Formula One bowed out for 2009 with the inaugural visit to Abu Dhabi's 5.5km Yas Marina circuit.
Lewis Hamilton led from the start from pole position, with conventional wisdom expecting the recently deposed World Champion to take advantage of his lighter fuel load and obvious raw pace (his pole lap was 0.7 seconds clear of Vettel in second) to pull away from the chasing Red Bulls and Brawns.
At the first corner, a sweeping left hander these chasing teams were already tripping over each other. As the Red Bulls dragged down to the first Vettel pushed Webber out to the right side of the track, presenting Rubens Barrichello with an opportunity to pass the Australian as he aimed to take second in the drivers' title.
However, Barrichello didn't quite make the move, Webber moved back to the racing line in time for the apex and found the Brawn's front wing already there. The contact damaged the wing end plate, and temporarily slowed Barrichello, while Webber continued unscathed, though showed supreme control to stop himself from spinning in front of the field.
But up front Hamilton wasn't pulling away.
Despite the circuit having the longest straight in F1 the McLaren's KERS power was not enough to pull away from the Red Bull pair, who tracked Hamilton close, as (briefly) did Jenson Button having overtaken his ailing teammate, before the field began to spread out.
When he did manage to put some space between he and his pursuers he quickly threw it away, locking up a front right tyre into turn 17 and running wide and falling back towards Vettel once more.
Hamilton would lock up at least once more under the eyes of the TV cameras, before making his predictably early stop on lap 17, followed by Jenson Button.
And while the old champion exited into empty space on track, his successor found himself immediately fighting with Kamui Kobayashi – the man who had caused him trouble in Brazil back in the car with Timo Glock again sitting out the race. The Japanese, on a one stop strategy ran alongside Button down the long back straight after turn 7, pulling to the outside of the Briton as Button went defensive.
The Brawn driver out-braked himself into turn 8 and ran wide, allowing Kobayashi to skip past unchallenged.
It was clear that Vettel would inherit the lead after his own stop. The German, or rather his pit crew were given a brief scare as Jaime Alguersuari mistakenly pulled into the Red Bull pit with a gearbox problem. He was quickly waved away, pulling back onto the track, only to retire that lap, parking his car off the circuit.
As yellow flags flew for the stranded Toro Rosso it was all going wrong for Hamilton. Team radio reported a developing brake problem on his McLaren and before long he was in the pits and being pushed back into the garage. The man who had dominated qualifying was out.
Hamilton's exit robbed Yas Marina of what was its only hope for a race for the lead. Vettel was clear of Webber, and any action was to be found further down the field.
Sutil was battling at the back of the pack, Fisichella was sliding, literally, past Romain Grosjean in what could be the final Grand Prix for both.
But what was by no means a classic race was livened up substantially in the closing laps. First a wheel to wheel battle between Robert Kubica and Sebastien Buemi ended in the BMW driver spinning away a position to Nico Rosberg, then there was the developing battle for second.
Jenson Button was gaining on Mark Webber, the Australian seemingly following Hamilton with brake problems. Through the closing lap Button honed in on the rear of the Red Bull and on the final lap Jenson Button was ready to cap off his title year with one final pass for position.
On the long drag down to turn eight, where Button had earlier lost out to Kobayshi, the Brawn closed in on Webber, the Brazilian GP winner taking the same defensive line Button had earlier. But this time the defender was victorious, the Brawn slewed slightly under braking and Webber was second.
For at least another corner. On the curved pit “straight” for another of the venue's configurations Button again pulled to the outside, again Webber did just enough to repel Button's attack, through the complex of turns 11, 12 and 13 and Button was unable to challenge through the final sections of the lap.
Almost unnoticed Vettel had already crossed the line to take his fourth win of the year, Webber made it a Red Bull 1-2, ahead of the Brawn pair and Nick Heidfeld. Kobayshi, now seemingly destined for deserved full time race seat in 2010 took sixth in only his second race, ahead of his teammate, with Buemi snatching the final point.
“My target was to finish in the points today but I am a bit surprised to be in the top six. This is a fantastic result and I am extremely happy,” said Kobayashi.
“That was a fantastic race,” enthused Vettel. “The car was a dream today. There was a lot of pressure, I nearly went a bit wide in the pit lane entrance during my first stop and then there was the scary exit through the tunnel, but I was on the limit and it was enough to get past Lewis. Unfortunately he then had to retire, but up to that point it was a fantastic race with him.”
In a race which was (too put it politely) strategic, and that had no bearing on the champion team or driver, the winner, though Vettel took the checkered flag, was F1.
The Yas Marina circuit is a fantastic venue. Frankly, until maybe a few years ago it was the sort of track you would only find on computer games. Massive animated advertising boards on the start finish gantry, run off areas that go under grandstands, a pitlane that goes under the track all draped around hotel that changes colour.
It showed the level to which aspiring countries, and perhaps (tellingly) those who want to safeguard their event, now have to rise. The reason for lacklustre races may be the track, or it may be the cars.
The first race of 2010 is only 133 days away. Maybe we'll find out then.