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
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.