Sebastian Vettel led home a Red Bull 1-2 as the new Yas Marina circuit served up a contest every bit as dull as the billion-dollar venue was sparkling.
Only a late duel between Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber and new world champion Jenson Button, in which the Australian successfully held off the faster Brawn GP driver, provided any sort of interest during a race that was otherwise utterly devoid of tension.
Button said: “To be on the podium for the last race of the year is fantastic. The last few laps were really exciting and I was giving everything to take second place from Mark.
“I couldn’t quite make the moves stick as he’s a very difficult guy to overtake but it was a good clean fight and we were really on the edge. I’m a little bit disappointed not to get second but it’s still great to finish on the podium.”
Vettel’s win, combined with a fourth place for Rubens Barrichello, meant the German finished runner-up in the drivers’ championship while his team won the final three races of the season.
Polesitter Lewis Hamilton suffered brake problems almost from the start of the race and failed to build the early lead that had been widely expected. He was overtaken by Vettel during the pitstops and retired from the race shortly afterwards.
Hamilton said: “I had a good start, but I realised early on that something wasn’t right with the brakes. After three or four laps, it became clear that there was a problem with my right-rear brake pad, so I couldn’t open up the gap back to Sebastian and Mark.
“When the problem got worse, the team radioed me and told me to stop at the end of the lap. However, I think we can be really proud of our efforts: who’d have thought we’d finish third in the constructors’ championship at the start of this season?”
None of the McLaren or Ferrari drivers finished in the top eight, which meant the Woking team edged the constructors’ battle between the two teams by a single point, the score unchanged from before the weekend.
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said: “Ferrari are always formidable opponents for us and the fact that we beat them to third place is of course a matter of pride to us. I want to pay tribute to all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes for the superhuman efforts they all made in achieving that milestone.
“The team has worked tremendously hard all year to improve MP4-24, which started the year as one of the slower cars but ended it with two fine wins and a string of impressive points-scoring finishes.”
He said work on next year’s car was going well: “It’s already quicker than MP4-24 – and there’s every reason for us to be confident that we’ll be able to continue to develop and improve it significantly between now and the beginning of the 2010 season.”
The unexpected star of the race was Toyota rookie Kamui Kobayashi, who made a one-stop strategy work to great effect by taking sixth place, behind Nick Heidfeld, despite only qualifying 12th. Team-mate Jarno Trulli finished in seventh and Sebastien Buemi eighth.
The start of the race had seen Hamilton maintain his lead, while Vettel forced Webber wide. As the Australian recovered he caught Barrichello’s front wing, sending a rain of carbon fibre over the following Button.
Barrichello slowed enough to let Button past as he got used to the new handling of his car but, apart from that, the start saw very little change in the order. Heikki Kovalainen, out of place in 18th after a penalty for a gearbox change, regained the five paces he’d been docked, but Kimi Raikkonen lost out to Kobayashi and was unable to make his usual KERS-powered leap in position.
From there on, Hamilton’s brake problems let Vettel keep him in sight, Webber hung on to Vettel, and Button put some clear air between himself and Barrichello as the field settled down to await the two-stoppers’ first visit to the pits.
The ominous-looking underground pit exit proved not to be problematic, and the sole moment of drama during the stops came when Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersauri came in with a developing gearbox failure.
He pulled up in the middle of the only waiting pit crew in Red Bull-branded uniforms – only to find they were Vettel’s team. He was swiftly shooed out onto the circuit again, where he retired without completing another lap.
Moments later, Red Bull successfully sent Vettel back out into the lead of the race and soon afterwards his victory was guaranteed when Hamilton retired.
When Kobayashi took his only pitstop he was on schedule to challenge Button for third, but he found the second stint on soft tyres heavier going and dropped back. Despite this, he did finish as the top one-stopper.
Robert Kubica, seeking to finish the season in the points for the out-going BMW team, spun when attempting to take eighth from Buemi and was passed by Nico Rosberg. The pair finished ninth and 10th, ahead of the one-stopping, KERS-assisted Kovalainen and Raikkonen.
The close of the race was enlivened by Button finding some more speed in his Brawn GP car, knocking almost a second a lap out of the Red Bulls ahead of him. Vettel was safely up the road, but Webber fell into his clutches.
It took until the very last lap before he was close enough to launch an attempt at passing, and he forced the Red Bull driver onto the defensive for almost the whole circuit. But Webber picked his line well, defended stoutly, and hung onto second place.
Button said: “We expected the prime tyre to be the better tyre in the race but I was struggling for balance especially as the track temperatures started to fall and it became more difficult to get heat into the front tyres. The car felt great when we switched to the soft tyre for the final stint. It really felt transformed and suddenly I had a great front end and could carry more speed into the corners.
“I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone at the team in Brackley and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines. It really has been a fantastic year and they should all be very proud of what we have achieved together. It’s nice to end the year on a high after what has been a very competitive and challenging season.”
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix finishing positions
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull
- Mark Webber, Red Bull
- Jenson Button, Brawn
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso
- Nico Rosberg, Williams
- Robert Kubica, BMW
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams
- Fernando Alonso, Renault
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari
- Adrian Sutil, Force India
- Romain Grosjean, Renault
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso
Drivers’ championship final standings
- Jenson Button, 95
- Sebastian Vettel, 84
- Rubens Barrichello, 77
- Mark Webber, 69.5
- Lewis Hamilton, 49
- Kimi Raikkonen, 48
- Nico Rosberg, 34.5
- Jarno Trulli, 32.5
- Fernando Alonso, 26
- Timo Glock, 24
- Felipe Massa, 22
- Heikki Kovalainen, 22
- Nick Heidfeld, 19
- Robert Kubica, 17
- Giancarlo Fisichella, 8
- Sebastien Buemi, 6
- Adrian Sutil, 5
- Kamui Kobayashi, 3
- Sebastien Bourdais, 2
- Kazuki Nakajima, 0
- Nelson Piquet Jnr, 0
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, 0
- Romain Grosjean, 0
- Jaime Alguersuari, 0
- Luca Badoer, 0
Constructors’ championship final standings
- Brawn, 172
- Red Bull, 153.5
- McLaren, 71
- Ferrari, 70
- Toyota, 59.5
- BMW, 36
- Williams, 34.5
- Renault, 26
- Force India, 13
- Toro Rosso, 8