ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Kimi Raikkonen won the 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 drives for Lotus, 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 an electrical problem.
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.
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 at 245 and Raikkonen at 198.
“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. “It’s been a hard season for the team. Hopefully, this gives us more belief, not just for those who 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. Then, we had a very good strategy that gave us the ability to fight until the end of for the victory. In the last couple of laps, Kimi was little slow and we attacked. Second was the maximum. We will keep fighting until the end.”
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. It was nice fight with Jenson (Button). He was difficult to pass. With him, I was really struggling. I just squeezed my way past. It was thrilling grand prix up and down all the time.”
The race featured at least a half-dozen crashes — the most dramatic when Nico Rosberg ran into HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan, flew over his car and crashed into a wall — and resulted in two safety cars being sent out on the track.
Starting from back of the field, Vettel was in the middle of many of the mishaps early in the race.
Moving quickly through the pack, he clipped Williams driver Bruno Senna and needed to visit the pits to get a new front wing. He then went off the track to pass Romain Grosjean and collided 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.
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 in the 39th lap when he collided with Grosjean, who had stalled after crashing into Sauber’s Sergio Perez.
Through it all, the unflappable Raikkonen appeared to remain above the fray. In fact, he repeatedly chided team officials on the radio when they offered him advice. At one point, he responded “leave me alone” when told of how far he was ahead.
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