We have arrived in Abu Dhabi and the amazing1 Yas Marina Circuit. It’s the 18th race of the season, with only 3 races left including this race in Abu Dhabi. In about 25 minutes, 17:00 local time, the red lights will be turned off and 23 drivers will start from the grid. Why not the usual 24, you ask? Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel will be starting from the pits after quite a lot of drama following the qualifying session last night.

Because of a technical problem, Vettel was forced to stop on the track on his way back to the pits after Q3 has ended. This is a breach of the F1 regulations, but Red Bull was with the help of the cars telemetry readouts able to show that it was a case of force majeure, that a technical problem forced them to abandon the car on track. But unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. All cars has to have a fuel sample of at least 1 liter in their fuel tanks after qualifying, and Vettel’s Red Bull didn’t contain enough fuel. The reward for this from FIA was that Vettel got pushed from 2nd to last place on the starting grid. Red Bull decided to pull Vettel’s car out of parc fermé, meaning that they could modify the car for overtaking instead of their usual setup. The result of taking a car out of parc fermé, however, is that Vettel now has to start from the pits. With the design of the Yas Marina pits, Vettel will be quite far behind the pack when he is finally released. Also, if he gets to eager to get out of the pits on cold tires, there’s a fair chance he’ll spin off and hit a wall in the very tight pit exit. For Vettel’s own sake, let’s hope he manages to get out of there in one piece.

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton starts in pole position after a great qualifying session on a track he has looked very strong on all weekend. Mark Webber is also in the front row in his Red Bull, while William’s Pastor “The Torpedo” Maldonado is right behind Hamilton, ready to push him off the track in the first corner. We’ll see how that goes. After Vettel got bumped to the back of the grid, his rival for the 2012 championship title, Fernando Alonso, starts 6th on the grid in his Ferrari. Not the best qualifying for Alonso, but at least he is miles ahead of Vettel and that’s what’s important for him now. It doesn’t matter that Hamilton will probably speed ahead and disappear in the horizon, the only thing that matters is how many points Alonso can steal from Vettel.

The cars are ready on the grid (and in the pit lane). The red lights go on one by one. We’re off!

And what a race it turned out to be. While the race on Yas Marina Circuit usually is a bit boring, this one was an absolute blast from start to finish. Mark Webber had a terrible start and Kimi Raikkonen took advantage of that and got his Lotus up to second place. As usual a lot of things happened during the first lap. Paul Di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, both in Force India, touched and hit Bruno Senna’s William. Senna managed to escape virtually unharmed, while Di Resta limped back to the pits. Hulkenberg, however, had to retire.

At the front, Hamilton almost went off the track, complaining about cold tires, but he managed to save it. At the back, Vettel slowly worked his way up the field. In the process he managed to damage his front wing, but was told to say out on the track by the team. On lap 9 the safety car was deployed after Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan crashed. Karthikeyan’s HRT suffered a hydraulics failure, making his steering super-heavy, obliging him to back off. Rosberg didn’t manage to avoid him and plowed into the back of the HRT at 310 km/h. Luckily, both drivers left their cars unharmed.

During the 16 minutes safety car period, Vettel managed to damage his front wing even more. He got too close to Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo who performed the usual “accelerate, break, turn”-maneuvering all drivers do behind the safety car. Vettel almost his Ricciardo and hit a DRS sign. They’re made of Styrofoam, but the damage was still large enough that Vettel had to box and replace the front wing. In the process he also changed all four tires. Starting from 24th, he had made his way up to 12th, but after the pit stop he once again found himself at the back of the pack.

On lap 24, Hamilton was forced to retire with technical problems. Raikkonen is now first, with Pastor Maldonado on second. Alonso was closing in on Maldonado, and got past him on lap 21. Raikkonen is told by his engineer about Alonso’s pace and his overtake of Maldonado. The Finn’s reply? “Just leave me alone, I know what to do.”

From here there are a lot of laps with really tight fighting. Vettel makes his way up the field again and manages to get all the way to up to 2nd place before he has to pit again on lap 38. He re-enters the race on fourth, the three drivers in front of him is hopelessly far away for and advancement at this point. But on lap 39 the safety car is once again deployed after another massive pile up on the track: Romain Grosjean hits Sergio Perez while trying to avoid him. On the process he slams into the back of Mark Webber and the result is that both Grosjean and Webber is forced to retire.

With the help of the safety car, Vettel is now able to catch up with the guys in front of him and with newer tires he gets past Jenson Button on lap 53. Alonso, on the other hand, never manages to get past Raikkonen and he is the first to cross the checkered flag. He managed to do something in he come back season Michael Schumacher never did: To actually win a race. Vettel also had a great day, going all the way from 24th to 3rd on the grid. Yes, that second safety car was a lucky strike for him, but getting all the way from 24th to 3rd is still a great achievement.

The championship is far from over yet and in two weeks time we’re going to the US for the first time in many years, to Austin, Texas, and the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. Brand new track for all drivers and teams and everything can happen.

  1. Amazing in the sense that it’s a great track to look at, it’s not an overtaking track and the races have never been very entertaining, unfortunately. ↩︎