Lewis Hamilton put some of his demons to rest with his third victory of the season Sunday. While it was not one of his bravura charges that makes Lewis Hamilton one of the most compelling figures in Formula One, the McLaren driver’s controlled win in Abu Dhabi was a display of race management and careful tire maintenance for which the ’08 World Champion is not particularly renowned. Oh, and Seb Vettel’s pole-sitting Red Bull — blasting away yet another record with his 17th front-row start of the 2011 season — suffered a race-ending suspension failure, caused by a rear tire puncture, on the first lap.
This article titled “Lewis Hamilton wins Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel retires” was written by Paul Weaver in Abu Dhabi, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th November 2011 10.13 America/New_York
Lewis Hamilton’s language sometimes contains such hyperbole that some of his statements need to be taken in conjunction with the nearest available salt mine.
So when he described his victory here on Sunday as one of his best, it was greeted with the same expressions of incredulity that had met his observation, a few hours earlier, that the Yas Marina is the best circuit in the world.
In fact this bland construction, with no high testosterone corners and too little overtaking – only partly addressed by the introduction of DRS this year – is nothing of the sort, whatever the opulence of its setting. But in at least one sense Hamilton’s description of his drive was apt for, while it was not one of the bravura charges that makes him the most compelling figure in his sport, it was a display of controlled intelligence and careful tyre maintenance for which he is not particularly renowned.
The sight of Fernando Alonso in one’s rear-view is perhaps the most terrifying in the sport but Hamilton maintained the gap between himself and the Spaniard with a cool ruthlessness for his third victory of the season and the 17th of his career.
The fact that he did so at a time when there has been so much speculation about the state of his troubled mind that some people must be surprised when he takes to the track in a racing car, as opposed to a jet-propelled psychiatrist’s couch, is another cause of wonder.
It was a very fine drive, if not quite one of his most exhilarating, and afterwards he dedicated it to his mother, Carmen, who came to Abu Dhabi to watch her son and celebrate her birthday at the same time. “I might start coming to a few more,” she said afterwards, with a smile. Her last attendance was at Silverstone in July.
It was, in essence, Hamilton’s race to lose after the favourite, Sebastian Vettel – who had won the previous two races here and was favourite again from pole – suffered a puncture early on the first lap. Vettel, the only driver to have completed the previous 17 races, spun out with a right rear puncture as he came out of Turn One, a fast left?hander, and approached Turn Two. But this was more than a puncture. With wheel and wishbone damage he was out of the race, his first non-finish since Korea last year. In Formula One’s solitary twilight race the lights had dimmed quickly for the double world champion.
Hamilton, after his first win in eight races, said: “It’s great to be able to win while my mother is here. I feel fantastic. It’s one of my best races, I said to myself as I slowed down.”
Along with the usual show of elation there was an expression of deep relief on his features. He needed this victory badly. So did McLaren, who have won too few times (six) this year under the onslaught from Red Bull.
Hamilton said: “This result is just fantastic. I’m usually my own biggest critic – I’m always hard on myself when I make mistakes – but I really felt like I maximised everything today. To be able to sustain that kind of pace, under constant pressure, and not make mistakes is really satisfying.”
With reference to his many frustrations this season, which have included run-ins with stewards and no less than six incidents involving Felipe Massa, he said: “It is early days yet but this is definitely the start of something hopefully very good. 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 the momentum, but you know how it goes. Anything can happen. I have just got to keep my mind on the game.”
His first win since July overshadowed the fact that for the first time he will finish behind his McLaren team-mate in the world championship. Jenson Button, by coming third, is the leading Woking-based driver this year, whatever happens in Brazil in two weeks’ time. Button’s drive was all the more commendable because he had to fend off Mark Webber for much of the race with his Kers system down.
Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principal, said: “Lewis drove an utterly faultless race, taking the lead at the second corner and controlling the gap back to Fernando with consummate skill over the remaining 54 laps. To put it simply, he was brilliant. But Jenson, too, drove an excellent race without Kers. We tried to reset it and fire it up again and then it failed again. He lost Kers within the first 10 laps and had a spell of 20 laps without it at all and then it went on and off four or five times after that. So he was massively impressive today.”
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