ABU DHABI: McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton won the floodlit Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday after Red Bull’s double Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel suffered his first race retirement in more than a year.
Hamilton, celebrating the third win of a troubled season for the 2008 champion, enjoyed a clean race to take the chequered flag 8.4 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with McLaren team-mate Jenson Button a distant third.
“Mega job, mega job guys — as usual,” whooped Hamilton over the team radio, dedicating the victory to his watching mother Carmen as a birthday present.
Vettel, who has already clinched this year’s title, was pitched off by a puncture at turn two of the opening lap after making a clean start from his record-equalling 14th pole of the season.
The 24-year-old German managed to nurse his Red Bull back to the garage on three tyres and a rim but he was forced to retire once mechanics had surveyed the damage.
The retirement ended Vettel’s hopes of matching Michael Schumacher’s record of 13 wins in a single season as well as a hat-trick of Abu Dhabi wins. He currently has 11 wins from 2011 with only the Brazilian Grand Prix remaining.
It also ended a run of seven podiums and 19 successive points finishes stretching back to last season.
While Vettel was left as a spectator on an evening without a Red Bull driver on the podium for the first time this year, Hamilton drove a controlled and self-assured race that lap by lap lifted his spirits as day turned to night.
While Alonso led for a couple of laps before his final stop, the Spaniard came out of the pits 4.4 seconds behind the McLaren.
There was no doubting Hamilton’s happiness as he gave Alonso, his former team mate and foe who had sung his praises earlier in the weekend, a friendly hug on the podium and waved to the crowd as Button doused him with fizzy rosewater.
“I’m ecstatic, very happy to be back up here,” he told reporters of his return to the top of the podium after a series of crashes and controversies. “It’s early days yet but this is definitely a start of something hopefully very good.”
Button’s third place, secured on the penultimate lap when Red Bull’s Mark Webber had to pit for a mandatory switch to hard tyres, ended a difficult afternoon for the 2009 champion whose KERS system failed early on.
It also meant Hamilton will finish the season behind a team mate for the first time in his single-seater career.
However, the 26-year-old can still hope to end the year with more victories than fellow Briton Button, who has also won three and held on to second place overall in the championship from Alonso.