|© AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo
Fernando Alonso stood on the Formula 1 podium spraying the customary champagne like a man with plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Despite falling just short of his third title for the second time in three years, Alonso showed no signs of sulking -- calling this "by far the best season" of his career.
Alonso finished second to Jenson Button at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday, which wasn't enough to avoid also finishing second to Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' standings. He ended up losing the title by just three points -- having finished four points behind Vettel in 2010.
But the Ferrari driver, who had a commanding lead in the championship standings midway through the year, said just being able to compete for the drivers' championship was an accomplishment in a car he said was slower than the Red Bulls and McLarens all year long.
"It's a very good feeling I have now," Alonso said. "I'm so proud and I'm so happy to fight until the last lap with the package we have in hands. That is the best thing for me, to feel proud of myself, it was by far the best season of my career and I will remember 2012 like some dream season. We didn't achieve the points to win the title but I won so many things this year."
Alonso, who won consecutive titles in 2005 and 2006, came into the season-ending Brazilian GP needing at least a podium finish to have a chance of overcoming Vettel's 13-point lead.
He had a nice start to the race, moving from seventh to fifth after the first corner and to third at the end of the first lap after a simultaneous pass over teammate Felipe Massa and Red Bull's Mark Webber.
It got even better as Vettel spun and dropped to last place, but the German eventually recovered to finish sixth, enough to secure the title.
"Once again today we did an impeccable job, finishing on the podium after starting from the fourth row, producing yet another little Sunday miracle," Alonso said.
"The team kept me constantly updated about Vettel and, towards the end, I was hoping something might happen to him or Button, which would allow us to reach our goal."
Alonso managed to stay in the title hunt despite not winning any races in the second half of the season. The 31-year-old Spaniard was consistent, though, finishing on the podium in seven of the final eight races.
Vettel and Alonso also fought for the championship at the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi in 2010. At the time, Vettel was the one trailing in points entering the finale, but he won the race and the title after Alonso failed to do better than seventh.
"It was very frustrating in Abu Dhabi two years ago because we had (the title) in our hands and we lost it," he said. "It was some kind of frustration there, here is completely the opposite."
Alonso said he wouldn't change anything he and the team did this time.
"I score this season a 10," Alonso said. "If we had to repeat these 20 races I would change nothing done by the team or yours truly. We definitely did not lose the title today."
Alonso said he feels the season was lost in the two races in which he was taken out by the mistakes of other drivers, at the Belgian and Japanese GPs.
"It was one car puncturing your rear tyre and one car passing over you," he said. "Nothing really you could do in these two starts."
So what is he hoping for in 2013?
"That's easy: a quicker car," he said.