Kimi Raikkonen became the eighth different winner of the 2012 season as he held on to win a thrilling Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Raikkonen took the lead on lap 20 when Lewis Hamilton, who had led away from pole and had looked dominant out front, retired with a fuel pump problem and the Finn held on to claim his first victory since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso made a late charge in his Ferrari, but ran out of time to challenge the Lotus driver and had to settle for second.
The standout performance however came from championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who after starting from the pit lane following his disqualification from qualifying produced a remarkable drive to finish third and keep his lead in the drivers’ standings.
Vettel took advantage of his much faster Red Bull, and some good fortune, to drive through the field, capping off a memorable display by passing Jenson Button for the final podium spot in the closing stages.
The drama began at the start of the race. Hamilton got a good start from pole, but further behind Nico Hulkenberg got into teammate Paul di Resta and triggered a collision that also involved Bruno Senna, ending Hulkenberg’s race. Further on Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean collided into turn 9, forcing both of them into the pits to repair the damage.
Upfront it was Alonso on the move. Having passed Jenson Button off the line, he set about overtaking Mark Webber and made his move at turn 11, completing a bold pass around the outside to move up into fourth.
Meanwhile Vettel was making huge progress through the field. Having taken advantage of the first lap incidents to move up to 20th, he then moved through the backmarkers with ease, making his way up to 13th by the seventh lap.
It was then that the safety car was deployed following a frightening crash involving Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan. Rosberg was caught out after the HRT appeared to slow into turn 17, and was launched into the air at high speed before careering into the barriers. Both drivers were unhurt in the accident.
And as the field made its way around at reduced speed Vettel’s good work up until that point was almost undone. Coming down the back straight, he was caught out by Daniel Ricciardo’s weaving Toro Rosso and had to take avoiding action, damaging his front wing and forcing him into the pits for a replacement.
But by being able to change his wing and move onto the soft tyre Vettel inadvertently found himself on the best strategy. With the faster set of rubber on his car the German recovered in style, dispatching the backmarkers as easily as he had the first time and by lap 23 had moved up into the points.
It was a different story for Hamilton. The McLaren driver had looked dominant all weekend, but for the second time in five races was forced to retire with a mechanical problem when leading comfortably.
It meant Raikkonen was now leading, whilst Alonso had passed Pastor Maldonado to move up to second. Webber tried to replicate Alonso by going past the Williams driver, but misjudged the overtake and was forced into a spin.
If one piece of contact wasn’t enough for Webber, he did it again a few laps later, colliding with Felipe Massa. This time it was the Brazilian who went spinning.
As the frontrunners made their stops Vettel stayed out and moved up to second place. There had been speculation that Red Bull would try and make his set of softs last until the end, but such a gamble was seen as too risky with the championship at stake and Vettel instead pushed the tyres he had to their limit before pitting on lap 37 for another set of softs.
It turned out to be the right move, with the championship leader’s run of fast laps prior to his stops seeing him rejoin in fourth place.
And Vettel’s day got even better when the safety car was deployed again on lap 39 after Sergio Perez drove into Romain Grosjean, who in turn collected Webber. The incident, which earned Perez a 10 second stop-go penalty, neutralised the field once more and wiped out the gap Vettel had to make up to those ahead of him.
After the restart Vettel set about Button with a podium finish at stake. The McLaren driver didn’t make it easy for him, but Vettel finally passed the Englishman with three laps left, making best use of the DRS to go around the outside at turn 11 and incredibly cement his place on the podium.
The race for the win was not over up front, as Alonso produced a series of fastest laps to reel in Raikkonen. The gap came down from over three seconds to just eight tenths, but Raikkonen held on to seal Lotus’ first victory since Ayrton Senna took the chequered flag in the 1987 US Grand Prix.
1) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault – 1:45:58.667
2) Fernando Alonso Ferrari – +0.852 seconds
3) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault – +4.163 seconds
4) Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes – +7.787 seconds
5) Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault – +13.007 seconds
6) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber–Ferrari – +20.076 seconds
7) Felipe Massa Ferrari – +22.896 seconds
8) Bruno Senna Williams-Renault – +23.542 seconds
9) Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes – +24.160 seconds
10) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +27.463 seconds
11) Michael Schumacher Mercedes – +28.075 seconds
12) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +34.906 seconds
13) Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault – +47.764 seconds
14) Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth– +56.473 seconds
15) Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari – +56.768 seconds
16) Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault – +1:04.595 seconds
17) Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth – +1:11.778 seconds
18) Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth – Retired
19) Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault – Retired
20) Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault – Retired
21) Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes – Retired
22) Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth – Retired
23) Nico Rosberg Mercedes – Retired
24) Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes – Retired