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The 2012 Formula One racing season could well go down as one of the greatest of all time, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may well be its showpiece. The Yas Marina circuit witnessed the return of the 'Iceman' Kimi Raikkonen to the top step of the podium as the Finnish driver ended a 15 year wait for Lotus to register their first win as a manufacturer since Ayrton Senna won the United States Grand Prix in Detroit in 1987. Fernando Alonso finished just a second behind the Flying Finn, producing another exceptional drive which included a bit of everything to cut the gap in the Drivers' Championship. However, it was the third placed man Sebastian Vettel, who responded to all his critics with perhaps his greatest performance ever as he started the race from dead last to finish on the podium to minimize the damage to his title challenge. Vettel will thus take a 10 point lead with him to Austin, which will incidentally signal the return of the United States GP in the penultimate race of the season.
Sebastian Vettel's qualifying annulment due to the absence of sufficient fuel in his car being made available for testing meant that the fight for the Drivers' Championship between the young German and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was well and truly back on. Instead of starting the race from the back of the field, Red Bull decided to work on Vettel's car overnight and start from pit lane instead allowing him to set the car up to make overtaking a tad easier. He was also one of only three drivers alongwith Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna who started the race on the prime tyres.
Lewis Hamilton made a perfect start leaving the field in his wake, while Mark Webber went backwards, dropping down to fourthas Kimi Raikkonen jumped up to second while Pastor Maldonado maintained his third place. Fernando Alonso was quick to make up some places, taking two places on the first including a brave overtaking move on Webber around the outside of turn 9.
Hamilton had a poor second lap, struggling on what he claimed was cold tyres, missing the entry to a corner allowing Raikkonen to close right up on him, but Hamilton recovered quickly.
Vettel meanwhile benefitted from a collision in midfield on the opening lap, that saw Nico Hulkenberg bump into Force India teammate Paul di Resta, forcing the firmer out of the race. Also caught up in the melee were Bruno Senna and Pedro de la Rosa which allowed Vettel to climb up to 20th place. The reigning double world champion damaged his front wing as he made his way through the field, but it wasn't enough to force him back into the pits. At the end of lap 6, Vettel had charged through the pack to climb into 14th place, and it seemed that the weekend wasn't going to be a complete waste for the Red Bull man.
A massive accident between Nico Rosberg in the much quicker Mercedes and Narain Karthikeyan in the HRT on the 8th lap fortunately saw both men walk away unscathed with the Mercedes leaping over the HRT, narrowly missing Karthikeyan. That forced the safety car to come out and the field bunched up immediately behind Lewis Hamilton.
The safety lap finally came in at the end of lap 15, but not before Sebastian Vettel found a way to self destruct once again, hitting a DRS board while attempting to avoid a swerving Toro Rosso that was trying to keep its tyres warm behind the safety car. That forced Vettel to head into the pits for a nose change, and dropped him straight back to the end of the field once again.
Alonso meanwhile was starting to put together some quicker laps at the head of the field as he attempted to close in on Maldonado in the battle for third place. Vettel meanwhile was making his way past the slower cars at the back for the second time, getting into a muddle with Romain Grosjean, getting all four of his tyres off the track, and was forced to relinquish the place back to the Lotus driver to avoid a penalty.
The jinx of Abu Dhabi though was spreading across the race track and made its way to Lewis Hamilton, who after setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 19, lost all power in his car on the next lap, and rolled to a standstill, handing Kimi Raikkonen the race lead.
Fernando Alonso continued to have the perfect weekend, passing Maldonado for second place, but Mark Webber, who also attempted to take advantage of the Williams driver's tyres falling off a cliff, failed to make a clean pass, and was bumped off the track by the Venezuelan.
The action on the track was non-stop as Webber rejoined having lost a few places, while Jenson Button showed the Aussie how it's done, taking third place from Maldonado.
Webber was involved in another incident with Felipe Massa, which caused the Ferrari driver into a spin, and dropped him out of the top 10.
All the lead drivers pitted between laps 28 and 32, and it gave Sebastian Vettel the perfect opportunity to make his way up the field. When the dust was settled from the pit stops, Vettel was amazingly up in 2nd place, just a second and a half behind Raikkonen, and with Fernando Alonso giving chase. Jenson Button meanwhile had closed right up on Alonso, making the battle exceptionally interesting.
The big question though was whether Vettel could make his option tyres last 41 laps, an unlikely scenario at top speed, but perhaps worth attempting considering a pit stop would cost him 32 seconds, and potentially drop him back down to 6th place.
The Red Bulls had been better at looking after their tyres than everyone else all year, and with Kimi Raikkonen having done 31 laps on his soft tyres at the start of the race, and with the temperature dropping and more grip on the circuit, there was just a slim chance that maybe, just maybe, Vettel could pull off one of the great escapes of all time.
That question was answered on lap 38, with Vettel heading into the pits for more fresh rubber, coming out on a fresh set of option tyres, rejoining the race in fourth place. That meant that Vettel would have 17 laps to have a real go at the cars ahead of him on the quicker tyres.
On the very next lap a moment of madness between the pack of four cars chasing Vettel forced the Safety Car out for the second time this race. Sergio Perez and Paul di Resta bounced each other off the track, the former was pushed wide, but collided with Romain Grosjean while attempting to rejoin the action. That forced Grosjean to jink to his left and he collided with Mark Webber, ending the Australian's race. Amazingly, Di Resta was the only one to escape that incident unscathed.
The Safety Car finally came in on the 43rd lap, setting up a grand stand finish. The DRS was enabled a couple of laps later and that should have been the green light for Vettel to have a go at Button. However, the McLaren driver did a fantastic job holding its position. Alonso took advantage of the battle behind him to open up a bit of a gap on Button, and heading into the last 7 laps appeared to be safe.
As the laps started to get ticked off, Alonso was chipping away steadily on Kimi Raikkonen, whose lead was suddenly down to just1.5 seconds. With 3 laps to go, Vettel finally got a chance to have a go at Button, and he made the move stick to climb into third place.
There was no further drama in the closing stages as three amazing drivers occupied the podium in what was arguably the race of the season.
Kimi Raikkonen picked up the 19th race win of his career, and his first since his comeback. The 25 points he collected help him cement third place in the world championship, but due to the other results, ends his challenge in this year's drivers' championship. Sebastian Vettel's lead at the top of the standings is now an even 10 points, and the exta points that Ferrari picked up thanks to Felipe Massa's 7th place finish means that the Constructors' Championship is not yet in the bag for Red Bull either. However, with an 82 point lead and a maximum of 86 available for Ferrari, it is probably safe to say that Red Bull will certainly put that contest to bed in the United States in two weeks' time.
Top 10: Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Massa, Senna, Di Resta, D Ricciardo.
Photo by Steven Tee / LAT Photograph
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