Kimi Raikkonen won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a commanding late drive during a race marked by two safety cars and reliability issues forcing Lewis Hamilton out of the lead. Fernando Alonso looked to press the Finn for the win near the end, but finished second. Sebastian Vettel sliced his way through the field with a bit of luck to finish on the podium after starting from the pit lane. Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top five.
The race was fast and furious, with Raikkonen grabbing a great start to slide into second, with a collision behind into the first turn, then Nico Rosberg flying over Narain Karthikeyan for the first safety car, a mid-field collision that took out Mark Webber for the second safety car, and a grand dice between Button and Vettel for that final podium position. Seven drivers retired in one of the most exciting races of the season, despite most drivers making only one pit stop.
Hamilton (1:40.630) took a commanding pole during Saturday’s qualifying sessions, even as rival Vettel managed only third fastest and stopped with fuel pick up issues on his cool down lap. Webber slotted between these drivers, while Alonso, Vettel’s closest championship rival, qualified only seventh fastest. However, Alonso caught a break in his championship hopes as Vettel would drop down the starting order and start from the pit lane, as he had too little fuel for the required one-litre sample post-qualifying. Overnight, Red Bull also made serious set-up changes to Vettel’s car, including a gearbox change and changes to the gearbox ratio and suspension setup. Maldonado posted a fast lap at the end of the Q3 session to sneak into the fourth qualifying position, with Raikkonen and Button fifth and sixth.
After the change in order from Vettel’s qualifying disqualification, Maldonado moved up to third, Raikkonen fourth, Button fifth, and Alonso sixth. Rosberg, Massa, Grosjean, and Hulkenberg completed the top ten starting order. Mistakes abounded during the sessions, as both Hamilton and Vettel locked up and slid around early in Q1 and Q2. Hurt most by a mistake were Vergne and Schumacher, knocked out in Q1 and Q2 respectively by a spin and mis-used KERS.
Hamilton had led much of the weekend, taking charge in the first and third practice sessions. Vettel led on Friday afternoon, while Hamilton and Button appeared in the fastest five in each session. Alonso, Webber, Grosjean, Hulkenberg were also amongst the fastest five throughout the weekend. However, both Vettel and Webber had problems with their individual Red Bull cars through the weekend. Webber missed much of the second practice to an unnamed leak. Vettel, meanwhile, had brake issues that allowed him only a final short run Saturday morning.
de la Rosa got stuck on the track on the formation lap, leaving him to get pushed back to the pit lane. Vettel also waited behind the white line in the pit lane, to be released with de la Rosa behind him only after the rest of the field had cleared the first turn. Vettel, Schumacher, and Senna all went with the harder, medium compound tyre to start the race, with everyone else on the softs. With a bit of a breeze beginning, the lights went out in the late afternoon sunshine. Hamilton got a good start, but it was Raikkonen who pushed around Maldonado and Webber. Webber dropped back behind both the Finn and Venezuelan. Alonso quickly made up a position on Button and began pressuring Webber through the first lap. The Spaniard made his way around Webber, sliding through next to the wall and taking the position into the chicane.
At the end of L1, Hamilton led Raikkonen, Maldonado, Alonso, Webber, Button, Massa, Kobayashi, Perez, and Schumacher as the top ten. Hulkenberg stopped on the first lap, while Rosberg, Grosjean, and Di Resta all pitted after contact together into the first turn. Hamilton had a minor bobble on his cold tyres, leaving room for Raikkonen to close directly up on him. The Finn could not manage to take the lead. Meanwhile, Vettel had moved up to eighteenth, though he was also worried on the radio about the state of his front wing. On the third lap, Vettel slid though on Senna and Pic. He had damaged his car in his first attack on the Brazilian. Red Bull told him he could pit if he wanted, but he chose to continue.
At the end of L5, Hamilton had 2.5s gap over Raikkonen, who had Maldonado 1.6s behind him. Alonso continued to push, sitting within the DRS detection zone of the Venezuelan ahead. Webber, Button, Massa, and Perez were all around a second apart, with Koabyashi and Schumacher completing the top ten. Ricciardo, Vernge, and Kovalainen all sat in Vettel’s sights, as the championship leader had made his way up to fourteenth. Glock, Petrov, Senna, Pic, Karthikeyan, and de la Rosa were all ahead of Rosberg, Grosjean, and Di Resta, who had stopped to take care of damage from their first lap scuffle. That incident would be investigated by the stewards after the race, particularly Hulkenberg’s retirement.
Safety Car (L9):
Rosberg and Karthikeyan came into violent contact, bringing out the safety car. Both drivers were unhurt after the HRT slowed dramatically, catching Rosberg unawares. The Mercedes flew up and over Karthikeyan, landing heavily on the other side and sliding into the wall. The HRT appeared to be losing a bit of fluid or steam out the back just before it slowed. Vergne, Grosjean, and Di Resta all pitted under the safety car. Red Bull prepared for a front wing change on Vettel’s car, but he did not stop.
End L10 of 55:
Still under the safety car, Hamilton led Raikkonen, Maldonado, Alonso, Webber, Button, Massa, Perez, Kobayashi, and Schumacher as the top ten. Ricciardo, Vettel, Kovalainen, Senna, Vergne, Glock, Petrov, Pic, de la Rosa, Grosjean, and Di Resta completed the running order after the few safety car pit stops. Meanwhile, Vettel smashed into a brake marker while warming up his tyres. He quickly radioed the team, impossibly angry that Ricciardo “is stopping all the time!” Vettel pitted on L13, having broken more of his already damaged front wing with that Styrofoam contact. He changed both his front wing and switched to soft tyres.
On the restart, Hamilton made his way away from Raikkonen as Webber attempted to recreate Alonso’s move on him from the start. The Spaniard barely held on to his fourth position. Webber’s teammate had dropped back to twenty-first on his stop, but had the sticky soft tyres to charge through the field. He soon passed Di Resta and de la Rosa, then pushed his way through on Grosjean, with Pic on the far outside. Vettel could not make that pass stick but put all four wheels off the track to have another go at the Frenchman. Vettel passed both Grosjean and Pic, with the latter dropping down to twentieth. Vettel soon gave the position back with prompting form his race engineer. Vettel had another go through the DRS zone and retook the position from Grosjean.
As the laps ticked away, Alonso continued to gain on Maldonado, even as Webber and Button were also catching the Spaniard in the train behind the Williams. On L19, Hamilton still led Raikkonen, Maldonado, Alonso, Webber, Button, Massa, Perez, Kobayashi, and Schumacher as the top ten. Vettel was fifteenth and catching Vergne quickly. Once he caught the sister car, Vettel easily made his way into fourteenth. On L21, Hamilton slowed and pulled to the side of the track, ending his race. McLaren radioed him that they “had lost all power.” Hamilton pulled to the grass in a slightly precarious position, but near a break in the fence and escape road. The team would later suggest it was an electronics issue that shut the engine down.
Though that left Raikkonen in the lead, Alonso took advantage and swooped though on Maldonado. Maldonado was a bit slow out of the chicane, leaving Alonso nothing to do but sweep through in the DRS zone. A lap later, Webber had a go at Maldonado, with Button close behind to capitalize on any possible moment. Once released from behind Maldonado, Alonso was soon two and a hald seconds ahead of the Venezuelan. On the radio, Lotus busily informed Raikkonen of his status and the gap back to Alonso. He responded, “Just leave me alone. I know what to do.”
Webber had a go at Maldonado, only to have the feisty driver leave no room up the inside as Webber came down. They touched enough for Webber to spin and lose three positions, but neither sustained damage. The stewards would investigate. Button had his own go at Maldonado, making the pass and keeping the position.
Pit Stops Begin (L26)/Halfway (End L28):
Kobayashi was the first to pit on L26. Raikkonen led Alonso, Button, Maldonado, Perez, Massa, Webber, Vettel, Kobayashi, and Schumacher the top ten. Webber had a go at Massa, who did not give him much room. Webber slid off the track, and when the Australian rejoined, Massa clipped the kerb and spun in a large cloud of smoke. Senna, Massa, Ricciardo, and Pic all pitted on L27. After this scuffle, the stewards announced that there would be no further action from the Maldonado incident, but that they would investigate the Webber-Massa one. They did not take any further action for that one, either. Schumacher pitted on L28, then Alonso did on L29. He did so cleanly, rejoining in clear track, but well behind Vettel. Kovalainen and de la Rosa pitted as well.
Soon Perez moved up to fourth, making his way around Maldonado. That left Maldonado in Webber’s clutches. Meanwhile, Button pitted from what was second, then Maldonado nipped out of Webber’s way with his own pit stop. The team told Webber to allow Vettel to go if he had a run, but then had him pit. Perez also pitted on L31. That left only leader Raikkonen and Senna who had not yet pitted.
Raikkonen did so on L32. He rejoined just ahead of Vettel. Alonso, Button, Senna, Vergne, Grosjean, Di Resta, Perez, and Webber completed the top ten after nearly all of the pit stops. Maldonado, Kobayshi, Schumacher, Massa, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Glock, Petrov, Pic, and de la Rosa completed the running order. Though Vettel sat second, just a second and a half behind Raikkonen, he had already spent seventeen laps on his soft tyres. Senna pitted on L33, bringing all drivers in line with tyre switch regulations. Vergne made his second stop from sixth on L34 as strategy calls began settling the running order. Button looked to be gaining on Alonso and third position, but the Spaniard continued to keep the McLaren behind.
20 Laps of 55 Remaining:
Raikkonen had just under three seconds gap to Vettel behind, with Alonso, Button, Grosjean, Di Resta, Perez, Webber, Maldonado, and Kobayashi the top ten. Button was within the DRS detection of Alonso ahead, while Grosjean seemed to have a train of tight cars behind him, the whole way back to Webber in eighth. The top four were covered by less than ten seconds. Meanwhile, word came from Pirelli that Vettel’s tyres would last only thirty-six laps, not the forty-two required to get him to the checkered flag.
As speculation continued, Alonso continued to gain on Vettel. Red Bull quickly popped out to the pit lane and changed Vettel to fresh soft tyre on L38, joining in fourth on clear track after a nearly four second stop. The right rear was a bit slow on, but managed to stay out of the train of cars behind Grosjean.
Second Safety Car (L39):
Di Resta had a solid look at Grosjean, taking fifth from Grosjean. Perez followed him as the drivers collected each other, ending the race for both Webber and Grosjean. On his run around Di Resta, Perez pushed the Scot onto the grass, and Perez into the runoff. On his return, Grosjean ran into Perez, leaving no room for Webber but to lose his rear wing. Perez and Ricciardo both stopped, then so did Di Resta on the next lap. Under the safety car, Raikkonen led Alonso, Button, Vettel, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Schumacher, Massa, and Senna as the top ten. Vergne, Ricciardo, Kovalainen, Perez, Glock, Petrov, Pic, and de la Rosa completed the running order. Raikkonen grumbled back at his race engineer’s reminder to keep the tyres warm, “yes, yes, yes, yes, I’m doing that all the time, you don’t have to remind me.” Schumacher pitted for a right rear puncture, while the stewards announced an investigation into the incident.
Raikkonen flew away in the lead on the restart. There were no passes into the first turn, though the field soon bunched up on the straights. Perez had received a stop-go penalty for the incident that caused the SC, as Di Resta moved up to tenth. Raikkonen kept up his speed at the front, though the battle came between Vettel and Button as the former pushed the latter to get onto the podium. That allowed Alonso to get a bit further ahead in second.
10 Laps Remaining:
Perez completed his penalty with ten laps to go, while Raikkonen led Alonso by 2.5s. button, Vettel, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Massa, Senna, di Resta, and Vergne completed the points paying-positions with ten to go. Button continued to lead Vettel a merry chase as the latter looked for a way through but could neither get close enough nor make a move stick. As the final laps ticked away, Alonso pulled his gap back to Button up to 1.6s seconds, bringing himself just three seconds behind Raikkonen. Vettel had another go on Button, but remained behind.
Alonso continued to push with six to go, posting the race fast lap. Further back, Schumacher nipped in for eleventh on Vergne. Between there and the leaders, Vettel continued to push Button, allowing Alonso to get away and get closer to Raikkonen. He had two seconds to catch the Finn with five laps to go, continually catching the former Ferrari driver. In the battle for the final podium position, the gap seemed to have stabilized for Button, just out of the DRS detection zone ahead of Vettel. They continued to trade a tenth here and a tenth there, even as Alonso took bigger chunks out of Raikkonen’s lead.
Vettel had another go though the chicane, pushing his way through on Button to take third and quickly setting off after Alonso. With two laps to go, Alonso was just one second behind Raikkonen, but not quite close enough in the DRS detection to take advantage of the technology. On the final lap, Raikkonen edged a bit more ahead of Alonso to keep control of the win, taking his first on his return to the sport. In the end, the Finn maintained his win, with Alonso keeping his title hopes alive in second, and Vettel flying up through the field to finish on the podium after starting in the pit lane.
Final Positions, 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap Stop 1. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 0.8 1 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 4.1 2 4. Jenson Button McLaren 7.7 1 5. Pastor Maldonado Williams 13.0 1 6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 20.0 1 7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 22.8 1 8. Burno Senna Williams 23.5 1 9. Paul Di Resta Force India 24.1 3 10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 27.4 2 11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 28.0 2 12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 34.9 2 13. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 47.7 1 14. Timo Glock Marussia 56.4 1 15. Sergio Perez Sauber 56.7 3 16. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 64.5 1 17. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 71.7 1 Charles Pic Marussia 14 Laps 2 Romain Grosjean Lotus 18 Laps 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 18 Laps 1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 36 Laps Narain Karthikeyan HRT 48 Laps Nico Rosberg Mercedes 48 Laps 1 Nico Hulkenberg Force India