Abu Dhabi GP Report: The Iceman Cometh – Finally – In The Desert

by James Singleton

Kimi Raikkonen has won a thrilling, incident packed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix today. It was his first win of the season, and his first since the Belgian Grand Prix of 2009.

The race promised much with championship leader Sebastian Vettel starting from the pit lane, and certainly didn’t fail to deliver right from the start. Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton made a good start, with fellow front row man Mark Webber making a dreadful one. That gave Raikkonen the chance to shoot through into second place, with Webber behind Pastor Maldonado in fourth. He’d drop behind Alonso by the end of the first lap however.

Further back, there were already problems, with the two Force India getting too close for comfort and collecting Bruno Senna at the first corner. Nico Hulkenberg was out on the spot, his front suspension broken. Only a few corners later, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean collided at the chicane at the end of the long back straight, giving both punctures.  The carnage resulted in numerous cars limping back to the pits for repairs.

There was a scare for Hamilton on lap two as he struggled with brakes that were failing to heat up, giving Raikkonen a brief look for the lead. It didn’t come off as Lewis held on and began to pull away, and that looked like it would be that.

Vettel meanwhile, was benefiting from the mid pack carnage and was already in sixteenth by the end of lap four; however things weren’t completely plain sailing. He damaged his front wing whilst attempting to pass Bruno Senna, and after some deliberation the team decided to leave him out on circuit. He would move to thirteenth by only four laps later.

By lap nine, the safety car was called for. Nico Rosberg, who was recovering from his first lap puncture, was attempting to pass HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan at turn 15, just before the hotel section. The HRT man appeared to slow in front of the Mercedes, leaving Nico nowhere to go as he piled into the back of Karthikeyan. His car took off, but fortunately landed the right way up before making heavy contact with the Tecpro barrier. Despite the scary accident, Rosberg was able to extract himself unaided from his car.

However, with debris all over the track, the safety car was called for. There was more drama even behind the safety car however, as Sebastian Vettel was caught out by Daniel Ricciardo warming his tyres and brakes. He had to take evasive action and clattered through the polystyrene block denoting the start of the first DRS zone, damaging his front wing even more. Vettel was heard to be furious over his team radio, and as the race restarted on lap fifteen, Red Bull elected to pit him for a new front wing, putting him all the way back in twenty first place.

Up front, Alonso was struggling to get his tyres up to temperature and came close to getting re-passed by Webber as Hamilton streaked clear from Raikkonen at the front once more.

Vettel was soon charging once more and was right on the back of the similarly recovering Grosjean as the two passed Charles Pic in the first DRS zone. Grosjean just managed to hold him off, but Vettel got an even better run at him in the second DRS zone. However, he was seen to drive over the white line to pass the Lotus driver, and keen to avoid a potential penalty for an illegal overtake, soon handed the place back. He would re-pass him on lap seventeen.

Just as in Singapore only a few races ago, Hamilton’s race ended in disappointment. He’d managed to open a gap over Raikkonen, but on lap twenty his race was over as his car slowed before he pulled off circuit. It is not clear at the time of writing what the problem was.

The dramatic development promoted Raikkonen to the lead, with Alonso not far behind in second. Only three laps later however, Webber’s race turned from bad to worse as he attempted to pass Maldonado for third place at the end of the second DRS zone – the Australian tried to go around the outside of the Williams driver, but failed to give Maldonado enough room and was tagged into a spin, losing numerous places in the process.

A lap later, Jenson Button, the only remaining McLaren driver was able to pass Maldonado cleanly for third place, as Perez passed Massa for fifth.

Webber was soon back on Massa’s tail, and in a near identical moment to the Maldonado incident, made contact with Massa at the end of the second DRS zone. This time, he did not spin, but cut the corner and re-joined ahead of Massa, before the Brazilian spun, seemingly out of surprise.

Two laps later, Alonso pitted from second place, and crucially re-joined on circuit behind Vettel, who was no back in the points. It started a flurry of pit stops amongst the leaders as Perez moved past Maldonado for third, before Button, Maldonado, Webber, Perez and Raikkonen all pitted within two laps of each other.

The carnage was not yet over, and not long later there was more action. Paul Di Resta, who had also recovered from the first lap, was battling Grosjean with Perez and Webber not far behind. Di Resta got passed Grosjean in the second DRS zone as Perez tried to go right around the outside of the pair of them at turn eleven. Di Resta and Perez made contact, with the former cutting the corner and the latter going wide, but Di Resta just emerging ahead. As Perez turned in for turn fourteen, Grosjean hit Perez into a spin before the hapless Webber smashed into the Lotus.

With Webber and Grosjean out on the spot and Perez limping back to the pits, the safety car was called for once again. The Mexican was later handed a ten second stop-and-go penalty, dropping him to the rear of the field.

After several laps behind safety car, the race re-started once again with Raikkonen leading Alonso, Button, and Vettel – who had pitted from second place just before the second safety car – holding fourth place ahead of Maldonado.

Inititally Raikkonen opened a gap as Alonso, Button and Vettel scrapped for second before the Ferrari driver began to draw ahead and set a series of fastest laps. He was soon eating into Raikkonen’s advantage with only a few laps to go.

Vettel was still attempting to find a way past Button, and after a few close calls looked like he had used the advantage of his fresh tyres. However, on lap fifty two, Vettel finally got the move done and moved into third.

Alonso continued to close the gap and was just able to get within DRS range, but failed to find a way pass Raikkonen. Raikkonen took the chequered flag by just under one second, with championship rivals Alonso and Vettel claiming second and third. Button claimed fourth, with Maldonado finishing fifth, with the top ten being completed by Kobayashi, Massa, Senna, Di Resta and Toro Rosso’s Ricciardo.

A thrilling race then, and despite his efforts, Alonso must surely be feeling disappointed. On a day that begun with so much potential, he ended up minimising Vettel’s championship lead by three points. But, as this weekend showed, the championship is far from decided.

Formula One now moves on to a new venue at Austin, Texas for the American Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

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