Kimi Raikkonen won his first race since returning to Formula One in an action-packed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday and Sebastian Vettel retained the championship lead despite finishing third after starting last on the grid.
The 2007 world champion Raikkonen, who returned this year from two years of rally driving, got his 19th career win and first since Belgium 2009 after telling his Lotus team “leave me alone, I know what I am doing” — ahead of the title rivals Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Vettel of Red Bull.
The German had to work his way up twice from last place, had one more pit stop than the rivals but was also helped by two safety car stages in a day-to-night thriller with plenty of wreckage and Lewis Hamilton forced to retire while leading in the 20th lap with a technical problem.
Once the dust had settled, Vettel had limited the damage in the best possible way after four straight wins and retained the championship lead with 255 points from Alonso (245) into the final two season races. Raikkonen is out of contention on 198 despite the win.
Hamilton won the start from pole as Alonso moved into fourth place from sixth on the grid while Vettel started out of the pit lane after being punished for not having enough fuel for a sample after originally qualifying in third place.
The German damaged his right front wing early on when he made contact with the Williams of Bruno Senna but was able to carry on and was already up in 13th when the safety car had to come out in the 10th lap after a scary crash.
Nico Rosberg drove his Mercedes into the HRT of Narain Karthikeyan, lifted off the ground, flew over the other car and into a safety barrier. Both drivers walked away unharmed from the incident which occurred because Karthikeyan’s steering broke.
Vettel’s front wing was then damaged beyond repair during the safety car phase when he smacked into a speed board on the side of the track as he tried to evade the slow Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo ahead of him — and had to start again from the back at the restart in the 15th lap.
While the German worked his way up a second time, Hamilton suffered the agony of a retirement five laps later in leading position. “We have lost all power,” he was told via team radio.
That was good news for Alonso’s title ambitions and the Spaniard did his part as well by passing Maldonado in the next lap for second place behind Raikkonen, who boldly told his team “leave me alone, I know what I am doing” when informed he was five seconds ahead of Alonso.
Raikkonen retained the lead through the pit stops, with Vettel sensationally up to second place ahead of Alonso thanks to his pit stop during the safety car phase.
However, the German had to pit again in the 38th and returned in fourth, safely ahead of the next unfolding drama when Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber of Red Bull had to retire in a four-car incident, which sent out the safety car again and led to a stop-and-go penalty for Sergio Perez of Sauber as the main culprit.
While Raikkonen cruised to victory under the floodlights in 1 hour 45 minutes 58.667 seconds, Vettel overtook Jenson Button with three laps left to lose a mere three points on Alonso on the day and into the concluding races in the U.S. on November 18 and Brazil on November 25.