Sebastian Vettel wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Race action (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)With both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships all wrapped up now, it’s easy to think that there’s nothing left to play for in the remaining three races of the season.

But as the sun began to set over the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi for the only twilight grand prix of the season, there were still plenty of good battles in the field to watch out for.

Red Bull may be top of the teams once again, but behind them the battle for second place in the contructors’ championship is still on. It’s a closely-run race between Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus, and all three teams and their six drivers are going all out to try and earn their teams the prestige – and hefty cash reward – that comes with being the best of the rest.

Lotus’ hopes took a major battering after their highest placed driver Kimi Raikkonen, who’d qualified in fifth, was given a penalty and forced to start from the back of the grid. His car failed a floor deflection test, hence the demotion to the back row. But fans were still excited to see what he could do as he came through the field.

As it turned out, Raikkonen’s race was to be brought to a premature end on the opening lap, as starting from the back of the grid rather than the pit lane turned out to be a disastrous choice.

He had a clash with one of the Caterhams on the opening lap, forcing him off the track and into the gravel trap. It was the first time he’d gone out of a race during the first lap since the US GP in 2006.

At the front, Webber had beaten his team mate to pole position, but knew he’d have a big job on his hands to get ahead of Vettel off the line. And sure enough, when the lights went out, Webber was swamped by the cars around him.

Vettel straight away took the lead with the Mercedes of Rosberg in second, pushing Webber down to third. Hamilton had also had a relatively lousy start by his own standards, dropping down to sixth place behind Grosjean and Hulkenberg.

He managed to repass Hulkenberg by the end of the first lap to retake fifth, but it was definitely further back than the Brit was hoping to be at this point in the race.

Button was also involved in a first-lap clash after he ran into the back of Di Resta, causing front wing damage on the McLaren. Button pitted at the end of the first lap for a tyre change and new front wing, leaving him at the back of the field – and with a lot of work to do if he was to stand a chance of scoring any points this afternoon.

Alonso had endured a poor qualifying session, failing to make it through to Q3, and only ending up in the top 10 thanks to Raikkonen’s disqualification. He made up two places on the opening lap, tucking him up behind his team mate Massa, who was running in seventh position. And as the afternoon started to unfold, it became clear that Ferrari would need to try a radical strategy to get their drivers up onto the podium.

As the drivers completed the second lap, Vettel had already pulled out a 2.4 second lead as DRS was enabled, leaving it unlikely that anyone could even catch him this afternoon, let alone pass him.

Hamilton was the first of the front runners to come in for a stop at the end of lap seven – it appeared the soft tyres had given up a lot sooner than the strategists had anticipated. And his stop was about to trigger more movement at the front.

It had become clear that Webber was holding Grosjean up in third place. It was thought that Grosjean could make his tyres last longer than any of the other front runners, but he needed to get a move on if he was to make his strategy work. And the fact that he was stuck behind Webber was costing him dearly.

Hamilton’s early pit stop meant that Webber and Grosjean needed to cover him off – so both came in for their first stops at the end of lap eight. And sure enough they came back out in front of Hamilton, with Webber retaining his lead over Grosjean.

It didn’t take long for all three to cruise up behind the Sauber of Gutierrez, who was yet to make a pit stop. Webber and Grosjean quickly dispatched him – but try as he might, Hamilton just didn’t have the speed to get past.

Soon his engineer came over the radio, telling him to either overtake or drop back to save tyres. But with no way past, Hamilton was forced to do the latter, as he watched his rivals scamper away ahead of him.

Vettel finally pitted from the lead at the end of lap 15. But he now had a 24 second lead over second place Massa, so could easily stop for fresh rubber and still come back out in the lead.

Further back, the Hamilton/Gutierrez battle became even juicier as Hulkenberg cruised up to the back of the Mercedes, leaving Sauber with a dilemma. Could they risk holding up Hulkenberg as well as Hamilton by keeping Gutierrez out on track?

Of course not – so Sauber brought Gutierrez in for his first stop at the end of the lap, releasing both Hamilton and Hulkenberg to race once again.

Meanwhile, Ferrari brought Massa in for his first stop at the end of lap 18, hoping they’d stayed out long enough to make up some places. Although Hamilton had undoubtedly lost a lot of time behind Gutierrez, it hadn’t held him up long enough for Massa to leap frog him, and he came out behind the Merc in eighth place.

Out in front, Di Resta was running in second position, having not stopped for fresh tyres yet. Behind him, Webber put a successful overtake on Rosberg for third position – so when Di Resta came in at the end of the 21st lap for tyres, Webber happily took second place back with Rosberg in third.

Lap 26 saw Hamilton try to overtake Sutil ¬– who hadn’t yet pitted – in the first DRS zone. But Sutil was quick to take the place back in the second DRS zone – and behind them, Massa saw a chance to take sixth place from Hamilton, taking the Brit completely by surprise.

Hamilton later complained that he had no grip on his car, which would explain his overall lack of pace compared to his team mate during the afternoon.

The next lap saw Massa take fifth place from Sutil. Behind him, his team mate Alonso was making hay too, overtaking Hulkenberg for eighth place, with just Hamilton and Sutil standing between him and Massa now.

Hamilton finally made the move stick on Sutil on lap 28, having learnt from his previous mistake. Sutil had used up all his KERS anyway, so was powerless to come back at Hamilton, who was now elevated up into sixth place.

Hulkenberg and Perez both pitted at the end of lap 28. But the German was released right into the path of the McLaren, and the pair almost touched – leading to an investigation into an unsafe release for Sauber.

Just five laps later Hulkenberg was given the news that he’d been given a drive-through penalty, ruining any chance he had of scoring points this afternoon.

Back out on track, and Alonso finally made a move on the Force India of Sutil, who was dropping down the pack, still on the set of tyres that he qualified on. With his rubber clearly giving up on him, Sutil came in for his first stop at the end of the same lap.

He rejoined in the throngs of a battle between Perez and Maldonado, and found himself fighting with them for track position. As they battled, Sutil was forced wide off the track, joining back in front of both the McLaren and Williams.

The stewards clearly thought he’s gained an advantage by leaving the track, and investigated him just a few laps later. However, no action was taken on this occasion, much to Sutil’s relief.

Having made it up to sixth place, Hamilton pitted for his second stop on lap 30, coming back out in 10th place. His team mate Rosberg would stop a lap later, with Webber coming in too to cover him off – but they held position as Webber came out back ahead of Rosberg again.

Vettel was still 30 seconds ahead of Webber in second, and it looked as though nobody was going to do anything to spoil the four-times world champion’s party this afternoon. He pitted at the end of lap 37, easily coming back out in front of second place Webber once again.

Grosjean pitted on the same lap, and it was nip and tuck whether he’d make it out in front of the Ferraris. He came out a fraction in front of Massa, leaving Alonso tucked up right behind his team mate. But on fresher tyres, Grosjean soon went scampering away.

Massa pitted at the end of lap 38, putting paid to any hopes of him one stopping, and releasing Alonso to make up some lost time. It was a slow stop for Massa, allowing his team mate to gain more time out on the track.

With Alonso staying out and seemingly one-stopping, it begged the question – was Massa’s stop just a ploy to get him out of Alonso’s way?

Massa came out behind Hamilton, and the two were soon embroiled in a battle with Vergne out in front of them. Hamilton quickly managed to pass, but Massa struggled to make any of his own moves stick.

Meanwhile, Alosno pitted at the end of lap 44, bringing him out ahead of the Vergne and Massa battle. Alonso was forced wide to get ahead of the Toro Rosso as he exited the pits, once again prompting an investigation about whether or not he’d adhered to the track limits. However, on this occasion the stewards decided they’d investigate the incident properly once the race had finished.

Further back, and Perez made a move on Vergne up into 10th place, giving him the opportunity to land the final championship point. But Maldonado was hungry for a point as well – especially given that the Williams team have only scored one point so far this season, and just one extra would double their tally.

It wasn’t to be for Maldonado, though, and he’d end up finishing the race just shy of a point in 11th place, while Perez managed to haul his way up into ninth to score two vial championship points for McLaren.

Further forward, Di Resta was running well in fifth position, having one-stopped. He had Hamilton and Alonso closing in on him quickly though, and had a battle on his hands to keep them at bay.

Alonso was desperate to overtake Hamilton, and made the pass for sixth on lap 51 – with Di Resta and fifth place now in his sights. He overtook him the following lap, cementing a great drive following his lacklustre performance in qualifying yesterday.

Vettel was still out front of course, but approaching a pack of backmarkers. He was given a stern warning by his engineer Rocky to take care as he overtook them – but that didn’t stop him from putting in a new fastest lap!

In the end (as predicted by the bwin f1 odds) nothing could stop Vettel from winning his seventh race in a row, and Webber followed him home for yet another Red Bull 1-2, with Rosberg completing the podium line up in third. By Sarah Ellis

Provisional race results:

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
2 Mark Webber Red Bull
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
6 Paul Di Resta Force India
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari
9. Sergio Perez McLaren
10. Adrian Sutil Force India
11. Pastor Maldonado Williams
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber
15 Valtteri Bottas Williams
16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso
17 Jean Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
18 Giedo Van Der Garde Caterham
19 Charles Pic Caterham
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia
21 Max Chilton Marussia
DNF Kimi Raikkonen Lotus



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