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Raikkonen wins Abu Dhabi GP, Narain Karthikeyan escapes unhurt in horrific crash

Monday, 5 November 2012 - 8:31am IST | Place: Abu Dhabi | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
The event saw a horrific crash involving Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and HRT's Narain Karthikeyan, with the latter losing his steering and stepping on the brakes while leaving the German to shear through the back of his car before rising up and over his cockpit.

After three editions which could have been bottled and sold as a cure for insomnia, Abu Dhabi's glittering and frankly obscene jewel in the desert finally hit the jackpot on Sunday. A dramatic, breathless race, rich in drama and incident, was eventually won by Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen, who delighted fans on the occasion of his first victory in three years with his trademark mix of the deadpan and the dead weird.

But it was the identities of those who ended up quaffing rosewater on the podium alongside him which were of most significance in the overall scheme of things. Fernando Alonso's second place, thanks to another characteristically gritty drive, this time from sixth on the grid, was entirely predictable. Sebastian Vettel's third place, having started from the pit-lane following his disqualification from qualifying on Saturday, most certainly was not.

Vettel survived a first-lap collision with Williams's Bruno Senna, and a second collision with a trackside marker board, to storm back - thanks in part to two safety car periods - and pass McLaren's Jenson Button for the final podium spot with five laps remaining.

It was an extraordinary performance, one of true grit and determination, and one which may yet prove decisive in helping the German win a third straight championship since it ensured Alonso was only able to gain three points on him. This was far less than the Spaniard would have hoped for at the start of the day. Alonso now trails Vettel by 10 points with two races of the season remaining.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton observed that Vettel "must be the luckiest person in Formula One". If it was a slightly uncharitable assessment - Vettel was no luckier than Jenson Button was when he came through from the back of the field to win in Canada last year - the sentiment was understandable.

Hamilton's own wretched luck this year continued when his car ground to a halt 20 laps into a race he had again been controlling with ease. This is the second time in five races, following his retirement from the lead in Singapore in September, in which Hamilton has seen almost certain victory slip through his fingers.

Besides, Hamilton was right about one thing: someone is smiling down on Vettel. Red Bull's double world champion seemed intent on throwing caution to the wind, and certainly rode his luck at times. But his positive mindset should be commended. His team principal, Christian Horner, revealed afterwards that his driver's final words to him pre-race were: "See you on the podium." He was true to his word.

After a manic opening lap, in which Alonso gained two places, passing first Jenson Button and then Red Bull's Mark Webber with a heart-in-the-mouth move around the outside of turn nine, the race briefly settled into a rhythm, with Hamilton pulling away from Raikkonen in second place and Williams's Pastor Maldonado in third.

Then came a horrific crash involving Nico Rosberg, of Mercedes, and HRT's Narain Karthikeyan; the Indian losing his steering and stepping on the brakes, leaving the German to shear through the back of his car before rising up and over his cockpit. The incident bore a striking resemblance to the one in Spa a few months ago when Lotus's Romain Grosjean went within a whisker of taking Alonso's head off and is sure to add further fuel to the cockpit canopy debate.

The resulting safety car did, however, benefit Vettel, although not in the way one might have expected. Misjudging the gap to Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo, who was trying to keep his tyres warm behind the safety car, Vettel swerved to avoid the Australian but succeeded only in colliding with a trackside marker board, damaging his front wing and forcing him to pit and switch to soft tyres.

These he used to great effect, surging through the field, benefiting from a number of other lurid collisions along the way, and rising as high as -second.

By then Hamilton had retired with a fuel pump failure and Raikkonen had assumed the lead. The 'Iceman' may not have won a race in a few years - having taken two years off to compete in the World Rally Championship - but he did not take kindly to his race engineer prattling on in his ear. "Leave me alone. I know what I'm doing," Raikkonen snapped at one point. He was not lying. Despite Alonso closing to within a second of him by the end, the Finn did not put a wheel out of place, earning his first victory since Spa 2009, when he was with Ferrari. It was Lotus's first win of the season. "A big relief," said team principal Eric Boullier.

Raikkonen celebrated in his usual way, with a straight face. Asked if he would be going out to drink Abu Dhabi dry - he has a legendary fondness for alcohol - he mumbled that as long as he made it to Austin next week his team would probably be happy.

Vettel, having pitted a second time, profited from a second safety car, and then hunted down Button, eventually passing the McLaren with a gutsy move around the outside of Turn 11 on his way to third place. "It was very brave of him," Button conceded. "I didn't expect that. If I'd locked up and run wide, we would've crashed."

Luck favours the brave. Vettel was certainly that at the Abu Dhabi GP.




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