Lewis Hamilton picked up his third race win of 2011 by leading from the second corner at Yas Marina, mainly thanks to pole sitter and Abu Dhabi specialist Sebastian Vettel picking up a puncture a few hundred metres into the race. Fernando Alonso took second, while Jenson Button took third despite being harried by Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, and suffering a KERS failure.
The race would be defined by the start. Vettel led into Turn 1 comfortably, bridging a gap to Hamilton that seemed imperious. Running wide into the corner though meant running over the kerbs, which led to what Red Bull described as an “instant failure” of the right rear tyre, pitching the young German into a spin. He would eventually retire thanks to suspension damage caused by the flailing rubber.
With the champ out of the picture, it was down to Mark Webber to uphold Red Bull honour. This was hampered by Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari, who nipped up the inside of him in Turn 1, and the Spaniard then came out on top after jostling with Jenson Button for 2nd place too. The Spaniard then started to fall behind Hamilton as the Brit got into his rythm.
The rest of the race turned into several games of cat-and-mouse in the top 5 positions during both rounds of pitstops. The gap between the leading Ferrari and McLaren would lengthen and shorten throughout the race, but try as Alonso might he couldn’t make up the time necessary to leapfrog the McLaren in the pits and ultimately had to settle for second place.
It was more of a tough afternoon for Jenson in the other McLaren. His KERS system failed after 13 laps, meaning he had to fend off both Webber and a resurgent Felipe Massa for most of the race distance. The double DRS areas – touted for improving overtaking after lack of it in 2010 – proved to hinder the chasing duo rather than help them. Indeed, Webber was past Button twice before the DRS worked against him. Not even a change in pitstop strategy for the Aussie – switching to a three stopper to make some time back after a slow first stop – could move him in front in the chase for 3rd. A last lap stop for the prime tyre moved him back to an eventual 4th place.
Massa finished 5th in the end, a lapse in concentration resulting in a spin that removed him from the equation for the final podium spot. Nico Rosberg survived a brief foray off the track at Turn 1 to finish 6th, aggressively passing and finishing ahead of Michael Schumacher and cement his points advantage over his more experienced teammate.
The rest of the top ten were as they started, all moving up a place thanks to Vettel’s retirement. The battle for position in the constructors championship saw Force India take home some solid points, with Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta finishing 8th and 9th respectively. Sauber picked up a solitary point for 10th place with Kamui Kobayashi, narrowly beating teammate Sergio Perez. Toro Rosso, although fast on the straights here at Abu Dhabi and feeling confident of a strong result, failed to score.