champion at age 25.

“Everything that could go wrong, went wrong,” Vettel said.

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Jenson Button of McLaren won the race at Interlagos, with Alonso second and Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa third. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, F1’s most successful driver, finished seventh in his final race after 19 seasons.

They were overshadowed by Vettel, who had to overcome a poor start, the early crash, a damaged car, a broken radio, a botched pit stop and pouring rain.

“Just look at the stuff that went wrong. It was for sure the toughest race,” Vettel said. “We kept believing. It was never game over.”

Vettel appeared in big trouble after he was bumped shortly after the start and spun. He dropped to last place before he could turn his car around and begin a difficult pursuit. But he steadily worked his way up the field despite a slightly damaged car and no radio communication.

Vettel, who beat Alonso by three points, is the first driver with three titles in a row since Schumacher won five straight from 2000 to 2004. The only other driver to win at least three consecutive championships was Juan Manuel Fangio, from 1954 to ’57.

Schumacher, 43, was the first to congratulate Vettel.

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