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Abu Dhabi 2012 - The long-awaited victory for Lotus // Kimi Räikkönen puts stamp on impressive comeback with Yas Marina win

Published by Christine

Kimi crosses the line to take his first win of the season
Credit: Ferraro/LAT

We've had two relatively dull races in a row, and expectations weren't high going into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It's hard to fathom whether the racing underneath was any good, but Sunday afternoon at Yas Marina delivered incident after incident to keep things interesting.

There was a lot to untangle from each team - including drivers crashing into their teammates, odd retirements peppering the grid, plus a brand new winner on the top step of the podium!

Lotus

There’s two schools of thought on Kimi Räikkönen’s first win since his comeback. One is that it was a lucky performance and a victory handed to him due to all those in front falling by the wayside. The other is that it’s a long overdue victory, hard won by the entire team. I reckon it’s probably a bit of both. It was a fortunate win, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. A good qualifying performance from Kimi came just at the right time, where he has previously struggled on Saturdays. That propelled him up the grid, further when Vettel was demoted, and he was ready to capitalise on the retirement of Lewis Hamilton.

On the other side of the garage, things were not so happy. Romain Grosjean found himself caught up in not one, but two difficult incidents - yet another on the first few laps of the race. Nico Rosberg, the other party in the first lap incident, has blamed no one, and the race-ending crash between four cars that came later left him more of a passenger than anything else. Unfortunately, it’s a cumulative thing, and this is just another race that has seen Grosjean mixed up in trouble. His face on the pit wall as the team celebrated their victory and he was forced to stand by and watch told volumes.

Lotus are by no means a championship-winning car yet, but this added incentive will hopefully propel them to be more of a challenger in the remaining two races and going on to next season as well.

9/10

Ferrari

Ferrari have said time and again that they cannot rely on Red Bull suffering bad luck to help them win the championship, and it’s a good job too. There was little else that could be thrown at Sebastian Vettel in Abu Dhabi and he still managed to finish on the podium. Fernando Alonso did the best he could under the circumstances. The car was only fast enough to qualify seventh, which became sixth, and it was down to Alonso to hustle it forward - he did a great job to finish second, chasing Räikkönen down for the victory right to the bitter end.

Meanwhile, Felipe Massa found himself suffering at the wheel a little, spinning here and there throughout the weekend. He qualified ninth, was moved up to eighth, and finished the race seventh.

Now, with just two races left to go, Luca di Montezemolo has issued his directions to the team, telling them: “We must do everything to arrive in Texas with a car that can fight for the victory. Words count for nothing. This must be our target.”

8/10

Red Bull

For those of us hoping for something to keep the championship alive, Sebastian Vettel’s exclusion from qualifying and subsequent decision to start from the pitlane was just the thing. It was an odd incident though - the Red Bull team suggesting they did have enough fuel and that Renault were sure they had done everything correctly. This is yet another thing they can blame Renault for, in what has been a difficult partnership this year.

Vettel had the benefit of some setup changes and said he was always confident they could get a good result - even though he got off to a difficult start in the race itself. A collision at the start damaged the front wing, a further collision with a marker at the side of the track consolidated the issue, but the strategy came to him. Early pit stops, along with two well-timed safety cars allowed him to move up and up, minimising the damage that qualifying could have done to him.

On the other side of the garage, Webber was having a shocker. When he was meant to be lining up alongside Vettel on the grid, I was convinced that he would either have a bad start himself or be forced to do so by the team. As it turns out, Mark managed to get both a terrible start and some team orders as well. He was investigated for two collisions, escaping both without penalty, but seemed to be out of sorts throughout. Ultimately he retired from the race, which just makes Vettel’s push through the field look even better.

7/10

McLaren

Where Red Bull have been super dominant over the last few races, it looked as though it was McLaren’s turn to take some time at the top. Lewis Hamilton looked practically untouchable throughout the weekend, participating in a mostly one-sided battle with Sebastian Vettel. It was the team that let him down again, as with a healthy lead, the McLaren car slowed to a stop, leaving Hamilton stranded and out of the race before half distance. Disappointing, but the team have paid the price by falling out of contention of both championships.

The real mystery continues to be the difference between Hamilton and Button’s performance. Jenson says he feels the setup going his way during practice but as soon as qualifying begins, things take a drastic turn for the worse. He qualified sixth to Hamilton’s first, with over half a second between them. He moved up the race to fourth place on Sunday, and showed off some skillful defensive driving to keep Vettel behind him as long as possible. Ultimately, though, the pace wasn’t there and he had to concede.

I suspect both drivers are just counting down the days until this season is over so they can move on - one to a rival outfit, the other to a more secure number one status.

7/10

Williams

Pastor Maldonado put on another one of his incredible Saturday performances, qualifying up in fourth place - which was essentially best of the rest after Red Bull and McLaren. He was promoted to third when Vettel was excluded, and that gave him a great platform to start the race from. It was something of a quiet race for the Venezuelan on Sunday, with the only telling problem a loss of KERS that he feels cost him a podium place. However, a quiet race when all about you are losing their heads is something Maldonado desperately needed, and the points from fifth place have made a big difference.

Bruno Senna finished in the top ten too, making it a double points finish for Williams. He didn’t have such a great qualifying, dropping out in the second session 15th, but made up for it by battling through a collision with Nico Hülkenberg in the first corner to finish ninth. This good result has made Force India turn their attention away from chasing Sauber, instead hoping to defend from Williams.

7/10

Sauber

Sauber had a weekend of mixed fortunes. The team didn’t qualify as well as they might have hoped, with Pérez in 12th and Kobayashi in 16th - neither driver able to find the speed or the right tyre setup to move up into the top ten shootout.

In the race, you would have expected the lowly position of Kobayashi to find him mixed up in lots of trouble, but he made his way nicely through the field to finish in the points. This despite a significant issue, as he describes: “There was a problem with downshifting, which meant I could not recharge the KERS properly and didn’t have full boost.” To make it through from 16th(15th) to 6th place with faulty equipment, especially at Abu Dhabi, is an achievement.

On the flip side, Pérez was having a reasonable run in the midfield, but found himself stuck in a train of cars with Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta and Mark Webber. A collision occurred between the four of them that ended Webber and Grosjean’s race. Blame is being apportioned all over, but Pérez certainly didn’t make any friends by leaping back onto the track in the path of passing traffic. There is plenty to be learned from the weekend, particularly that the car found some pace on Sunday, even though it was struggling for speed on Saturday.

5/10

Force India

Oh dear, the Force India boys committed what Bob Fernley is calling the “ultimate sin” by crashing into each other at the start of the race. Nobody is taking the lion’s share of the blame, though, with all at the team saying they are going to look into what happened. The nearest we have to analysis is Hülkenberg saying he had nowhere to go. Unfortunately, the first lap incident was enough to see him out of the race, leaving Force India with all their hopes on Di Resta’s shoulders.

Paul was also in the vicinity of Pérez when he crashed midway through the race, but found that his strategy and the safety car periods were timed to his advantage. He made it up to ninth place, picking up a couple of points for the team. As mentioned above, Force India have now switched their focus to defending their seventh place position in the team standings from Williams - they have 22 points advantage at the moment.

5/10

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso confirmed they would be keeping both their drivers on for next season as well, hoping for some consistency amongst the team. They must not have hired Jean-Éric Vergne for his qualifying ability, as it was he who fell out of the Saturday sessions with the new teams, and yet again found himself 18th on Saturday. Ricciardo was just one place ahead of him this time, and the pair of them managed to fight their way through the field on Sunday.

Both had good starts, making it past a few cars in the first couple of laps. They were also helped by the sheer number of retirements, and gained from at least one of the safety car periods. Vergne believes the second safety car hindered his strategy a little, but he still managed to improve to 12th place when the chequered flag dropped. Ricciardo held on to 10th despite being chased by Schumacher at the end. Ricciardo was also the driver in front of Vettel, who braked suddenly and caused the German to take avoiding action, but no blame was apportioned.

5/10

Mercedes

Several times during this race, Mr C and I were surprised to find Michael Schumacher still in it. He was having a very anonymous race, having qualified 14th, lining up on the grid 13th and finishing the race 11th. In fact, the only time he was noticeable was unfortunately when he had a puncture towards the end of the race. He had to come into the pits for an extra stop and tyre change, and that dropped him out of the points and away. He tried to chase down Ricciardo for tenth, but couldn’t make it.

No matter how bad Schumacher’s day was, Rosberg’s was worse. Nico had a great day on Saturday, qualifying in the top ten and lining up seventh on the grid. However, he crashed with Romain Grosjean on the first lap which dropped him to the back of the order. That put him right in place to have a high speed crash with Narain Karthikeyan when the latter hit the brakes unexpectedly. It was a worrying incident, one of those that saw the car flying through the air and landing with a jolt. Rosberg was fine, though, with perhaps just dented confidence from yet another race ending in retirement that was not his fault.

4/10

Caterham

This race looked like it could be Caterham’s best chance to snatch back that 12th place that Marussia gained earlier in the season. Sitting in 11th in the championship is an unusual and uncomfortable place for the Caterham team, and at several points during the Abu Dhabi GP, Kovalainen looked in the right position to snatch tenth back from their rivals. However, the Finn was suffering with a KERS problem on the car that hindered his performance, and meant that by the time he crossed the line, he was in 13th - just missing out on the coveted position.

Vitaly Petrov was 16th at the end of the race, the penultimate of the remaining runners. He said he had a good start, but he braked early into the first corner to avoid contact with his teammate (Force India drivers: take note) and then had to deal with understeer that made forward progress impossible.

4/10

Marussia

Charles Pic outqualified Glock again in Abu Dhabi, this is getting to be something of a habit, as the young French driver tries to impress. Timo Glock ended up directly behind Pic on Sunday, and managed to clip his front wing against the back of his teammate’s car, instantly causing himself more problems than he needed. The aero performance on the car was compromised, but it was 14th place for Glock by the time the race came to an end.

Pic had to retire, being pushed back into the garage after disappearing into the pit lane unexpectedly. The team later explained it was “due to an engine air system problem.” They believe the engine they are going to fit to his car for the final two races will not feature any such problems.

2/10

HRT

HRT had one of their most visible races all season, but sadly it was for all the wrong reasons. Pedro de la Rosa was left sitting on the grid as the cars in front pulled away for the formation lap, a tyre blanket tangled in one of his rear tyres, and no forward motion from the car. He was pushed into the pitlane and started the race from there, but didn’t manage to make quite the impact that Vettel did! He finished the race 17th, and seemed reasonably happy with that after a difficult start.

Karthikeyan was the other half of the Rosberg incident, after a problem with the hydraulics caused him to brake suddenly and then find a heap of Mercedes car flying over his head. The Indian driver counts himself as unlucky for the incident to have occurred in the first place, but equally lucky for them both to have escaped without major injury.

2/10

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