Vettel runs out of luck… Webber runs out of time… Button runs out of energy… and Lewis runs out the winner A new name went into the Yas Marina record books when Lewis Hamilton won the 2011 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for McLaren Mercedes.
Only Sebastian Vettel had won on the previous two visits to the spectacular Middle East venue, but in a sensational start to the 55-lap race Vettel, whose Red Bull Renault started from pole position, spun off on the second corner with a deflating right rear tyre. Although the World Champion limped back to pit lane the team could not repair the damage to his wheel and he was out of a race for the first time in 2011.
But Mark Webber’s chances of cashing in on his team-mate’s misfortune evaporated when his Red Bull crew fumbled his first pit stop, keeping him stationary for almost 10 seconds and effectively ending his podium challenge before it had properly begun. Fernando Alonso finished second for Ferrari, giving the Scuderia its first podium in Abu Dhabi. It was also the 73rd F1 trophy for Alonso and completed a full set from every venue where the double World Champion has ever raced.
Jenson Button finished third for the third year running at Abu Dhabi despite radioing in that his KERS had failed at quarter-distance. The team managed to reset the system and Button’s legendary coolness allowed him to wrest third place back from Webber when the Red Bull driver made a third pit stop with just one lap remaining.
Red Bull had given Webber three sets of the Soft ‘option’ Pirelli tyres and asked him to put in a long sequence of virtual qualifying laps to build a big enough margin to stay ahead of Button. They brought him in for his mandatory switch to the Medium ‘prime’ tyre with a single lap remaining but it was to no avail and Button comfortably regained the final podium place.
“On the second pit stop, we fitted the option tyre again to try and cut the race down to something different; it was certainly worth a bit of a punt,” said the matter-of-fact Aussie.
“I had a pretty good pace on Jenson anyway at the end of the first stint, he went one lap shorter than us which was no problem, but then we had a bad first pit stop, so we lost a lot of time with that. It put us on the back foot. I got the car back onto the leaders, but we were out of position by then.”
With Vettel gone, Hamilton streaked into the lead with a fast-starting Alonso’s Ferrari behind him, relinquished it to Webber for one lap at the first round of pit stops but was then never headed en route to his third win of the season and the 17th of his F1 career.
“I’ve had some interesting victories and some better than others,” said Hamilton. “When I was doing the lap on the way in I was thinking this was one of my best, just in terms of my own performance, not making any mistakes.
“I don’t feel like I made a single mistake in the race, and with the things that have gone on, the pressure I’ve been under, with the doubt that’s surrounded me, I feel massively proud to have put that kind of performance together and to have come out on top.”
With Webber fourth, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari took fifth spot – and landed its driver in a difficult position. The Brazilian now has only one race, his home Grand Prix in two weeks, to avoid being the first Ferrari driver for 20 years to go through a whole season without getting on to the podium.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were sixth and seventh for Mercedes ahead of Sahara Force India duo Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta, who now have a comfortable margin of 15 points as they battle Sauber and Toro Rosso for sixth place overall.
Kamui Kobayashi’s 10th-place finish for Sauber edged the Swiss team ahead of Toro Rosso again – albeit by a single point – as Sébastien Buemi retired with hydraulic problems and Jaime Alguersuari could do no better than 15th of the 20 classified finishers.
One of the retirees was Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, whose HRT succumbed to electrical problems after 48 laps. Small consolation for Webber, but he set the fastest race lap of 1:42.612, an average of 194.854 km/h, on lap 51. The final race of the season is at Interlagos in Brazil in two weeks’ time.
1. Vettel 374 points
2. Button 255
3. Alonso 245
4. Webber 233
5. Hamilton 227
1. Red Bull Renault 607 points
2. McLaren Mercedes 482
3. Scuderia Ferrari 353