Abu Dhabi: Kimi Raikkonen rode on Lewis Hamilton’s bad luck to help himself to his maiden 2012 win and become the eighth race winner this season in a dramatic Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit here on Sunday.
Chased on the last five laps by a superior looking Ferrari with Fernando Alonso on board, the Finn — known as the ‘Iceman’ for his cool and composed demeanour — held off his Spanish pursuer to win by 0.8 seconds clear and hand his Lotus F1 team their first triumph in 25 years.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel finished in third place after being forced to start from the pitlane following a fuel infringement in qualifying.
After winning here last season from second on the grid, Hamilton made an impeccable start, blissfully unaware of all the drama unfolding behind him until a loss of engine power on the 20th lap knocked him out of the running.
If there was action aplenty during the course of the race, it was the closing laps that delivered a fantastic finale, when Vettel passed McLaren’s Button on the 52nd lap and then set out in pursuit of Raikkonen and Alonso.
But it was the Spaniard who had his own plans despite running on slower worn-out tyres as he chased down the Finn to just fall short as Vettel finished a further 3.3 seconds behind.
Shaikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, Shaikh Hamad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court and Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister for Foreign Trade, were the chief guests at the trophy presentation.
Going into the race, the championship had been delicately posied, with Alonso the closest rival to Vettel for the world crown, just 13 points adrift of the 25-year-old German, who is aiming for his third straight title.
Now with two more rounds remaining — in Austin, Texas and Sao Paolo, Brazil — Vettel continues to lead the drivers’ championship standings with 255 points followed by Alonso with 245 points and Raikkonen in third with 198 points.
Raikkonen’s best this season had been three second places (Bahrain, Europe and Hungary) and the Finn, though obviously pleased with what he achieved on Sunday, was none too excited.
“This was not much for me,” he said. “I am just very happy for my team and for myself. It has been a hard season for the team and I hope this can turn the tables and give us many more wins this year and the next.
“This is nothing to jump around for. I am just so happy for everybody,” he added.
Raikkonen’s last win came at the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa in August 2009, while the last time Lotus had won a race was with the late Ayrton Senna in June 1987 at the US Grand Prix.
But from the start, Raikkonen seemed determined to end the drought and knew precisely what had to be done to achieve it.
“Just leave me alone,” was the message he gave his team on the 23rd lap and then later on the 41st lap when he told his team that he would “use all four tyres” in his push for victory.
This is only the third time this season that the Finn led a race — the other two occasions being in Spain and Hungary.
As he continued improving on the lead, it was Alonso who was desperately trying to gain ground on the leader after taking Pastor Maldonado in his stride.
The Lotus car, however, managed to hang in there and come up with a stunning performance that gives them a lot of confidence for next season.
Sunday's race turned out to be an eventful one, with Hamilton retiring. Red Bull’s Mark Webber also retired from the race.
Other retirees include Charles Pic, Romain Grosjean, Narain Karthikeyan, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg.
Rosberg had a massive crash with Navain Karthikeyan's Hispania. Vettel, eyeing his third world title, started from the back of the grid and was struggling in seventh spot after damaging his front wing.
Rosberg's car smashed into the rear end of Karthikeyan's slower car and took off - flying over the Hispania before landing and hitting the barriers in the ninth lap of the 55 laps race. Both drivers were unhurt in the accident at around 310 kph as the race was suspended for the introduction of a safety car at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Karthikeyan, 35, appeared to lift off and slow down and was not seen by Rosberg, 27, who could not avoid hitting him.
The race was restarted on lap 15 with Hamilton's McLaren then stuttering to a stop and out of the race as his car lost all power on lap 20 to leave the Lotus driven by Raikkonen in front.