Räikkönen returns to winning ways in Abu Dhabi
4 November 2012 – Kimi Räikkönen has won for the first time since returning to Formula 1, having made the most of a remarkable Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday evening. Fernando Alonso fought to second place as Sebastian Vettel achieved a podium finish from a pit lane start. Lewis Hamilton had dominated, but retired from the lead on Lap 20.
With just three races remaining in the 2012 season, Yas Marina always did promise to be the scene of tension. However, nobody could have predicted the drama of Saturday night; four and a half hours after qualifying finished, the FIA announced that Vettel had been disqualified for not providing a sufficient amount of fuel for a sample. He started from the pit lane as Hamilton led away from his sixth pole position of the campaign.
A clean start by Hamilton allowed the McLaren to pull away, with Räikkönen shooting up to second place behind him. Alonso grabbed one spot for fifth before storming past Mark Webber for fourth. Further back, Nico Hülkenberg was squeezed between team-mate Paul di Resta and the Williams of Bruno Senna, which spun the Brazilian. As Hülkenberg retired, di Resta pitted and was joined by Nico Rosberg who had made contact with Romain Grosjean. Things only got worse for Rosberg, who was launched into both the air and the barriers at Turn 16 when Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT suffered a problem. This brought out the Safety Car and bunched up the pack.
Hamilton’s drive had been faultless, but Singapore came back to haunt him as the McLaren broke down. This gifted the lead to Räikkönen, who led Pastor Maldonado’s Williams which was coming from third on the grid. By now, Vettel had sunk to the back after fighting up to 12th; already carrying a damaged front wing after a touch with Senna, the championship leader sustained even more damage when he was caught out by Daniel Ricciardo behind the Safety Car, swerved and smashed through a polystyrene marker. It looked as though Alonso, who had swept past Maldonado for second place at Turn 11, would retake the championship lead.
The race will be remembered for a number of incidents, not least at the Turn 11-12-13 complex. One came as Webber attacked Maldonado for third on the outside line, only to result in contact and a spin for the Australian. Felipe Massa then spun as he diced with Webber. On Lap 38, there was chaos as di Resta battled with Grosjean. Looking to take advantage, Sergio Pérez overhauled both but forced di Resta onto the grass – a move which resulted in a stop/go penalty for the Mexican. As Pérez rejoined at Turn 13, he was hit by Grosjean. The contact resulted in a spin for the Sauber as Grosjean retired from the race, clouting the rear end of Webber as the Frenchman attempted to avoid Pérez. Webber’s demise confirmed that Red Bull would not win the Constructors’ Championship this weekend.
As Räikkönen maintained a healthy advantage up front, Vettel’s saving grace was the second Safety Car. Having sliced his way through the order for the second time, he ran directly behind the race leader following Räikkönen’s sole pit-stop, but made a tactical second pit visit as his Soft compound tyres were unlikely to last. He had done enough and rejoined in front of the battle for fifth. Over the final handful of laps, Vettel hunted down Button and pulled off an impressive move around the outside of Turn 11 with just over three laps to go. This means that Alonso - who charged in the closing stages - reduces the championship-leading margin by the reduced gap of three points, to ten.
After seven of the 24 starters had failed to make the finish, Kimi Räikkönen collected his 19th F1 victory to move within one of Hamilton in the all-time records. The achievement is his first win since Belgium 2009 with Ferrari and the first for Enstone-based Lotus since Alonso won in the then-branded Renault car at Fuji in 2008. The Lotus name itself had not won a Grand Prix since Ayrton Senna did the honours in Detroit 25 years ago.
To his personal delight, Vettel claimed fastest lap. It is now official that the title fight is between he and Alonso, as Räikkönen is too far back despite tonight’s outcome.
The penultimate round of the 2012 Formula 1 season will be staged in a fortnight’s time, at the brand-new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas