Kimi Raikkonen won a thrilling Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, arguably one of the most exciting races of the season, holding off Fernando Alonso in the final laps to win for the first time since Spa 2009 and giving Lotus its first win since the 1987 US Grand Prix victory for Ayrton Senna.
Raikkonen survived two safety cars, which cut his lead, to become the eighth different race winner of this 2012 championship. He went from 4th to first, Alonso from 6th to second and Vettel from 24th to 3rd.
Lewis Hamilton controlled the first part of the race from pole position but retired once again, as he did in a similar position in Singapore.
Amazingly Sebastian Vettel held onto a 10 point championship lead after a stunning drive through the field from last to third place, passing Jenson Button in the closing stages. He started in the pit lane, survived several scares, made an extra stop compared to the rest and still came away with a result.
Raikkonen’s win was built on a strong qualifying performance and a great start. He qualified fifth, which became fourth after Sebastian Vettel was penalised and jumped up to second place at the start.
“Not much (emotion) really,” said Raikkonen. “I’m really happy for the team, It’s been hard times lately and I hope this can turn around the tables. I’m happy, but there’s nothing to jump around about. We’ll have a good party and tomorrow when we feel bad after a long night we will remember why we feel like that.”
It was a thrilling roller coaster of a race, particularly exciting as far the the championship contenders were concerned with Alonso and Vettel both having swings of good luck and setbacks.
Vettel’s final result showed the sheer performance advantage of the Red Bull over the majority of the field, as Vettel was able to twice drop to the back of the field and still come through. It also silenced critics who think that Vettel lacks ability to overtake.
It was by far the most entertaining of the four races held at Yas Marina Circuit to date, with some great overtaking moves by Vettel and Alonso in particular. An early safety car bunched the field up, but Vettel had a torrid time, crashing into the barriers as he swerved to avoid a Toro Rosso under the safety car.
Sebastian Vettel was having to come through the field having been disqualified from qualifying for a fuel load irregularity and chose to start the race from the pit lane, which allowed him to make some changes to the set up of the car and a longer 7th gear to help with overtaking. It gave him a straight line speed gain of 5mph to 198mph.
The track temperature at the start of the race was 34 degrees, with quite a strong gusty breeze.
At the start, Kimi Raikkonen jumped from fourth to second as Webber made another poor getaway from the line and he challenged Hamilton for the lead on lap 2 as the McLaren s. Meanwhile Alonso jumped Button for 5th place and then passed Webber for 4th on the back straight in a stunning first lap.
Meanwhile a collision between Hulkenberg and Senna eliminated the Force India car, while Di Resta got a puncture and Vettel damaged his front wing in the opening exchanges.
In the opening stint, Hamilton led Raikkonen, with Maldonado third, Alonso fourth, Webber, Button, Massa, Perez, Kobayashi and Schumacher the top ten.
Hamilton settled into a high rhythm, the McLaren lapping at 0.5s a lap faster than Raikkonen. Alonso was tucked up behind Maldonado waiting for his opportunity.
On lap 9 the Safety Car was deployed for only the second time in the four years at Yas Marina after Nico Rosberg had a heavy accident, smashing into the back of Narain Kartikeyan’s HRT. The Mercedes was launched and passed over the top of Kartikeyan’s car, passing close to the Indian driver’s head. It was the third accident in four races for Rosberg.
Under the Safety Car there was a curious incident where Sebastian Vettel almost collided with the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso as the weaved to heat the tyres. Vettel hit the barriers causing more damage to the front wing of the Red Bull.
He pitted on lap 13 for soft tyres and a new front wing. But Vettel came out behind Grosjean who was at the back after a puncture in a quick Lotus, also trying to make its way through the field.
At the restart Alonso had trouble with cold tyres and had to defend from Webber, as the leading trio broke free at the front.
Vettel attacked Grosjean but the Frenchman came back at him and Vettel finally made the pass stick on the second straight, he went outside the white line to do it and had to give the place back then retake it.
At the front Hamilton returned to his rhythm with Raikkonen three seconds behind. But Maldonado and Alonso slipped back, the Ferrari not finding the pace it had before the restart.
On lap 20 Hamilton retired from the race, the engine dead. This gave Raikkonen the lead and lifted Maldonado to second and Alonso to third.
On lap 22 Alonso passed Maldonado for second place as the Venezuelan struggled with the tyres. He set off after Raikkonen.
There was a classic moment of Raikkonen radio on lap 23 as his engineer offered to keep him updated on the gap to Alonso, “No! Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing!” shouted Raikkonen.
On the same lap, Webber made a mistake passing Maldonado and went into a spin and dropped back behind Button, Massa and Perez.
As the pit stop approached, Button passed Maldonado for third and Perez passed Massa for 5th.
On lap 27, Massa and Webber made contact, as Webber went off the track to overtake Massa spun and immediately pitted for medium tyres.
Alonso came into the pits on lap 29, moving to the medium tyres.
Vettel caught Webber on lap 31 and the Australian was told, “If Sebastian gets a run don’t fight him, ” Red Bull pitted Webber at the end of the lap just in case, releasing Vettel, who was now second on tyres which had done 15 laps.
Pirelli estimated that the soft tyres could do 36 laps, so Vettel was pushing his luck to try 40.
After the stops, Raikkonen led on the medium tyres, from Vettel, Alonso, Button, Grojean. There was a significant gap between these two which meant that Vettel could push hard and if he were to run out of tyres, he would be able to stop and slot into that gap behind Button.
He did so on lap 38, taking another set of used soft tyres and it worked to plan, then another Safety Car came out to hep him again, this time for an accident involving his own team mate Webber who was caught up in an incident involving Perez, Di Resta and Grosjean. The incident eliminated Webber.
Di Resta and Perez were fighting for position, Perez went off track and came back on making contact with Perez, which left Webber nowhere to go.
The race restarted on lap 43, with 12 laps to go, Alonso again struggling to get the tyres up to temperature.
On lap 46 Vettel attacked Button for third, but he wasn’t able to find a way past initially. He did make it stick soon after however, although he admitted that Button had been very hard to pass.
One final note; Mercedes had its fourth race with no points, although Rosberg was going well before the accident and Schumacher was in the points before he got a late puncture.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina Circuit, 55 laps
1. Raikkonen Lotus 1h45:58.667
2. Alonso Ferrari + 0.852
3. Vettel Red Bull + 4.163
4. Button McLaren + 7.787
5. Maldonado Williams + 13.007
6. Kobayashi Sauber + 20.076
7. Massa Ferrari + 22.896
8. Senna Williams + 23.542
9. Di Resta Force India + 24.160
10. Ricciardo Toro Rosso + 27.400
11. Schumacher Mercedes + 28.000
12. Vergne Toro Rosso + 34.900
13. Kovalainen Caterham + 47.700
14. Glock Marussia + 56.400
15. Perez Sauber + 56.700
16. Petrov Caterham + 1:04.500
17. De la Rosa HRT + 1:11.5