Lewis Hamilton scored his third victory of the 2011 season today in Abu Dhabi after world champion Sebastian Vettel retired on the first lap with a puncture.
Vettel's first retirement of the season gave Hamilton a relatively straightforward victory – the seventeenth of his career – with only a slight challenge from Fernando Alonso, who eventually finished second. Team-mate Jenson Button, who was without KERS for much of the race, came home in third.
Mark Webber was the only driver to make three pit stops and came home fourth ahead of Felipe Massa, who had a spin late in the race.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were sixth and seventh and Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resta and Kamui Kobayashi rounded off the top ten.
Sebastian Vettel seemed to get away well off the line at the start of the race, and was leading into the first corner. However, the world champion was sent spinning onto the grass by a sudden right-rear puncture as he entered the second corner. He did manage to creep back round to the pits, but the damage done by the flailing tyre carcass meant that his race was over – the first retirement for the German since last year's Korean Grand Prix. This gifted Lewis Hamilton the lead of the grand prix.
Fernando Alonso was the big mover off the start. He got past Mark Webber into the first corner to take fourth (which promptly became third after Vettel's accident), and was then past Jenson Button on the next lap to take second. The two Mercedes drivers were involved in a good intra-team battle at the start, with Michael Schumacher momentarily getting past Nico Rosberg, but then losing the position back to his team-mate.
At the end of Lap 5, Hamilton had a 2.7 lead over Alonso. Button was third, Webber fourth, and then Felipe Massa, Rosberg and Schumacher made up the rest of the top seven.
Jenson Button began to struggle for pace compared to the pursuing Webber as the KERS system on his McLaren failed. This left him particularly vulnerable to the Red Bull driver through the DRS zones, and on Lap 15 Webber actually got past for a couple of corners before Button won back the position with some slick overtaking.
Massa was the first of the front-runners to make a tyre change at the end of Lap 15, taking on a new set of soft tyres. Hamilton, Alonso and Button pitted at the end of the following lap. Hamilton and Alonso came in together, and a fast stop from McLaren ensured that Hamilton remained in front of the Ferrari driver, retaining the lead of the grand prix. With Button following close behind the pair, the McLaren pit crew had only a few seconds between servicing their two cars.
Webber came in at the end of Lap 17, but a problem with the right-rear tyre meant that the Australian had a nine-second stop. He lost a position to Massa, coming out of the pits in fifth place.
At the end of Lap 28, just over half distance, Hamilton had a lead of 4.1 seconds over Alonso. Button was still third, Massa was fourth, and Webber fifth.
Despite the two DRS zones, there was little meaningful overtaking. In fact, when a driver did overtake through the first DRS zone, he often then lost the position at the next zone.
A fine example of this phenomenon occurred on Lap 30, when Webber used his DRS to get past Massa. He held that fourth position for a whole chicane, before Massa returned the favour through the next DRS zone.
There was little to keep one entertained during the build-up to the second round of pit stops. Pastor Maldonado, who had already served a penalty for ignoring blue flags, managed to hold up Felipe Massa and Mark Webber as he was being lapped, and was promptly put under investigation once again – to be resolved after the race. Bruno Senna also received the same punishment for a very similar offence.
Webber pitted from fifth place at the end of Lap 35, taking on a set of the soft tyres. This meant that the Red Bull driver would need to make another stop right at the end of the race for the medium tyre. With just 20 laps of the race remaining, Webber was going to need some banzai laps if he was to finish ahead of Massa.
Button came in one lap later. He did take on the medium tyre, and would need no further stops this afternoon.
Hamilton, Alonso and Massa did not follow into the pits straight away. Alonso was slowly eating into Hamilton's lead though, and had a lead of only 3.1 seconds as he finally came in for his final pit stop at the end of Lap 40. The 2008 champion took on a set of the medium tyre. Massa pitted from third on the same lap.
Meanwhile, Alonso had set his personal best lap of the race, but had only a 19.9 second lead over Hamilton. Alonso would need to use his used soft tyres to extend this gap before making his final pit stop if he wanted to win the grand prix.
Alonso came into the pits, stuck behind the HRT of Daniel Ricciardo, at the end of Lap 43. It was also a slow stop for Alonso – a long 5.2 seconds, and Hamilton comfortably re-took the lead of the race.
Whilst the other front-runners were making their final pit stops, Mark Webber continued to set a series of fastest laps on that third set of soft tyres. The main intrigue in this final part of the race was over which position Webber would end up in once he has made his final stop.
Massa made things a bit easier for Webber by spinning five laps from the end. The Brazilian recovered, but the time lost ensured that Webber would emerge in front of him when the Red Bull driver finally made that last stop.
Webber made that final stop at the end of the penultimate lap and emerged from the pits in fourth place. Jenson Button inherited third to join team-mate Hamilton and second-place man Alonso on the podium.