Vettel steers his car with a flat tyre just two corners into the 55-lap race forcing the double world champion to retire early for the first time in 20 races [EPA]
Lewis Hamilton produced a near-flawless performance on Sunday when he took full advantage of the early retirement of double world champion Sebastian Vettel to win a sizzling ‘day-night’ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Driving his McLaren with measured assurance and great speed, the 26-year-old Englishman dominated from the second corner of the opening lap to the finish as he claimed his third win of a troubled season and 17th of his career.
He started second, but took the lead within a few hundred metres when 24-year-old German Vettel’s Red Bull suffered a puncture to his right-rear tyre and forced him to swerve off the Yas Marina circuit.
Hamilton streaked by and took a lead he relinquished only twice briefly during the pit-stops as he delivered one of the most accomplished performances of his 89 races in Formula One.
Two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso came home second for Ferrari, wiping away some of the memories of a nightmare race in 2010 when his title challenge was wrecked by strategic mistakes.
Briton Jenson Button in the second McLaren fought through to finish third ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber and fifth-placed Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari.
German Nico Rosberg led compatriot and Mercedes team-mate seven-time champion Michael Schumacher home in sixth and seventh places with another German, Adrian Sutil, finishing eighth ahead of his Force India team-mate rookie Briton Paul Di Resta.
Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber finished 10th just beating his team-mate Mexican Serigo Perez into the final points-scoring position.
Starting from a record-equalling 14th pole position of the season, Vettel made a clean start when the lights went out and pulled clear of Hamilton and into the lead. The field behind him rushed unscathed into racing order behind him.
|Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, won the race for his first top spot since July’s German GP [EPA]|
Having won both previous Grands Prix held at the Yas Marina circuit, it looked like business as usual for the 24-year-old German, but only for a few hundred metres as a puncture pitched him out of control and off the circuit as he turned into Turn Two.
The right rear tyre of Vettel’s Red Bull machine deflated rapidly and, although he was able to recover and nurse the car back to the pits, it signalled the end and his first retirement in more than a year since the Korean Grand Prix of 2010.
Vettel climbed from his car and was soon tapping into a laptop computer to discover precisely why it happened, but by then the leaders were completing lap three with Hamilton leading the field by nearly three seconds.
Alonso, having swept past Webber and Button, was in second place with Button third, Webber fourth and Massa fifth.
Rosberg had climbed to sixth in the opening skirmishes, fighting his way past Mercedes team-mate Schumacher.
This running order was maintained as, having started in high sunshine and temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius, the sun began to fall and the floodlights to take over. The temperature fell swiftly, too.
Button, battling to resist Webber, reported problems on lap 13, which McLaren told him was a failure of his KERS (kinetic energy regeneration system), asking him to reboot it as he raced.
Hamilton pitted for the first time after 16 laps swiftly followed by Alonso and Button, handing the lead to Webber for one lap. The Australian, however, lost time and impetus with a slow stop for new tyres as Red Bull suffered problems with his right rear tyre.
Webber’s problems cost him not only time, but a place in the race as Massa took fourth from him for Ferrari while Alonso consolidated his grip on second, 3.6 seconds behind the flying in-form Hamilton.
It stayed like this as day became night with a blaze of floodlights dazzling the Yas Marina track while Button recovered his KERS to set a fastest lap in pursuit of Hamilton, who was 4.4 seconds clear of Alonso, after 36.
Webber was first in for the second round of pit-stops, followed by Button as Hamilton delayed until lap 40, handing Alonso the lead. The Spaniard, however, was unable to generate the times he needed to create ‘an undercut’ and pitted himself two laps later, rejoining second again.
Out in front again, Hamilton was soon 5.4 seconds clear and cruising towards the chequered flag with 12 laps remaining, nursing his tyres and easing through the heat haze for a comfortable triumph.