Kimi Raikkonen took a surprising first win of his 2012 comeback in the chaotic FIA Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, capitalizing on mechanical heartbreak for early leader Lewis Hamilton and fending off a championship-motivated Fernando Alonso.
Sebastian Vettel combined an incredible drive with opportune tire strategy to attain third after starting from the pitlane for a qualifying infringement Saturday.
"I’m gutted," he said. "It was very sudden, I was just entering a corner and the car just died on me."
Raikkonen then set off into the night with the lead, and won the Lotus-Renault team’s first race by .6 seconds, becoming the eighth driver this season to stand atop the podium.
"I am very happy for the team and myself," the quiet Finn reluctantly told podium interviewer David Coulthard. "I hope this can turn around the tables and give us many more good races and some more next year."
Pastor Maldonado, having started third, dropped only two spots throughout the action-packed race, and Kamui Kobayashi ended behind him in sixth.
Retirements abounded, with Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, and Rosberg among the big names at the bottom of the timing charts.
Just a few laps into the race, as Narain Karthikeyan began to fall prey to the lapping frontrunners, a steering problem slowed his HRT car without warning to the fast-approaching Nico Rosberg. Without the space to react, Rosberg attached his front left tire to Karthikeyan’s back right, launching the Mercedes into the air and across the track runoff into a barrier.
Both emerged unscathed, and the first safety car provided a unique opportunity for Sebastian Vettel on his charge from the pitlane at the green flag. Having sustained some minor damage in the opening laps, Vettel was brought in under yellow in for a new wing, new tires, and foam removal from the radiators (the result of hitting a brake-marker in the safety car queue). Rejoining in the back, he set upon a run that took him as high as second later in the race.
But shortly after the second green, the attention was quickly turned to Hamilton, stationary in the grass with an ominous “N” showing on the steering wheel. It was the same gear his McLaren showed in Singapore where he last retired from the lead.
A dice between Maldonado and Webber that spun the latter was only the first bit of contact for the Australian. Shortly thereafter he grappled tires with Massa, then fell victim to a bad overtake by Perez on di Resta that took the Sauber, Romain Grosjean, and Webber out of contention.
Di Resta escaped the carnage to finish ninth behind Bruno Senna, impressive for both of them following their Turn 1 offs, but largely due to the high rate of attrition. Daniel Ricciardo scored the final point for Toro Rosso.
Up front in the dying laps Vettel, relegated to fourth by a second stop, squeezed by Button for a spot on the podium deemed unfathomable at the race's start. As Button said, the final position gained was Vettel's all along:
"At the end, I couldn’t have kept Sebastian back - he was on newer options, so it was impossible to get the same amount of traction from my older Primes as he was getting from his newer options."
But it was Kimi Raikkonen's evening, resisting late pressure by Alonso and relishing the spray of the Abu Dhabi's preferred bubbly fruit-water on the podium. Alonso cannot have expected his main title rival to join him there, and Vettel duly retains his championship lead, now by ten points with two races to go.
With plus-25 in the points, Raikkonen has third place fairly secure over Webber and the disappointed Hamilton, but is mathematically eliminated from the championship, 57 points behind Vettel. Not bad for a comeback season.
Red Bull had the opportunity to secure the constructors' title this round, but Grosjean's careening Lotus put paid to Webber's points gain and those hopes. It will take a complete implosion of the Red Bull team to give that championship win up to Ferrari, behind by 92.