Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi GP to silence critics

BY foxsports • November 16, 2011

At times this season, Lewis Hamilton has been little more than a distraction at Formula One races, colliding with fellow drivers, ranting against race stewards and, most recently, breaking up with his pop singer girlfriend.

But on Sunday, the 26-year-old McLaren driver got back to doing what he does best.

He won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a mistake-free race that harked back to the masterly driving he displayed during his run to the 2008 championship. There was a sense from the Hamilton camp that this victory could carry over to the season-ending race in Brazil and improve his chances of ending second in the drivers' championship. Sebastian Vettel of Germany wrapped the title up more than a month ago at the Japanese Grand Prix.

''When I was doing the lap on the way in, I was thinking that this was definitely one of my best, just in terms of my own performance, not making mistakes,'' Hamilton said. ''I don't feel I've made a single mistake in the race and with the things that have gone on, with the pressure I've been under and the with the doubt that has surrounded me, I felt just massively proud to have put that kind of performance together and come out on top.''

It didn't hurt that Vettel surprised the crowd by retiring on the first lap at the Yas Marina Circuit - his first retirement since 2010 and a development that was almost as stunning as watching Usain Bolt in August being disqualified from the 100 at the world championships for a false start.

Vettel started on pole and seized the lead heading into Turn 1 with many cheering what they hoped would be his third win in a row in Abu Dhabi. But the Red Bull driver picked up a right rear puncture and spun off into the gravel at Turn Two. The German driver made it back to the pits but the damage was too great for him to continue and he retired for the first time since the Korean Grand Prix in 2010.

''I had a good start and I was very happy with the car up until that point,'' Vettel said. ''To lose the race there, it hurts for sure.''

Vettel's early departure ended his bid to tie Michael Schumacher's record of 13 victories in a season. Vettel did, however, tie Nigel Mansell's record of 14 poles in a season in Abu Dhabi.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner grimaced and looked away from the television monitor as Vettel crashed out. Afterward, he had no explanation for the sudden failure of Vettel's tire.

''Sebastian made a perfect start and had a clear lead into the first corner and then an instantaneous loss of pressure in the tire made him a complete passenger,'' Horner said.

Pirelli, which this season replaced Bridgestone as the tire supplier for Formula One races, said it would investigate.

Hamilton took over the lead after Vettel's mishap and finished 8.4 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso for his third win of the season. Hamilton's teammate, Jenson Button, was third, followed by Red Bull's Mark Webber. The results left the race for second up for grabs, with Button on 255 points, followed by Alonso with 245, Webber with 233 and Hamilton with an outside chance at 227.

''Mega job - mega job, guys - as usual,'' Hamilton said over the team radio as he crossed the finish line. ''I want to dedicate this win to my mum. Happy birthday and thanks for coming out here.''

Hamilton did a brief jig on his car in front of the crowd before jumping over a barrier and hugging his mother in the stands. ''It's my mum's birthday this weekend and it is great to be able to win while she's here,'' he said.

Alonso briefly took the lead when Hamilton pitted with 14 laps to go, but Hamilton regained first place three laps later when Alonso pitted. The Spaniard never posed a threat after that.

''I had a very good start and the first lap fighting with Jenson,'' Alonso said. ''Then we found ourselves second and we were 3 to 5 seconds behind Lewis. In the last stop we were 2 seconds later than the McLarens. But there was a bit of traffic and I'm not sure that even with the faster stop we could have overtaken.''

Despite Vettel's retirement, Red Bull was on course to secure a podium finish with Webber holding on to third place coming into the final lap. But the Australian had yet to make his obligatory pit stop for the harder tires, which handed third to Button and ended a streak of 19 races that Red Bull had finished on the podium.

It was a solid return to form for Hamilton, who earlier in the week had described his season until now as ''a couple of so-so races but the rest have been fairly disappointing.''

Though he has won twice, Hamilton's season has been defined by his mistakes, including several penalties that forced him down the grid and a running feud with Felipe Massa after crashing into the Ferrari driver in three of the past four races.

Much of his troubles, Hamilton said, were due to the lack of a support system. Last year, Hamilton dropped his father Anthony Hamilton as manager and he confirmed last month that he had broken up with Nicole Scherzinger, a member of The Pussycat Dolls.

Hamilton was beaming after Sunday's race and he acknowledged he was ''clearer in my mind'' and I've had less weighing on me'' as he clocked the fastest times in the second and third practice sessions. The McLaren driver cautiously said the win Sunday could be the beginning of a new chapter.

''I don't know. It's early days yet but this is definitely the start of something hopefully very good,'' Hamilton said. ''We've got another great race ahead of us in Brazil and I have just got to put my focus on that and try to keep up the momentum. But you know how it goes. Anything can happen.''


Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mcasey1

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