Round 18 - Abu Dhabi 2-4 November 2012
Circuit Length:5.554 Km
Lap Record:1:40.279 = 199.387 km/h, S. Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 2009
Pole Position:Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes), 1:40.630 = 198.692 km/h
1st: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus Renault) 1:45.58.667 (av. race speed = 172.878 km/h)
2nd: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 0.852s behind
3rd: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 4.163s behind
Fastest Lap:Vettel, 1:43.964 = 192.320 km/h on lap 54
YAS INDEED! THE ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX IN 10 QUICK BYTES
The circuit where they said you couldn’t overtake has just staged the stand-out race of the 2012 World Championship season. In 55 laps that had everything, Kimi Raikkonen took the first victory of his comeback career for Lotus Renault, while Fernando Alonso’s second place edged the Ferrari driver closer to Sebastian Vettel in the title race with only two rounds to go. Alonso might have expected to end the day back in the Championship lead but Vettel finished third – and when you started 23rd that result is as good as a win. It kept the German 10 points ahead after a weekend that had seemed likely to end in disaster for the Red Bull man.
Instead Vettel, excluded from Saturday’s qualifying classification because his Red Bull Renault didn’t have enough fuel left for the mandatory post-session test sample, picked his way through the field – not once but twice. Early on he tagged Bruno Senna’s Williams and did minor damage to the Red Bull’s front wing; then behind the Safety Car, warming up his tyres, he had to jink right to avoid Dan Ricciardo’s slowing Toro Rosso. He hit the DRS signboard, did further damage to the wing and had to pit. But he profited from the early stop, came in again just before the lap 38 chaos that triggered the second Safety Car, and overtook Jenson Button’s McLaren Mercedes with three laps to go for the unlikeliest of podium finishes.
“I enjoyed it a lot today, more than anything,” said a delighted Vettel. “A big chance for Ferrari and Fernando, but we didn’t allow it. It was the worst time to have to pit from P13 and start again at the back of the field, then I had to do it all over again, passing everyone from the back. In the end, to finish third on the podium is just fantastic.” On his slow-down lap Vettel went on the team radio to say “I told you – never stop believing!”
Button’s McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton had made a superb getaway from his sixth pole of the season, but after dominating for 19 laps Hamilton lost all power and had to pull off the circuit, his mathematical chance of the title gone. “I’m gutted,” said Hamilton, who has just two races left for McLaren before joining Mercedes. “I’d had really good pace all weekend and I feel certain we could have won today. I had a fuel pressure problem – it was very sudden, I was just entering a corner and the car just died on me. The car was a dream to drive – I was cruising and still pulling away when I had my problem.”
Hamilton’s exit left Raikkonen in the lead: the Finn had made a blinding start that carried him past Australia’s Mark Webber and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado into second place by Turn 1. He then managed his race superbly despite the Safety Cars, even telling his team to leave him in peace as they sent occasional reminders over the radio. “I know what I’m doing,” he said on one occasion and “Yes, yes, yes, I’m doing all of that” on another. It was Raikkonen’s first Grand Prix victory since Belgium in 2009 and his 19th overall. Paradoxically, other drivers’ results meant the evening also ended Raikkonen’s hopes of a second title to add to the one he claimed in 2007. “We got the win, we might have lost the championship on thje same day, but I don’t really care,” he said. We didn’t really expect to be fighting with them anyhow. In the last few races we’ve had very good speed and finally we put all the things together and won.”
The Safety Car came out for the first time after an alarming eighth-lap crash involving Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian’s HRT was slowing with a hydraulic failure when Rosberg’s Mercedes caught him. “The steering went rock solid,” explained the Indian, “so I had to lift my foot of the accelerator.” Unable to take avoiding action, the Mercedes was launched high in the air over the HRT’s rear wheel and flung into the barrier. Both men were able to climb out and walk away.
The Safety Car was out again after a chaotic incident on lap 38 that ended Webber’s race as well as his own slim title hopes. It began when Sergio Perez’s Sauber collided with Paul di Resta’s Force India; it continued when Romain Grosjean, for once an innocent bystander, had nowhere to go and hit Perez; and it ended when Webber too was collected by Grosjean’s Lotus. Perez was hauled in for a stop-go penalty, eventually finishing 15th. “Nothing really worked out for us today,” said Webber. “Whatever we tried, it just wasn’t working out.”
Webber, who started from the front row, should never have been in a position to get caught up in the fracas. High hopes of a third win of the season virtually disappeared when he got bogged down on the line and was monstered by Raikkonen and Maldonado, then was powerless to stop Alonso’s Ferrari from blasting past him on the opening lap. Webber tried an optimistic-looking pass on Maldonado on lap 22, spun and rejoined; he tried another one on Felipe Massa’s Ferrari four laps later which saw the Brazilian’s car shrouded in tyre smoke; he was then brought in by his Red Bull team as they saw Vettel rapidly closing on his teammate and perhaps felt they had better give the German some elbow room.
Dan Ricciardo finished in the points for the fifth time in his last seven races, coming home 10th. The Australian switched from a one-stop strategy to two after the second Safety Car and found renewed pace on the softer option tyre. “Vettel behind me during the Safety Car?” he asked. “I looked in my mirrors and saw him go through one of the polystyrene boards but I have no idea what happened.”
With Felipe Massa seventh, Ferrari scored enough points to keep Red Bull waiting for their third straight Constructors’ Championship. They will head for the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, with an 82-point lead while McLaren are third, 22 behind Ferrari. Lotus are a comfortable fourth, but eight points for Kamui Kobayashi in sixth place means Sauber are now just 12 points behind Mercedes. After losing Rosberg early on, the Silver Arrows had to bring Michael Schumacher in for an additional stop with a puncture from debris damage and saw the German finish 11th.