Button wins thrilling race as Vettel seals title

Jenson Button ended an epic Formula One season with his 15th win of the season after a thrilling wet and dry Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.

As for the championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the Red Bull driver was able to win his third drivers’ title becoming the youngest ever triple Formula One champion in the sport’s history.

Vettel was able to finish in sixth position despite suffering significant damage on his RB8 on the opening lap. His title rival Alonso battled to second place in the dramatic wet/dry race, which was led for a quite a period by Nico Hulkenberg until the Force India clashed with Lewis Hamilton.

Despite Vettel getting involved in a first-lap crash and suffering a pitstop delay, the German was able to recover sufficiently to ensure that even Alonso’s runner-up finish could not deny the Red Bull driver a third title. Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took a solid third in his race.

Vettel’s race had immediately become more complicated as a tentative start and first corner in drizzly conditions dropped him to seventh spot, while Alonso swept around the outside to move up to fifth.

Then as the pack jostled into the Descida do Lago, Vettel made heavy contact with Bruno Senna, spinning the Red Bull and also collecting Sergio Perez.

It was heart in the mouth moment with Vettel facing the wrong way down the track. In fact, the Red Bull driver did not appear to see Senna’s car alongside and the pair made contact (twice!).

The impact damaged the bodywork around Vettel’s exhaust and Red Bull was concerned it would overheat. But Vettel was able to continue – albeit now down in P22.

While the Sauber and Williams were both out, Vettel was amazingly able to continue. He then charged up through the field and was up to seventh place by lap eight.

Meanwhile Alonso was on a mission by taking a potentially title-clinching third by diving past Felipe Massa and Mark Webber in a single move as they battled into the Senna S.

But an error at the same corner two laps later meant Alonso lost a position to Hulkenberg, who had quickly dismissed Webber and Massa in a blistering early charge.

The McLarens still led at this stage, with Button all over Hamilton as the rain steadily increased.

The worsening conditions prompted everyone except Button and Hulkenberg to head into the pits for intermediates tyres.

That initially put Alonso and Vettel down to P12 and P17 respectively, although they were both back in the top five within five laps thanks to a combination of bold overtaking and others pitting.

While up front, Force India’s incredible performance continued as Hulkenberg edged up behind Button before passing down the outside into the Senna S on lap 19.

By that time the pair were in a class of their own. They had been left 45 seconds clear once the rest of the field went for intermediates, and with the shower passing, their rivals were all now having to stop.

Hulkenberg began to pull away, but debris was littering various corners from earlier incidents, and when Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes picked up a puncture the decision was made to call out the safety car.

At the restart on lap 29, Hulkenberg led Button, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Kobayashi and Webber. Kobayashi and Webber immediately pounced on Vettel, although Webber ran out of track at the Senna S and went over the run-off.

Kobayashi’s charge soon took him past Alonso to fourth, although the Ferrari did not take long to regain the position, whereas Vettel had no answer to the Sauber.

Massa, who lost track positions by staying on slicks for far too long and going to intermediates late, completed a recovery charge by passing both Vettel and Kobayashi to slot into fifth behind team-mate Alonso, who could not stay with the top three.

Hamilton overtook Button for second shortly after the restart, but Hulkenberg appeared comfortable in the lead until lap 49, when a half-spin at the Bico do Pato let the McLaren through.

Hulkenberg did not let the McLaren escape, and as they jostled through traffic on lap 54, the Force India slipped ahead into the Senna S, only to slide into a spin and hit Hamilton.

Despite bouncing onto two wheels, Hulkenberg was able to continue in second behind Button, although he did pick up a drive-through penalty for causing the clash. Hamilton had to retire and so ends his time driving for McLaren.

The return of the rain was a factor in the incident, and as the track became slippery again, everyone opted for intermediates. Vettel was among the first to pit, but the team was not ready, leading to a long delay.

He was rapidly able to get back up to sixth, which was sufficient even with Alonso getting up to second thanks to the Hulkenberg/Hamilton tangle and some assistance from Massa, whose well-timed intermediate switch had got him ahead of his team-mate.

The race then came to a slightly underwhelming conclusion as Paul di Resta crashed heavily on the pits straight kink and brought out the safety car with a lap to go.

That clinched the win for Button, and meant that despite Ferrari’s double podium finish; Vettel’s sixth position gave him the championship triple by a three-point margin.

Webber recovered from a variety of adventures, including an early clash with Kobayashi, to take fourth ahead of Hulkenberg and Vettel.

Michael Schumacher claimed seventh in the final race of his Formula One career, despite a late brush of wheels with Kobayashi, who consequently spun to ninth behind Jean-Eric Vergne.

Superb underdog performances in the treacherous early laps led to Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs all appearing in the top ten, with Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock as high as sixth and seventh.

The battle ultimately came down to Charles Pic versus Vitaly Petrov for P12, with the Russian battling past the Frenchman to give Caterham tenth in the constructors’ championship in what became eleventh when di Resta crashed.

But for that incident, Daniel Ricciardo was set to pass both Pic and Petrov, which would have given Marussia tenth place back again.

Raikkonen had a wild afternoon, starting when he nearly wiped out Vettel moments before the Senna tangle, and also including a long excursion at Juncao where the Lotus driver tried to use an access road to rejoin only to encounter a closed gate. He finished in P10.

Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado’s eventful years came to messy ends with both crashing in the opening laps.

And so ends a thrilling race to an exciting season of Formula One racing. Vettel’s race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin admitted he feared his driver’s title hopes were lost after the first-lap crash. But an error-free recovery drive of measured aggression gained Vettel a deserved third title by the narrow margin of three points.

Both he and Alonso deserve praise for their efforts and achievements this year. Alonso once again wrung all he could from his Ferrari and it’s doubtful he could have finished higher.

If a championship is valued by the quality of the opposition a driver faces, then Sebastian Vettel can count this triumph as his greatest so far.

Brazilian Grand Prix, race results after 71 laps:

1.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           1h45:22.656
2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +2.754
3.  Massa         Ferrari                    +3.615
4.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +4.936
5.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +5.708
6.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +9.453
7.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +11.907
8.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +28.653
9.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +31.250
10.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +1 lap
11.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
12.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
13.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1 lap
14.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
15.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +1 lap
16.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +2 laps
17.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps
18.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps
19.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +3 laps

Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:18.069

Not classified/retirements:

Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes             55 laps
Grosjean      Lotus-Renault                6 laps
Maldonado     Williams-Renault             2 laps
Senna         Williams-Renault             1 lap
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               1 lap

Final World Championship standings, round 20:

1.  Vettel       281
2.  Alonso       278
3.  Raikkonen    207
4.  Hamilton     190
5.  Button       188
6.  Webber       179
7.  Massa        122
8.  Grosjean      96
9.  Rosberg       93
10.  Perez         66
11.  Hulkenberg    63
12.  Kobayashi     60
13.  Schumacher    49
14.  Di Resta      46
15.  Maldonado     45
16.  Senna         31
17.  Vergne        16
18.  Ricciardo     10

1.  Red Bull-Renault          460
2.  Ferrari                   400
3.  McLaren-Mercedes          378
4.  Lotus-Renault             303
5.  Mercedes                  142
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            126
7.  Force India-Mercedes      109
8.  Williams-Renault           76
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         26

Hamilton leads McLaren front row in Brazil

Lewis Hamilton heads a McLaren front row in the all-important championship decider at Interlagos, denying his team-mate Jenson Button to pole position.

As for the title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the Red Bull driver will start the Brazilian Grand Prix in fourth position while his Ferrari-powered opponent could only manage eighth.

Neither Vettel nor Alonso looked like they had the speed to fight for pole as McLaren took charge of Q3.

Hamilton and Button were fastest after the first runs, with Alonso in fifth at that stage while a mistake at the Descida do Lago left Vettel only sixth.

Both improved on their next qualifying runs, but Alonso’s gains were only marginal. The Spaniard held fourth, only to be demoted to eighth as others improved. His German rival was right down in tenth position at that stage, but was at least able to salvage fourth.

Meanwhile his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber briefly deposed the McLarens at the head of the order, before Hamilton and Button’s final laps thrust them back to the top, 0.055 seconds apart.

Behind the McLarens and Red Bulls, Felipe Massa outqualified Alonso for the second time in the space of seven days as he claimed fifth.

Pastor Maldonado’s Williams and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg also found themselves ahead of the championship contenders as they took sixth and seventh.

The final top ten spots went to the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.

Competing in his final qualifying session, Michael Schumacher recorded a disappointing result for himself and the team with only P14. Half a second down on his team-mate Rosberg. Not the ideal way to celebrate the end of his ‘second’ Formula One career.

Paul di Resta again struggled to match Force India team-mate Hulkenberg’s qualifying form too, ending up missing the Q3 cut in P11.

Also out in Q2 were Williams’s Bruno Senna, both Saubers and both Toro Rossos.

Romain Grosjean was knocked out in Q1 in dramatic fashion. The Lotus made contact with Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT on the start/finish straight when he tried to squeeze past the slower car as they passed the pit entry.

Grosjean brushed the barriers and was left with a mangled front wing, and although he did make it back out and do a lap that brought him back inside the cut-off, Daniel Ricciardo pushed him down to P18 moments later.

Vitaly Petrov narrowly beat Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen to P19, the duo lapping half a second clear of Timo Glock’s Marussia.

Despite weather dominating conversation this weekend, the only rain of the afternoon came half an hour before the qualifying. That meant early Q1 laps were on intermediates, but the track was fully dry before the opening segment was over.

However rain is heading towards Sao Paulo on race day and it will be fascinating to see what kind of unexacting results will fall on Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso following their less than ideal qualifying positions.

Qualifying times for the Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos:

1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m12.458s
2.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m12.513s
3.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m12.581s
4.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m12.760s
5.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m12.987s
6.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m13.174s
7.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m13.206s
8.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m13.253s
9.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m13.298s
10.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m13.489s
11.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m14.121s
12.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m14.219s
13.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m14.234s
14.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m14.334s
15.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m14.380s
16.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m14.574s
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m14.619s
18.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m16.967s
19.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m17.073s
20.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m17.086s
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m17.508s
22.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m18.104s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m19.576s
24.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m19.699s

107 per cent time: 1m20.330s

Hamilton takes win as title battle goes down to the wire in Brazil

Lewis Hamilton achieved his 21st career victory at the Circuit of the Americans, denying the world championship leader Sebastian Vettel on scoring valuable points.

With Vettel finishing in second and his title rival Fernando Alonso taking third, this season’s Formula One world championship will go down to the wire in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Despite not sealing the title in Austin, Sebastian Vettel’s second position means Red Bull Racing has won the constructors’ championship for the third successive year. An impressive record for the Milton Keynes-based team.

As for Hamilton, this was a great result for the McLaren driver. Won the last United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2007 and five years later, he takes the chequered flag in back-to-back American style at Austin.

Hamilton’s relentless pursuit of Vettel kept tension building throughout the race.

The McLaren lost second to Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber at the start, but soon re-passed the Australian. Webber retired with alternator failure soon afterwards, no doubt prompting nerves in the Red Bull garage.

Vettel’s car was still running smoothly, but it did not have the speed to escape from Hamilton.

The champion pulled out a little gap just before the first pitstops, only for Hamilton to come back with a vengeance once they were both on fresh hard compound tyres.

Hamilton spent most of the middle of the race tantalisingly close to Vettel, but was frustrated time and time again by the Red Bull’s superior traction. The McLaren would close in through the fast first sector, then struggle to get near enough on the DRS zone straight.

Finally on lap 42 Hamilton managed to pull the move off. Vettel moved to the inside, but the McLaren’s straight-line speed advantage was so great that McLaren was comfortable ahead before the next corner – prompting angry radio messages from Vettel regarding the DRS effect and Narain Karthikeyan holding him up while being lapped.

The race was far from over, as Hamilton never quite escaped from Vettel. The Red Bull did not manage to get within striking range and Hamilton was able to win in America for the second time in his career, crossing the finishing line a mere six tenths ahead of Vettel, who at least wrapped up another teams’ title.

Alonso’s progress to third was mostly achieved thanks to a superb start from his controversial grid slot. He then swept around the outside at the uphill first corner to secure fourth, which became third after Webber’s exit.

His Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa recovered from his generously-accepted P11 on the grid to fourth, showing great race pace throughout.

Massa came under slight threat from Jenson Button late on. The McLaren had fallen right back to P16 on the opening lap, before flying through the field as its tyres came to life. Button ran to lap 35 before pitting, and then battled past the two Lotus cars to secure fifth.

Kimi Raikkonen looked like he might challenge Alonso at one point. Both lost a few seconds at their pitstops, with Raikkonen falling back into traffic and then being overtaken by Massa and Button in the second stint.

Raikkonen finished just ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean, who recovered well from spinning on lap five then requiring a pitstop on lap nine. He fell right back to P22, but flew thereafter.

Nico Hulkenberg claimed eighth for Force India by fending off battling Williams duo Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna. The pair banged wheels at Turn 1 in the closing laps as Maldonado passed his team-mate.

Daniel Ricciardo starred in the first stint, rising from P18 on the grid to fifth by staying out until lap 30. But that tactic did not pay off for Toro Rosso as Ricciardo was only P12 in the end.

Mercedes had a terrible race in Austin. Michael Schumacher was overtaken by rival after rival in the opening stint, falling from fifth on the grid to P14 before his first pitstop. He would require more tyres later on too, leaving him P16, three places behind team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Just 13 points separate Vettel and Alonso with the former as the title favourite heading into next weekend’s finale at Interlagos. Whatever happens, both drivers had done a brilliant job this season. Best of luck to the champions in Brazil.

United States Grand Prix race results after 56 laps:

1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           1h35:55.269
2.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +0.675
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +39.229
4.  Massa         Ferrari                    +46.013
5.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +56.432
6.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              +1:04.425
7.  Grosjean      Lotus-Renault              +1:10.313
8.  Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes       +1:13.792
9.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +1:14.525
10.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +1:15.133
11.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +1:24.341
12.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +1:24.871
13.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +1:25.510
14.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +1 lap
15.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +1 lap
16.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +1 lap
17.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
18.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +1 lap
19.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +1 lap
20.  Pic           Marussia-Cosworth          +2 laps
21.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps
22.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +2 laps

Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:39.347

Not classified/retirements:

Webber        Red Bull-Renault             17 laps
Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari           15 laps

World Championship standings, round 19:

1.  Vettel       273
2.  Alonso       260
3.  Raikkonen    206
4.  Hamilton     190
5.  Webber       167
6.  Button       163
7.  Massa        107
8.  Grosjean      96
9.  Rosberg       93
10.  Perez         66
11.  Kobayashi     58
12.  Hulkenberg    53
13.  Di Resta      46
14.  Maldonado     45
15.  Schumacher    43
16.  Senna         31
17.  Vergne        12
18.  Ricciardo     10

1.  Red Bull-Renault          440
2.  Ferrari                   367
3.  McLaren-Mercedes          353
4.  Lotus-Renault             302
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            124
7.  Force India-Mercedes       99
8.  Williams-Renault           76
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         22

Next race: Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos. November 23-25.

Vettel takes vital pole position at Austin over his championship rival

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel is edging closer to his third drivers’ title after taking pole position at the Circuit of the Americans.

The Red Bull driver was quickest in all three practice sessions at Austin and he underlined the superior performance in the Renault-powered RB8 to take his 35th career pole at Austin, Texas.

His title rival Fernando Alonso could only managed ninth in the Ferrari.

In a Q3 battle that saw everyone driving around on long runs trying to bring their tyres to life, Vettel put in a lap of one minute, 35.877 seconds.

There was two minutes to the chequered flag and he nearly got upstaged by Lewis Hamilton. The margin between the Red Bull and McLaren was only 0.051 seconds.

Vettel started another flying lap and went quick still, crossing the start/finish line at one minute, 35.657 seconds.

Hamilton was still setting very competitive sector times on his final attempt, but in the end, fell up a tenth short.

However, the McLaren driver still prevented an all-Red Bull front row, forcing Mark Webber down to third.

Lotus showed very strong form in fourth and fifth with Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, although the former will drop back five positions due to a gearbox change penalty.

That will elevate Michael Schumacher into the top five. Just as his Formula One career appeared to be limping to a depressing end, the seven-time champion showed great form throughout Austin qualifying to go sixth quickest.

Alonso struggled to make his Ferrari’s tyres work in Q3, weaving frantically between flying laps.

His Scuderia team-mate Felipe Massa managed better and took seventh position, with Alonso back in ninth between the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado.

This was not the ideal scenario for Alonso. Starting on the dirty side of the grid while his main championship rival starts from the front.

Hamilton was the only McLaren in the top ten shoot-out. An apparent throttle problem left Jenson Button crawling back to the pits in Q2, and he was pushed down to P12.

Jean-Eric Vergne’s P14 marked his best qualifying result since the Spanish Grand Prix. The Frenchman has been eliminated in Q1 eight times this year, but at Austin it was his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who dropped out.

Q3 remained elusive for Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta, who were P11 and P13 as their respective team-mates Maldonado and Hulkenberg made it to the final segment.

Sauber had been among the teams most concerned about tyre warm-up issues following practice and in qualifying, those problems became a big issue. Sergio Perez – racing in front of a large Mexican spectator contingent – and Kamui Kobayashi were a long way off the pace in P15 and P16.

Nico Rosberg was a full 1.4 seconds slower compared to his Mercedes team-mate Schumacher in Q2, and that resulted in a disappointing P17.

Marussia ended Q1 in a positive mood after beating Caterham. Both Timo Glock and Charles Pic were quicker than the leading Caterham of Vitaly Petrov. In fact, the margin was 0.8 seconds based on Glock’s lap time.

Despite its troubled start to the United States Grand Prix weekend, and Narain Karthikeyan parking at Turn 2 with a mechanical problem, HRT got both cars within the 107 per cent qualifying margin with several tenths to spare.

Qualifying positions for the United States Grand Prix:

1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m35.657s
2.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m35.766s
3.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m36.174s
4.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m36.708s
5.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m36.794s
6.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m36.937s
7.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m37.141s
8.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m37.300s
9.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m36.587s*
10.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m37.842s
11.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m37.604s
12.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m37.616s
13.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m37.665s
14.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m37.879s
15.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.206s
16.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m38.437s
17.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m38.501s
18.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m39.114s
19.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m40.056s
20.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m40.664s
21.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m40.809s
22.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m41.166s
23.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m42.011s
24.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m42.740s

107 per cent time: 1m43.317s

*Five-place penalty for gearbox change

Raikkonen wins Abu Dhabi thriller

Kimi Raikkonen achieved his first win since making his Formula One comeback with a dramatic and thrilling Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Iceman held off Fernando Alonso to score the first win for the Lotus F1 Team. By winning the Yas Marina race, the famous Lotus name is back on top since Ayrton Senna in 1987.

As for Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion made it through from last to finish in an excellent third. This result means he still retains the lead by ten points with two races to go, despite an incident-packed race for the Red Bull driver.

Raikkonen’s victory is his first since he won the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix, the first for his Enstone-based team since the 2008 Japanese Grand Prix, and the first for a Lotus-branded outfit since the 1987 United States Grand Prix.

Poleman Lewis Hamilton looked set to dominate for McLaren at first, escaping an early mistake (outbraking himself) that allowed Raikkonen to briefly get alongside him and then pulling away.

Pastor Maldonado held third position, while Alonso muscled past the slow-starting Mark Webber for fourth with a bold outside line move at Turn 11 on the first lap.

The path seemed to be opening up quickly for Vettel, helped by first-lap mayhem that saw the Force Indias tangle with Bruno Senna, and Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean collide.

The recovering Rosberg then caused the first safety car on lap nine when his Mercedes was violently launched over the back of Narain Karthikeyan’s slowing HRT. Both drivers escaped unhurt.

By that time Vettel was up to P13, but during the caution period he ran off-track avoiding Daniel Ricciardo and smashing into a DRS sign. This did terminal damage to a front wing already battered from contact with Senna, and Vettel had to pit.

Hamilton stayed ahead easily at the restart, only to drop out of the race with a loss of fuel pressure on lap 19.

That left Raikkonen in charge, with Alonso the first of several drivers to pass a fading Maldonado before the pitstops. Webber’s attempt to do likewise would see contact and a spin.

With Vettel having got a tyre change out of the way when replacing his front wing, the German was up to second behind Raikkonen as others pitted. There was speculation among rivals that Vettel might try to keep his soft tyres alive until the end, but he pitted for fresh set of Pirellis and dropped to fourth behind Alonso and Jenson Button.

Another safety car then followed when a spectacular battle between Paul di Resta, Grosjean and Sergio Perez ended with contact between the latter pair and Grosjean’s slowing car collecting the luckless Webber.

That closed Raikkonen, Alonso, Button and Vettel up for a 12-lap sprint to the finish.

Initially the pressure was on Alonso, but soon he was pulling clear of Button and mounting a late charge towards Raikkonen, as Vettel put huge pressure on the McLaren.

The reigning champion eventually took third with four laps to the flag. Alonso was out of reach, though, the Ferrari finishing right on Raikkonen’s tail.

Maldonado took fifth ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Felipe Massa, who spun down the order while fighting with Webber.

Senna and di Resta recovered from their dramas to take eighth and ninth, with Ricciardo the final scorer.

So an exciting race at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In terms of the world championship, Vettel has a ten-point lead over Alonso while Red Bull Racing only needs four points (an eighth place finish) to seal the constructors’ title.

Formula One takes a trip to the unknown with a race at the new Circuit of The Americas in Austin. If Sebastian Vettel wins with Fernando Alonso finishing fifth or lower, then the Red Bull driver will become the 2012 champion.

Abu Dhabi race results, after 55 laps:

1.  Raikkonen     Lotus-Renault              1h45:58.667
2.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +0.852
3.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +4.163
4.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +7.787
5.  Maldonado     Williams-Renault           +13.007
6.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +20.076
7.  Massa         Ferrari                    +22.896
8.  Senna         Williams-Renault           +23.542
9.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +24.160
10.  Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +27.400
11.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +28.000
12.  Vergne        Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +34.900
13.  Kovalainen    Caterham-Renault           +47.700
14.  Glock         Marussia-Cosworth          +56.400
15.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +56.700
16.  Petrov        Caterham-Renault           +1:04.500
17.  De la Rosa    HRT-Cosworth               +1:11.5

Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:43.964

Not classified/retirements:

Pic           Marussia-Cosworth            42 laps
Grosjean      Lotus-Renault                38 laps
Webber        Red Bull-Renault             38 laps
Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes             20 laps
Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth                 8 laps
Rosberg       Mercedes                     8 laps
Hulkenberg    Force India-Mercedes         1 lap

World Championship standings, round 18:

1.  Vettel       255
2.  Alonso       245
3.  Raikkonen    198
4.  Webber       167
5.  Hamilton     165
6.  Button       153
7.  Massa         95
8.  Rosberg       93
9.  Grosjean      90
10.  Perez         66
11.  Kobayashi     58
12.  Hulkenberg    49
13.  Di Resta      46
14.  Maldonado     43
15.  Schumacher    43
16.  Senna         30
17.  Vergne        12
18.  Ricciardo     10

1.  Red Bull-Renault          422
2.  Ferrari                   340
3.  McLaren-Mercedes          318
4.  Lotus-Renault             288
5.  Mercedes                  136
6.  Sauber-Ferrari            124
7.  Force India-Mercedes       95
8.  Williams-Renault           73
9.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari         22

Next race: United States Grand Prix, Circuit of Americas. November 16-18.

Hamilton takes Abu Dhabi pole position

Lewis Hamilton achieved his sixth pole position of the season with a dominant qualifying display at the Yas Marina circuit.

The McLaren driver was fastest in all three qualifying sessions to score his 25th career pole and in doing so, halted Red Bull Racing’s run of qualifying dominance.

It was a disappointing session for both Formula One’s title contenders, with Sebastian Vettel only third behind his team-mate Mark Webber, but at least it was better than his Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso, who could only manage seventh fastest.

Hamilton had been quickest in two of the three practice sessions at Abu Dhabi, led Q1 and Q2, then produced a time of one minute, 40.630 seconds early in Q3 to immediately put himself four tenths of a second clear of his opposition.

A second pole shot might have been faster still, but once it became clear that Hamilton’s rivals had no answer to his pace, the McLaren driver backed off and pitted.

Webber’s lap of one minute, 40.978 seconds pushed Vettel off the front row. The championship leader – hampered by a substantial loss of practice mileage with a brake issue – had pushed hard throughout qualifying. Including brushing a barrier in Q1, flying over the kerbs in Q2, and then stopping on track after his unsuccessful final flying lap in Q3.

Vettel was forced to stop his Red Bull due to low fuel and after nearly five hours since qualifying was decided, the race stewards have penalised the world championship leader due to a low fuel sample. He will start Sunday’s race at the back of the grid.

Pastor Maldonado delivered a strong qualifying result for Williams by grabbing fourth position on the grid.

Kimi Raikkonen improved to fifth for Lotus on his second Q3 run, with Jenson Button making similar gains to take sixth. Button had been as low as ninth at one point in qualifying, but a five-place and six tenths of a second margin to his McLaren team-mate will not please the 2009 world champion.

Alonso held fourth after the early Q3 runs, only to be shoved down to a potentially costly seventh as others improved. His Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa will start ninth, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus.

Nico Rosberg did just a single qualifying run in Q3 and initially held fifth, before falling to eighth when his rivals came out again. Rosberg’s performance was a boost for Mercedes on what had looked like being another disappointing weekend. His team-mate Michael Schumacher was only P14, amid mutual apologies from team to driver over the radio.

Force India and Sauber could not reach the top ten this time around with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez filling row six. Paul di Resta qualified in P13 in his new chassis while Kamui Kobayashi was six tenths down on Perez in P16 after locking up on his last lap.

Bruno Senna’s run of tepid qualifying performances continued with P14, four tenths slower than his Williams team-mate Maldonado in Q2.

Having appeared to conquer his qualifying problems during the 2012 season, Jean-Eric Vergne notched up his second straight Q1 exit – his eighth of the year – in Abu Dhabi.

The recently re-signed Toro Rosso driver was on course to make the cut before spinning. Vergne pushed on for another lap, but his abused tyres had no more pace to offer. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo brought up the rear of the Q2 field in P17.

Marussia pushed Caterham hard in the battle at the back of the field. Although Heikki Kovalainen emerged in front again, he was only a tenth ahead of Charles Pic.

Vitaly Petrov was right in the fight in the other Caterham, but Timo Glock was puzzled by a relative lack of speed from his Marussia as he beat only the back-row HRTs.

Qualifying positions for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:

1.  Lewis Hamilton        McLaren-Mercedes     1m40.630s
2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault     1m40.978s
3.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault     1m41.226s
4.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault        1m41.260s
5.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes     1m41.290s
6.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari              1m41.582s
7.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes             1m41.603s
8.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari              1m41.723s
9.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus-Renault        1m41.778s
10.  Nico Hulkenberg       Force India-Mercedes 1m42.019s
11.  Sergio Perez          Sauber-Ferrari       1m42.084s
12.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes 1m42.218s
13.  Michael Schumacher    Mercedes             1m42.289s
14.  Bruno Senna           Williams-Renault     1m42.330s
15.  Kamui Kobayashi       Sauber-Ferrari       1m42.606s
16.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m42.765s
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari   1m44.058s
18.  Heikki Kovalainen     Caterham-Renault     1m44.956s
19.  Charles Pic           Marussia-Cosworth    1m45.089s
20.  Vitaly Petrov         Caterham-Renault     1m45.151s
21.  Timo Glock            Marussia-Cosworth    1m45.426s
22.  Pedro de la Rosa      HRT-Cosworth         1m45.766s
23.  Narain Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth         1m46.382s
24.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault     1m41.073s*

107 per cent time: 1m48.601s

*Grid penalty for low fuel sample