ABU DHABI, UAE November 5 – Kimi Raikkonen lived up to his ‘ice man’ sobriquet by claiming his first win for three years as Sebastian Vettel clung on to his championship lead in a drama-laden Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.
Raikkonen, the 2007 champion who returned to Formula One this season after a two-year absence, grabbed his triumph after early leader Lewis Hamilton was forced into retirement after 20 laps by a power failure on his McLaren car.
The Finn won convincingly ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari who pushed hard for victory in the closing laps of an extraordinary contest that included two prolonged safety car periods and a rash of major accidents.
Defending champion and current leader Vettel started from the pit lane in his Red Bull car and produced one of the greatest drives of his career to finish third.
Vettel’s phenomenal drive, including clocking fastest lap, kept him 10 points ahead of Alonso in the title race with two races remaining.
Vettel leads on 255 points with Alonso on 245 and Raikkonen on 198.
This was Raikkonen’s first win since the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix and his 19th career win. He is the eighth different victor of the season and gave the Lotus name a victory for the first time since Ayrton Senna won for the original Lotus team in the United States in 1987.
The 33-year-old was his usual calm place after the race and betrayed few emotions.
Asked how he felt, he said: “Last time you guys were giving me grief because I didn’t smile enough, but I’m happy for the team. It’s been a hard season and not easy times lately.
“Hopefully this will give everyone belief and turn the tables so we can win more races, if not this year then next year.”
His Lotus team chief Eric Boullier said: “This is just a great one. It’s a final reward for the team. We’ve deserved this for a long time. We had a little bit of luck. Kimi is good for everyone at Enstone and good for the the fans in F1.
“I am proud of this and we did well.”
Alonso, who cut Vettel’s lead from 13 points to 10, said: “I’m very happy as I think we were not super competitive this weekend. We had to fight throughout the race, but we had a very good strategy and wanted victory.
“But we think it was a perfect Sunday as we kept fighting right until the end.”
Vettel’s performance justified his confidence in claiming before the race that he could deliver a strong points finish despite starting at the back of the field.
“I told you guys, don’t stop believing,” he said over the team radio. “Never lift!”
Hamilton, who had reigned supreme throughout the weekend, was left to reflect on more ill luck in his bid to give McLaren a result to savour before his move to Mercedes next season.
He said: “I hadn’t been faultless in this race because I did have a very wide moment at one stage, but after that it was going really well and the car was a dream to drive.
“I was cruising and pulling away so it was a shame the engine just died. It was some kind of fuel problem, but it was an incredible race, good to watch.
“We hadn’t brought any upgrades and hopefully we’ll have some for the next race. I hope the car performs over the next two races to finish up the front for the last time. I’m happy with the job I did, I couldn’t have done any more.”
Vettel’s biggest previous improvement from the grid was 14 places from 19th to fifth at the 2008 Monaco GP.
Red Bull were unable to confirm their third straight constructors championship, but with a lead of 82 points ahead of Ferrari, look certain to do that at the United States Grand Prix at Austin next month.
Among the retirements were Nico Rosberg, who had a spectacular airborne crash in the ninth lap in his Mercedes following a collision with Indian Narain Karthikeyan’s Hispania car.
He walked away unscathed.
Mark Webber in the second Red Bull and Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus were involved in multiple collisions, the final of which ended both of their races after 39 laps.