(Press Release) – A stunning race in Abu Dhabi has returned Kimi Raikkonen to the winners’ list and guaranteed a thrilling title fight when the Circuit of The Americas™ stages the penultimate round of the 2012 FIA Formula 1™ World Championship Nov. 16-18.
Raikkonen, 33, won the 55-lap race for the Lotus F1 Team, his first Formula 1 victory since Belgium in 2009. The win is also the 19th of his career, which he resumed at the start of this season after a two-year break from Grand Prix racing.
Paradoxically, the Abu Dhabi race also ended the Finn’s slim chances of winning a second title to add to the one he claimed in 2007 with Ferrari. With Fernando Alonso second and Sebastian Vettel third in Abu Dhabi, they are now the only two drivers who can take the 2012 crown.
Raikkonen lived up to his devil-may-care reputation when he weighed his latest victory against the end of his title chances. “We got the win, we might have lost the championship on the same day, but I don’t really care,” said the driver they call “The Iceman.”
“We didn’t really expect to be fighting with them anyhow. We’ve always been a bit behind and not really had the speed to challenge them in normal races. And now in the last few we’ve had very good speed and finally we put all the things together and won.”
In a race full of stories, Red Bull Renault driver Vettel, 25, produced a performance that was the stuff of fiction to rescue his own title campaign. Excluded from the qualifying classification when his car had insufficient fuel to meet the mandatory testing sample, Vettel had to start from pit lane. In a thrilling race-long attack, he made up 19 places to reach the unlikeliest of podium finishes.
He also made life hard for himself with two early mishaps: a brush with Bruno Senna’s Williams that damaged the Red Bull’s front wing, and a lapse of concentration behind the Safety Car—and behind Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso— that produced a bizarre moment. The Red Bull smashed through a polystyrene “DRS” sign, and the added impact on the front wing forced Vettel into the pits and another
“We did it in the worst possible moment, during the Safety Car,” Vettel said, “when all the cars were already queued up and we lost everything. We were dead last. At least we had a fresh wing, and from then on went through the field. It was a lot of fun!”
Ferrari’s Alonso, winless since the German round in July, had hopes of leaving Abu Dhabi in the lead once more after Vettel’s qualifying disaster. Instead he chipped just three points off the German’s advantage and is now 10 points adrift with only Austin and the 20th round in Brazil to come. But he remains typically defiant.
“I’m confident,” the 31-year-old Spaniard said, having won titles in 2005 and 2006 for Renault, the team that morphed into Raikkonen’s current Lotus outfit. “We will fight until the end. We are not fast enough; this is true and we are honest with ourselves. It’s a weak point, the performance that we have right now in our package. But we have some strong points, which we will try to use. We just need to concentrate on our race, and if we finish in front of Sebastian in the next two, then maybe we have a chance.”
Also out of the title running is Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren Mercedes driver who started from the Abu Dhabi pole and led comfortably for the first third of the race until his car lost power completely. There was some consolation for McLaren when Jenson Button came home fourth. It was the 56th straight points-scoring finish for McLaren, breaking the record held by Ferrari.
Hamilton’s early exit allowed Raikkonen to take a lead he never lost despite two spells behind the Safety Car that closed the field right up again.
The first came when Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes was launched into the air off the slowing HRT car of Narain Karthikeyan, both drivers escaping without injury from the spectacular collision. The second followed a four-car tangle on lap 38 that earned Mexican Sergio “Checo” Perez a stop-go penalty and eliminated both Romain Grosjean of Lotus and Mark Webber in the second Red Bull.
Pastor Maldonado of Williams Renault secured his second-biggest points haul of the season in fifth, while sixth place for Kamui Kobayashi leaves his small, independent Sauber team just 12 points behind the might of Mercedes in sixth place overall and determined to take fifth away from the “Silver Arrows.”
Felipe Massa’s seventh place ensured Ferrari enough points to prolong the Constructors’ Championship chase until Austin, where Red Bull is almost certain to clinch it. Senna, Force India’s Paul di Resta and Daniel Ricciardo of Scuderia Toro Rosso rounded out the top 10.
Raikkonen became the eighth race-winner in another remarkable Formula 1 season, but the man with the numbers on his side is still Sebastian Vettel. Five wins in 2012, 255 points—and in Austin the 25-year-old German will reach the milestone of his 100th Grand Prix start.
“Time goes by and obviously with age you get a little smarter,” he commented. “You learn certain things and you get a little more relaxed, probably. But also it’s important to stay childish, stay hungry and do some mistakes. Otherwise how can you go forward?”
credit: Stuart Sykes