Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after a close battle with Fernando Alonso, with Jenson Button in third place. It was Alonso’s 73rd podium and his first trophy from this event, so he now has a complete set of trophies from every track he’s raced on in F1.
It was Hamilton’s 17th career victory and his third of this season and although he said he felt “fantastic” he was also pretty humble in his post race statements, saying that one win hadn’t necessarily put him back on track, he felt above all “fortunate not to get into any trouble.”
It was a day when the Red Bull team was less than the flawless outfit we have seen all season; Sebastian Vettel had a puncture which led to a suspension breakage on the way back to the pits on the opening lap and Mark Webber’s first pit stop was very slow and took him out of contention of the battle with Jenson Button for the podium. But he lit up the second half of the race with some bold overtakes as he took on a very ambitious three stop strategy to successfully jump Felipe Massa.
But it was the first time in 20 races that a Red Bull driver has not stood on the podium.
In contrast to last year’s event where there were only 11 on track passes, this race featured plenty of spectacular overtaking throughout the field, although most of it down to DRS. The double DRS zone made things difficult for some drivers who passed their opponents in the first zone and were then repassed in the second.
That said there were a lot of problems with backmarkers costing the leaders time, the stewards looking into several examples with Pastor Maldonado being a leading culprit. He was given a penalty for blocking.
Leaders also lost time behind backmarkers on the way in and out of the pits. Fernando Alonso came into the pits for the second time right behind the HRT of Daniel Ricciardo, which cost him a chance to get close on the exit. Traffic for Hamilton meant that Alonso was around 20 seconds when he went for the pits, with a stop taking 22 seconds.
Paul di Resta, Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado all started the on the medium compound tyre, a tactical gamble looking at trying to do a one stop race.
The track temperature was 31 degrees when the race started, similar to the start of qualifying.
At the start Sebastian Vettel, starting form pole, had a failure of the right rear tyre which pitched him into a spin, he returned to the pits but it wasn’t safe to continue.
“I saw immediately something happened to his tyre and I just made sure I didn’t collect him. This is one of my best races against one of the best drivers in the world (Alonso). I feel fantastic,” said Hamilton. “We were very quick and it would have been very close (with Vettel) but every now and then you need a but of bad luck to enjoy the good times. I don’t remember when he last had bad luck.”
Vettel’s retirement left Hamilton out front with Alonso moving impressively from 5th to 2nd on the opening lap, past Webber and Button, who also swapped places a couple of times.
Schumacher and Rosberg had a ferocious scrap on the opening lap, Rosberg getting ahead in the early stages.
Di Resta’s pace on the medium tyre was impressive in the first stint, lapping faster than team mate Sutil on soft tyres by lap 7.
By lap 13 Webber had got close enough to Button to activate the DRS and started attacking. Button was struggling with a KERS problem that meant not only did he lack the power boost it gives, but also his braking was affected.
On lap 17 the three leaders came in, Hamilton, Alonso and Button, while Mark Webber stayed out, but a slow stop spoiled his chances of jumping Button for third place and he fell behind Felipe Massa into 5th place.
Webber and Massa had a double DRS battle on lap 31, the Australian taking advantage of a mistake by Massa to pass in the first zone, but overshooting the braking zone as he tried to stay out of Massa’s way, Massa sailed back past him in the second zone.
The second stops came from lap 36 onwards, with Webber taking a third set of soft tyres, requiring another pit stop to run the medium.
Alonso came into the game when Hamilton lost time behind traffic, but Alonso found Ricciardo coming in ahead of him, it was close as the Spaniard exited the pits but Hamilton stayed in front.
Webber’s bold three stopper called for him to build a 22 second gap over Massa before a final stop at the end. He was helped in this by Massa picking up some debris from a Williams on lap 46 and a spin on lap 50. The Brazilian has yet to register a podium finish in 2011.
“When I was doing the in lap I was thinking this was one of my best wins,” said Hamilton. “With all the doubt that’s been around me. And it’s my Mum’s birthday so that makes it even better.
“This weekend I’ve been clearer in my mind, I’ve had less weighing on me. I was able to drive clearly. In the last race I had that mistake, but here I didn’t make a mistake. I feel fortunate to have finished and not get in any trouble.”
Alonso’s 9th podium of the season means that he is now 10 points behind Button and has a chance to finish second in the world championship.
Meanwhile the only dark cloud on Hamilton’s day is that the gap between him and Button is now down to 28 points, meaning that he will definitely finish behind a team mate for the first time in his F1 career, as there are a maximum 25 points available in the final race in Brazil.
Check out the UBS Strategy Report on Tuesday with a full analysis of how the strategies were decided in today’s race
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina Circuit, 55 Laps
1. Hamilton McLaren 1h37:11.886
2. Alonso Ferrari + 8.457
3. Button McLaren + 25.881
4. Webber Red Bull + 35.784
5. Massa Ferrari + 50.578
6. Rosberg Mercedes + 52.317
7. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:15.900
8. Sutil Force India + 1:17.100
9. Di Resta Force India + 1:40.000
10. Kobayashi Sauber + 1 lap
11. Perez Sauber + 1 lap
12. Barrichello Williams + 1 lap
13. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
14. Maldonado Williams + 1 lap
15. Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 1 lap
16. Senna Renault + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Lotus + 1 lap
18. Trulli Lotus + 2 laps
19. Glock Virgin + 2 laps
20. Liuzzi HRT + 2 laps
1. Vettel 374pts
2. Button 255
3. Alonso 245
4. Webber 233
5. Hamilton 227
6. Massa 108
7. Rosberg 83
8. Schumacher 76
9. Petrov 36
10. Sutil 34
1. Red Bull-Renault 607
2. McLaren-Mercedes 482
3. Ferrari 353
4. Mercedes 159
5. Renault 72
6. Force India-Mercedes 57
7. Sauber-Ferrari 42
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 41
9. Williams-Cosworth 5