Kimi Raikkonen won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following Lewis Hamilton’s retirement and a late surge from Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, his first win since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix for Ferrari.
Raikkonen had looked quick all weekend – in practice, Lotus had displayed a strong race pace and the general consensus amongst the paddock was that Lotus were going to be a dark horse this weekend.
The same story showed again on Saturday however, as Lotus were again unable to deliver that single qualifying lap to put them at the front of the grid to challenge initially for the race win.
Following a poor start by Mark Webber, Kimi was able to jump into 2nd place before challenging Hamilton’s McLaren on the 2nd lap of the race. Meanwhile Alonso jumped Button for 5th place and then passed Webber for 4th.
Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull had been disqualified from qualifying due to not supplying the FIA with the mandatory 1 litre sample of fuel – the same penalty that Lewis Hamilton incurred in Spain this year, where Pastor Maldonado delivered his first Grand Prix victory. He s tarted the race from the pit lane, where Red Bull were able to make changes to Sebastian’s gear ratios in order to make the car faster in a straight line, in order to aid overtaking.
During the first stages, Vettel was making good progress through the field when he inexplicably collided with the Williams of Bruno Senna, causing minor damage to his front wing. He was losing a small amount of time, but Red Bull decided to keep Vettel out as the loss in lap time would not be significant enough to warrant losing more time in the pit lane to make a change to his nose cone.
At the end of the first stint, Hamilton led from Raikkonen, with Maldonado running third, Alonso fourth, Webber, Button, Massa, Perez, Kobayashi and Schumacher making up the top ten.
At this stage, Hamilton was more than half a second a lap faster than Kimi in the Lotus, and looked good for a dominant victory. However. on lap 9 the Safety Car was deployed for only the second time in the four years at Yas Marina after Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan were involved in a nasty collision. The Mercedes was launched and passed over the top of Kartikeyan’s car, passing close to the Indian driver’s head.
Under the Safety Car, Sebastian Vettel almost collided with Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso as he slowed down to heat up his brakes. 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. He came out behind Grosjean who was out of position following a puncture, and was also making his way back through the field.
At the restart, Vettel attacked Grosjean and finally made the pass on the second straight. However, 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 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.
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 lap 22 Alonso passed Maldonado for second place as the Venezuelan struggled with the tyres. On the same lap, Webber made a mistake passing Maldonado and went into a spin and dropped back behind Button, Massa and Perez.
During lap 27, Massa and Webber made contact, as Webber went off the track to overtake Massa spun and immediately pitted for medium tyres.
Vettel caught Webber on lap 31 and Red Bull pitted Webber at the end of the lap to avoid Mark holding up the German double World Champion. Vettel, having switched to the option tyre, was making an ambitious effort to get his tyres to last for the remaining 42 laps, with Pirelli estimating that the soft tyres could only do 36 laps.
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 another 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.
Raikkonen became the 8th winner of the 2012 season, delivering what Lotus had the potential to do so all season. The biggest surprise really, was that the win didn’t come sooner.
There was no doubt that the victory will be a popular one, as many people were delighted to hear of the Iceman returning to Formula One in 2012.
“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 race, with Alonso taking three points off championship leader Sebastian Vettel – his lead now only 10 points with 50 up for grabs.
Vettel was delighted with 3rd place, obviously being acutely aware that fortune certainly favoured him. Red Bull Principle, Christian Horner, had accepted that he’d have been delighted with 8th place, and anything above this was a bonus.
With the disqualification from qualifying, Ferrari couldn’t have believed their luck and needed to do maximum damage to Vettel’s championship lead. They did the maximum they could, but would obviously been dismayed at the luck that Vettel had in order to make his way up to 3rd place.
The next two encounters in Austin, Texas and Interlagos, Brazil will be fascinating. As per my previous article, you can not count Fernando out, but it will be a momentous task in order to win the Drivers Championship this season.
Was this the run of bad luck that Fernando and Ferrari were predicting? I’m sure that they hope not …
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
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