Incredible. Against all odds. Non-stop action. These words sum up the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
First, there was the massive upset at qualifying when Vettel's fuel issue forced him to start from the pit lane. As one of the final two drivers battling it out in the remaining races, starting from essentially P24 is soul-crushing. With Vettel now starting from the pit lane, Hamilton's superb qualifying session put him at the front, not unusual for the former champion, but after a solid first stint he would be forced to retire on Lap 20, an unexpected twist in the weekend's race.
With the finalized grid positions, the race was set up to be an entertaining one to watch. Hamilton was on pole, Webber in P2 and then Maldonado in P3 on the grid. Alonso the Fighter was in the 3rd row at P6 behind Raikkonen and Button. When the race lights flashed, the competition kicked into action.
Raikkonen quickly moved to P2 ahead of Webber and Maldonado, and Alonso also took the opportunity to move up the grid. Meanwhile, there were sprinkles of incidents throughout the race involving di Resta, Grosjean, Rosberg, Hulkenberg and Senna in the 55-Lap Grand Prix.
The first incident was a stunning crash as Rosberg flew over Karthikeyan's HRT and continued on to hit the barrier. Luckily, both Rosberg and Karthikeyan came out unscathed. However, the incident also called for the first of two Safety car appearances on the track. The second time the Safety car was needed followed a hairy incident with Grosjean, di Resta, Perez and Webber in Lap 39.
The Safety Car naturally bunches up all the race cars, the early advantages from front runners became a moot point as all the cars in the back of the grid catch up. The driver who had the most to gain from this scenario was Vettel.
The two time champ, ready for the tough challenges of starting from the pit lane, was stealthily making progress from the back. Vettel was at P14 by Lap 7 and just kept climbing up the positions until he reached P3 at Lap 52 in this Grand Prix. In fact, Vettel's finish in P3 meant that he climbed a whopping twenty-one spots in the race! If that's not a demonstration of against all odds, I'm not sure what would be. Vettel proved to many nay-sayers that he's more than just a lucky driver in the best car amongst its competitors, he took every chance available to increase his lead in a methodical way.
Not to be outdone, Alonso also drove an admirable race. Alonso started on P6 but kept hustling the Ferrari to squeeze all the performance he could out of it. After Hamilton retired, Raikkonen was the driver to beat. Alonso showed off his overtaking skills and climbed up to P2, right behind Raikkonen. For a while, it looked like Raikkonen would be unchallenged as he lead toward victory. Alonso, ever the fighter, came incredibly close to Raikkonen in the last two laps of the race. If Raikkonen had made a single error, Alonso would have been all over it to take first position and grab the podium. Alas, the IceMan was on top form and refused to give his comeback win to anyone else.
Raikkonen’s win in Abu Dhabi marks the eigth driver to win a Grand Prix this season. It’s certainly been long time coming, and as I’ve been saying, the IceMan was one of the most consistent drivers this season. While never quite taking a decisive win as the Lotus is not as competitive as the Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari, Raikkonen has maximized his points in every race. He’s been in third place on the Championship leaderboard for weeks now; you don’t keep that position by being inconsistent. If there’s one thing that’s missing this season, it’s seeing Raikkonen win a Grand Prix and SMILE. While it may be unlikely we’ll see the IceMan smile any time soon, it was certainly great to see a champion return to top form.
Raikkonen’s win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a small hiccup in the Vettel-Alonso showdown. In two weeks, the championship battle will take place in Austin, a completely new circuit and the first Grand Prix in United States since 2007. How will the rest of the World Drivers Championship (WDC) drama unfold in Austin? I cannot wait to find out!