Lewis Hamilton took his third victory of the season at the Yas Marina circuit following the retirement of Sebastian Vettel who suffered a puncture on the opening lap.
It had been a tough couple of months for the McLaren driver, following his public break-up from his Pussycat Doll girlfriend and his collisions with Felipe Massa, so this victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a much welcome relief.
Fernando Alonso was a close second for Ferrari, with Jenson Button completing the podium despite KERS issues on his McLaren.
Vettel made a good start from pole position but approaching the second corner, his Red Bull went into a wild spin due to a result of a deflated right-rear tyre.
The world champion tried to nurse his car back to the pits, but the flailing rubber had already done too much damage to the rear suspension, so Vettel posted his first retirement since last year’s Korean Grand Prix.
That put Hamilton into the lead, with Alonso in second having passed Mark Webber’s Red Bull at the start and then gone around the outside of Button at the end of the back straight to secure second.
There was little to choose between the McLaren and Ferrari for most of the rest of the race – with the gap never more than a second. The Scuderia tried to gain an advantage by running longer before Alonso’s second pit-stop, but to no avail, and in the final stint Hamilton’s lead grew to more comfortable levels as the 2008 world champion headed towards his third victory in an often-troubled 2011 season.
After losing time with a stubborn wheel at his first pit-stop, Webber tried to regain lost ground with a three-stop strategy that saw the Australian only change to the harder Pirellis on the very last lap.
That did not allow him to beat Button – with whom he had battled fiercely for much of the Grand Prix – but Webber did take fourth, helped by Felipe Massa’s challenge fading when the Ferrari had a spin with six laps to the chequered flag. The Brazilian quickly rejoined to take fifth position.
The Silver Arrows of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher had a spectacular early battle, won by the younger German, who went on to take sixth. Schumacher narrowly beat Force India’s Adrian Sutil to seventh place. Sutil’s team-mate Paul di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber completed the points scorers, the former pulling off a one-stop strategy.
Just outside the top ten, Rubens Barrichello ended the Williams team’s awful weekend on a slightly brighter note by charging from the back of the grid to P12, right on the back of Sauber’s Sergio Perez and ahead of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault.
As for Pastor Maldonado, the Williams driver received a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags but managed to finish the race in P14.
Jaime Alguersuari took P15 for Toro Rosso ahead of the Renault-powered cars of Bruno Senna, Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli. With Timo Glock finished in P19 for Virgin Racing followed by the Hispania of Vitantonio Liuzzi.
So a great result for Lewis Hamilton and McLaren. It shows Sebastian Vettel is fallible despite his record-breaking success in his championship year. The Brazilian Grand Prix is the final race of the season and it will be fascinating who will take the runner-up spot between Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.
Race results from Yas Marina, 55 laps:
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1h37:11.886
2. Alonso Ferrari +8.457
3. Button McLaren-Mercedes +25.881
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault +35.784
5. Massa Ferrari +50.578
6. Rosberg Mercedes +52.317
7. Schumacher Mercedes +1:15.900
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1:17.100
9. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes +1:40.000
10. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
13. Petrov Renault +1 lap
14. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1 lap
16. Senna Renault +1 lap
17. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault +1 lap
18. Trulli Lotus-Renault +2 laps
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
20. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
Fastest lap: Webber, 1:42.612
Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 49 laps
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 19 laps
D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 18 laps
Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 18:
1. Vettel 374
2. Button 255
3. Alonso 245
4. Webber 233
5. Hamilton 227
6. Massa 108
7. Rosberg 83
8. Schumacher 76
9. Petrov 36
10. Sutil 34
11. Heidfeld 34
12. Kobayashi 28
13. Alguersuari 26
14. Di Resta 23
15. Buemi 15
16. Perez 14
17. Barrichello 4
18. Senna 2
19. Maldonado 1
1. Red Bull-Renault 607
2. McLaren-Mercedes 482
3. Ferrari 353
4. Mercedes 159
5. Renault 72
6. Force India-Mercedes 57
7. Sauber-Ferrari 42
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 41
9. Williams-Cosworth 5
Next race: Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo. November 25-27.