Abu Dhabi might have been a good destination to shoot "Sex and the City 2" and showcase the several Mercedes-Benz powered cars, but this weekend it had turned down the fortunes of the Mercedes-Benz powered Mclaren of Lewis Hamilton that came to a halt, despite the pole position and the lead that the British driver had maintained on all the 23 remaining drivers. In short, calling the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix just 'captivating' would be a gross underestimation of what transfigured on the race track this Sunday.
The spectacular race saw its own share of drama, including accidents and retirements, but eventually came to an end with Kimi Raikkonen finishing first. It was the Finnish driver's first win after three long years, with his last victory being at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix. The 2007 Formula One World Champion commemorated his 'Iceman' moniker via his 19th victory on the track despite starting fourth on the grid. Taking the lead from Hamilton, Raikkonen was sucessfully able to hld off Fernando Alonso, who finished second on the podium. Defending his World Champion title for the second time, Sebastian Vettel clawed his way from the back of the grid to the second runner-up, finishing 3.311s behind Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton lead the pack from the start, with Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso starting second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth on the grid, respectively. Sebastian Vettel, who had set a 1:41.073 qualifying time and was supposed to be third on the grid, started the race from the pit lane due to a penalty incurred for not having enough fuel to return to the pits. However, the drama began even before the race could begin as HRT-Cosworth's Pedro de la Rosa found himself in the pit lane along with Vettel after a tyre blanket was tangled up.
While Lewis Hamilton got off to a magnificent start from P1 in the pole lap, Kimi Raikkonen was soon seen following closely behind the Briton after zooming past Mark Webber. This left Button unsucessfully fending off attacks from Alonso, and was then racing at P5 with Alonso right ahead of him. As the rather dramatic pole lap came to an end, Hamilton was still leading, Alsonso had gained two positions by overtaking Webber, and Nico Hulkenberg had retired after colliding into Bruno Senna. So much for a theatrical start to a Formula One race. After the frenzied opening lap, Hamilton complained of cold tyres but managed to retain the lead despite Raikkonen's opportunistic attempts to take the lead. Meanwhile,
Vettel was soon climbing up despite the damaged front wing, benefitting from the safety car period deployed after Karthikeyan and Rosberg's crash. Racing at P12 and complaining of problems with his front wing, Vettel further dropped to P21 after misjudging Daniel Ricciardio's movement behind the safety car and eventually crashing into the polystyrene DRS marker as he tried to avoid the Australian driver. This caused further damage to Vettel's ride, forcing him to take an unplanned pit stop during lap 14, where he switched to soft tyres.
Off the restart, Hamilton quickly bolted off, looking to further widen the three second lead over Raikkonen, while Alonso firecely fought off Button and Webber. The race was equally intense at the back, where Vettel and Grosjean endeavoured to raze through the field. Vettel was soon racing at P15 after racing his way around Petrov and Glock. Red Bull's German driver soon began to employ the benefit of the extra speed of the soft compund, meanwhile Alonso closed in on the gap between him and Maldonado, who was racing at 3rd. Hamilton clocked in the fastest lap, during lap 19, with a 1:47266. And just as Hamilton's chances of victory were beginning to look good, he dropped out of the race in lap 20 as his car lost all power.
This sudden development caused Raikkonen to take the lead, followed by Alonso, who was now racing in at second after pulling off a dazzling move on Maldonado. However, Raikkonen didn't take very kindly to his race engineer's rants about Alonso racing right behind him at second, and the Finn driver replied, “Leave me alone. I know what I'm doing.” In the meanwhile, Mark Webber's attempt to overtake the Williams driver resulted in contact between the two, which caused a spin and left the Australian driver #7, just three places ahead of his team-mate Vettel.
As Webber recovered, he went on to pressurise Felipe Massa, which caused contact between the two and left the Brazilian's car spinning. Vettel used this contact to his benefit and rose to P7 after racing past Michael Schumacher. He continued to gain positions and was soon tailing his team-mate Webber, who was told, “Mark, if Sebastian gets a run, don't fight him” over the radio. Raikkonen pitted during lap 32, and rejoined the track, still in lead, ahead of Vettel and Alonso.
Just as Vettel contemplated a 41 lap run, he was asked by his team to pit for a fresh set of tyres, and he rejoined the race comfortably at P4. However, the chasing cars got engaged in a mess as Perez and Paul di Resta passed Grosjean, but Perez refused to give up his position to di Resta, who managed to get a better run. As Perez attempted to defend his position around the outside of the chicane, the two cars came in contact.
This caused Perez to run wild as di Resta managed to continue, giving Grosjean a chance to overtake. However, Grosjean made an attempt a tad bit too early, which caused Perez to crash into him just as he was pulling back into the track. Unfortunately, Webber also got caught in the ruckus, which eventually led Grosjean and Webber to retire from the race as Perez continued.
Raikkonen's nine-second lead soon disappeared as the safety car came out to close up the field. He managed to retain the lead over Alonso, Button and Vettel anyways. The race track turned into a giant battlefield as soon as the safety car pitted. Raikkonen made a good restart, with Alonso and Button right behind the Finn. Sitting at P4 with a minimal gap and quicker tyres, Vettel's chances of winning the race looked pretty good too. However, Button's strategy of positioning his car in the middle of corner entries kept the German driver from seizing P3 only until lap 52. Meanwhile Alonso tried to catch up with Raikkonen instead of settling for P2, but struggled with fading tyres on the last lap.
The race eventually ended with the Iceman finishing first despite the challenged posed by Alonso, who finished second on the podium. But the real star of the race was Vettel, who managed to finish third on the podium despite starting from the pit lane. Despite Raikkonen's glamorous victory, Vettel and Alonso are now the only contenders for the World Champion title. And even though Vettel lost three points from the 13 point lead over Alonso, there is a healthy chance that the reigning World Champion may clinch the title again, courtesy his fine driving skills, at the next grand prix, i.e. the United States Grand Prix, slated to be held on November 18 in Austin.