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GP Week : Issue 174
F1 >>> U.A.E 22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: G oing into the 2012 Formula One season, if you had told anyone that the two most thrilling races of the season would take place in Valencia and Abu Dhabi, you would have been escorted swiftly to the nearest insane asylum. But in a topsy-turvy season that began with seven winners from seven races, and has seen all manner of chaos on and off the track, perhaps such surprises were inevitable. The 55 laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix provided 106 minutes of nail-biting drama, replete with two Safety Cars, two changes of pack leader, and the thrilling spectacle of Sebastian Vettel fighting his way up from a pitlane start to a podium finish. The icing on the cake? A win for Kimi Raikkonen, just as Lotus had abandoned all hope of a 2012 victory. The action began on the very first lap, when Raikkonen got an excellent start, passing Mark Webber within nanoseconds of the lights going out. The Australian racer tends to be slow off the line, and Sunday evening was no exception. But this time, the Red Bull driver’s Achilles heel turned out to be less of a weakness and more of a fatal flaw. Before the cars were half-way around the circuit for the first time, Webber had lost two positions, with both Raikkonen and Pastor Maldonado taking advantage of his stuttering start. Further down the grid, Fernando Alonso was on a typical charge, forcing his way up through the pack till he was hot on Webber’s heels and minded to fight. By the end of the first lap, the scene was set for a thrilling spectacle. Nico Hulkenberg was out of the race, the victim of a crash with Bruno Senna, while team-mate Paul di Resta was limping to the pits with a puncture. Romain Grosjean was the victim of another first lap incident; the Lotus driver was running three abreast into Turn 11 when he made contact with Webber and damaged his right front tyre in the process. “It was a tight battle with three of us in a row at Turn 11, then Sergio went off track at Turn 13 and came back on the inside at Turn 14 leaving me with no room to go anywhere else,” Grosjean said. “Mark then came from behind and we touched; it was a big shame.” The next few laps provided a respite of relative calm, although there was still action aplenty out on track: race leader Lewis Hamilton made an unforced error on the second lap, nearly allowing Raikkonen through for the lead; Vettel was charging his way up through the backmarkers; and Sergio Perez slipped neatly past Kamui Kobayashi for eighth place while Webber passed the sleeping Jenson Button for P5. Hamilton regained his stride, and spent the next few laps pulling out a steadily increasing lead over Raikkonen when the first of the serious incidents occurred, bringing out one of what would be two Safety Cars over the course of the race. On the approach to Turn 16 on lap 9, Nico Rosberg found himself running up behind the slowing HRT of Narain Karthikeyan. The Mercedes driver was going too fast to do much in the way of evasive action,