Kimi Raikkonen wins F1's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to throw open chase for drivers' championship
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Kimi Raikkonen won a crash-filled Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday for his first victory since returning to Formula One this year, a result which throws open the drivers' championship with two races remaining.
Raikkonen, the 2007 champion who returned to F1 after rally driving for a year, overtook Red Bull's Mark Webber at the start to move into second. He took the lead on the 20th lap when McLaren's Lewis Hamilton retired because of a fuel pressure problem, and then avoided the half-dozen crashes and collisions that twice brought out the safety car.
Raikkonen held off Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who finished second. Two-time defending F1 champion Sebastian Vettel clawed back from last to finish third, his lead over Alonso cut to 10 points.
McLaren's Jenson Button finished fourth, followed by Williams driver Pastor Maldonado.
Vettel was penalized for fuel irregularities after qualifying, forcing him to start from the pits. He tops the drivers' championship with 255 points, followed by Alonso (245) and Raikkonen (198).
Red Bull leads the constructors' championship with 422 points. Ferrari (340) is second and McLaren (318) third.
"I'm very happy for the team and myself but mainly for the team," said Raikkonen, who last won a race in 2009 with Ferrari at the Belgian GP and now has 19 wins. "It's been a hard season for the team. Hopefully, this gives us more belief, not just for those are doing the work but those who run the team."
Alonso, who struggled for pace across the weekend, said he is thrilled to have repeated his second-place finish from the Indian GP after also starting down the grid in that race.
"I'm very happy. We were not so competitive this weekend and we started sixth with Sebastian's penalty," Alonso said. "We had to fight from the first lap, some good overtaking."
Vettel said he always believed he would end up on the podium.
"I said to myself either we go full attack or nothing," Vettel said. "That is what we did. We had a fantastic race."
On a circuit some drivers have called boring, the incidents started on the opening lap. Force India's Nico Hulkenberg collided with Williams' Bruno Senna and exited the race. Eight laps later, Mercedes' Nico Rosberg ran into the back of Narain Karthikeyan, went flying over the HRT car and crashed into a wall.
Starting from the back of the field, Vettel was in the middle of many of the mishaps and responsible for a few of them.
Moving quickly through the pack, he damaged his wing when he clipped Senna. He then misjudged the pace of Daniel Ricciardo's car in front and ran over a board, prompting him to curse Ricciardo over his team radio and requiring a visit to the pits to get a new wing, sending him down to 21st.
Vettel returned and again aggressively started overtaking, going off the track to pass Romain Grosjean and then colliding with Felipe Massa, causing the Ferrari driver's car to spin.
Despite all that, he moved up to fourth and then overtook Button with three laps remaining.
"It was nice fight with Jenson. He was difficult to pass. With him, I was really struggling. I just squeezed my way past," Vettel said.
Hamilton's earlier departure ends his bid for a second title, as it did for Vettel's teammate Mark Webber, who pitted at one point to allow the German to move ahead of him into fourth. The Australian's race ended on the 39th lap when he collided with Grosjean, who had stalled after crashing into Sauber's Sergio Perez.
"I'm gutted," Hamilton said. "I'd had really good pace all weekend and I feel certain we could have won today. I had a fuel pressure problem — it was very sudden, I was just entering a corner and the car just died on me ... nonetheless, we'll have more opportunities in Austin and Sao Paulo."
The title race now shifts to the United States on Nov. 18. Vettel remains the driver to beat, having won the past four out of five races and by all accounts having the fastest car.
"I think we can be very proud today. We lost only a very little bit," Vettel said. "We have the momentum still, the car is bloody quick. So I'm looking forward to the next two races."
Alonso believes his chances are good.
"I'm confident," said Alonso, who led Vettel by 44 points earlier in the season. "We will fight until the end. We are not fast enough, this is true and we are honest with ourselves ... It's a weak point the performance we have in our package and we have some strong points, which we will try to use."