Abu Dhabi magic lights up the twilight of F1 season

An action-packed race in Abu Dhabi presented us with the eighth different winner of the season – and kept the championship alive. DAVID HOOPER reviews all the drama.

Will Alonso be able to stop Vettel? It's all to play for in the last races of 2012.

After one of the most exciting Formula 1 races of the 2012 season, it was Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus Renault who claimed victory for the first time since his return to the sport.
As the lights went out at the start of the race in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton got off to a good start from pole position and seemed to be the man on form, but with Webber’s car bogging down, Kimi Raikkonen swept past with an instinctive avoiding move to take second place before challenging Hamilton, who was struggling with cold tyres, for the lead.
Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso also got a clean start, but Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna collided and spun out ending the race for both cars on the first lap.
The 2012 F1 drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel, whose car had stopped on the track at the end of qualifying due to a lack of fuel, was starting from the pit lane after the Red Bull team chose to make changes to the gearing, giving the car a higher top speed which was expected to be crucial for Vettel’s attempts to drive back up through the field after the FIA disqualified him from qualifying.
The glamorous Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi has not won a reputation for exciting racing so far, and the drivers soon settled into a bit of a follow-the-leader routine, except for Vettel, who was putting his much faster Red Bull car to good use, making his way past the slower machines which inhabit the back of the grid.
Incidents weren’t long in coming though and he lost the end plate of his front wing in a clumsy move trying to get up the inside of Bruno Senna who was always going to turn in on him, but the damage was not too severe and he chose to continue.
But then, on lap 14 there was a huge collision between Narain Karthikeyan in his HRT-Cosworth and Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes. With smoke coming from the back of the Indian’s car, it looked as though his engine was about to let go, but Rosberg, unaware of the slowing car on what is a fast piece of track, accelerated straight into the back of the HRT, launching himself into mid-air and over the top of Karthikeyan. Both cars were destroyed, but fortunately both drivers escaped unhurt and could be seen chatting about their lucky escapes and what had gone wrong.
This brought out the safety car, which picked up race leader Hamilton and prompted a few pit stops, although it was still in the earlier stage of the pit stop windows for most teams.
As the cars weaved to try and keep the heat in their tyres, Vettel nearly ran into the back of a Torro Rosso, which appeared to brake sharply. Vettel took avoiding action, collecting a marker post on the side of the circuit and causing yet more damage to his front wing.
He now had no choice but to pit for tyres and a new nose, rejoining the remaining cars at the back of the field, but with his one stop of the race out of the way, he was perhaps better placed than his on-track position portrayed.
The safety car came in on lap 14 and Hamilton backed up the pack for the restart. As Lewis bolted at the front, Alonso made a mistake and got some oversteer in his Ferrari, which put him immediately under pressure from Mark Webber in the other Red Bull.
Vettel gained two places on the restart lap but then got stuck behind Roman Grosjean in his Lotus. Vettel got past as Grosjean was in turn trying to pass a Marussia. Grosjean wasn’t giving up easily and Vettel dived down the inside, putting his car off the circuit by crossing the white line at the edge of the track.
Vettel, realising he was in the wrong, quickly allowed Grosjean to retake the place, and then had to overtake him all over again.
A few laps later, Hamilton’s McLaren lost all power and he pulled off the track, retiring from the lead of the grand prix.
Alonso then took Maldonado and second place, but Mark Webber’s attempt came to grief, when he and the Williams touched, spinning Webber off the track, but somehow both cars avoided damage and Webber rejoined a couple of places back.
With Maldonado’s car clearly struggling for grip, Button then took his chance, diving down the inside of the Williams and taking the place under braking.
Webber now found himself behind Massa, who was told to stay out, clearly with the team game in mind, but Webber again tried to go round the outside. Webber and Massa touched wheels, Webber went wide while Massa stayed on track, but as Webber returned to the circuit, Massa appeared to lift off the throttle, spinning the car on a bit of off-camber track.
Vettel was now up to eighth place and looking strong after his earlier troubles.
Alonso pitted on lap 29 for a new set of tyres, but rejoined behind Vettel’s Red Bull. Button made his tyre stop a lap later.
By lap 30, Vettel was right behind his team-mate Mark Webber and the team came on the radio to tell Webber not to fight Vettel if he got a run at him. Red Bull then brought Webber in for new tyres, therby releasing Vettel.
Race leader Kimi Raikkonen made his stop for tyres on lap 31 and rejoined just ahead of Vettel who was now remarkably up to second place.
Button, on his new set of tyres, was starting to pressure Fernando Alonso who was running in third place.
On lap 37, Red Bull called Vettel in for his second stop of the race, but had a slight delay with the right rear. As Vettel rejoined, he got out of the pits ahead of Grosjean, who then came under pressure from Paul di Resta, who made the pass. Perez and di Resta went side-by-side, before touching wheels. Grosjean went wide, before rejoining and was tagged by Perez and spun out. Grosjean turned left to avoid the spinning Perez, leaving Mark Webber with nowhere to go. He collided with Grosjean and demolished the back of his car. The Lotus was now parked on the exit of turn 14 with both front wheels pointing inwards, while Webber parked the remains of his Red Bull on the grass.
The safety car was called out again while the debris was cleared, prompting some of the remaining runners to head for the pits and fresh tyres which meant Kimi Raikkonen’s nine second gap was duly obliterated behind the safety car.
At the restart it was Raikkonen, Alonso, Button and Vettel, with Maldonado making up the last of the top five places.
Michael Schumacher had been quietly making up places, but picked up a puncture and had to change his tyres, dropping him way back down the order and spoiling what had been a good race for the German.
At the restart on lap 42, Kimi made a good job of it and immediately pulled out a small lead on Alonso. Vettel was looking menacing behind Button, while Perez was awarded a stop and go penalty for causing the crash.
With 10 laps to go, Kimi was looking comfortable out in front, while Alonso, Button and Vettel were squabbling over second place, but Vettel struggled to find a way past Button, who was driving an excellent defensive race now.
With five laps to go, it seemed fairly settled at the top of the field, but Alonso was gradually closing down Raikkonen who was after his first win since his last victory in Spa in 2009 before his adventure in rallying.
But it wasn’t over yet, as Vettel finally squeezed his car past Button through the chicane which had claimed so many victims.
Alonso had a sniff of a victory and was driving the wheels off his Ferrari. On the last couple of laps, he got to within a second of Raikkonen’s Lotus and into the DRS zone. Alonso power slid the Ferrari onto the start/finish straight, but couldn’t quite get close enough to Kimi on the last lap thanks to fading tyres.
Vettel was in third position, 3.8 seconds behind, but it was Raikkonen who held his nerve to take the win, while Alonso, with his car sliding all over the place, chased him home. Raikkonen crossed the line first  to become the eighth different winner this season, and finally showed some rare emotion as he waved to the crowd, letting out a little “Yee-haah” over the radio.
Vettel though, was the star of the day, having started from the pit lane to finish on the podium in third place, helped by a little bit of luck and a couple of safety cars.
Abu Dhabi gave us one of the most exciting races of the season so far – definitely one to remember.
Vettel retained his lead in the championship and is now only 10 points ahead of Alonso with just two races left.
The sun may have set on Abu Dhabi, but it certainly hasn’t set on this year’s championship battle.
Bring on Austin, Texas, for the penultimate race in 2012!