In a private moment played out amid the very public euphoria in the McLaren camp in Abu Dhabi's twilight yesterday, Lewis Hamilton's mother Carmen stood momentarily alone, wiping away her tears. Birthday presents come no better than the one that her son had just given her, after scoring a totally dominant – and much-needed – victory in the penultimate grand prix of his punishing season. Her tears were not for herself but because she was overjoyed that the tide of misfortune had so dramatically turned for her boy.
"He so deserved this," she said quietly, and even Fernando Alonso, the only man capable of keeping Hamilton honest over the 55 laps after polesitter Sebastian Vettel had made a rare and spectacular exit on only the second corner of the opening lap, agreed that the McLaren man had been in complete control.
Vettel vaulted into the lead from his Nigel Mansell-equalling 14th pole position of the season. But by the second corner the unthinkable happened. Vettel's Red Bull suddenly twitched into a spin, its right rear Pirelli tyre somehow peeled from the wheel rim.
"I saw immediately that something had happened to Seb's tyre and made sure I wasn't there to be collected if he came back on the track," Hamilton said. The world champion was done for the day, however, limping back to the pits where damage was sufficiently serious to make him the first retirement.
After that Hamilton, so often pilloried for his incidents with Felipe Massa and, of late, overshadowed by super-smooth team-mate Jenson Button, simply stamped his authority on the race. Alonso slipped ahead of Mark Webber round the outside of turn one, made another place when Vettel disappeared and then slipstreamed past Button on the opening lap.
That set the scene for a mano-a-mano contest between the two drivers who had had such a volatile relationship at McLaren in 2007. Hamilton quickly opened a gap, then Alonso would chip away at it. They each made their first pit stop on the 16th lap, whereupon Hamilton opened a bigger lead until the Spaniard ran two laps longer before stopping for his second tyre change on the 43rd. That was the most dangerous point for McLaren, but the intervention ahead of Alonso of Daniel Ricciardo's HRT as the Spaniard pitted did not help his cause, and by the time he rejoined Hamilton was back in front.
"We knew we might be able to overtake McLaren in that stop," Alonso said. "Or that it could be very close, but even with the HRT being in front of me going into the pits, my pace on the medium-compound tyres would have made it difficult to stay in front of Lewis. Maybe we lost the opportunity to be close, but I don't think we lost the victory there."
With Button hampered by intermittent operation of his KERS system, leaving him continually to reset it, and Webber delayed in his first stop, Hamilton sped to what he described as one of his best victories, his only worry the erratic behaviour of some back markers.
"I feel fantastic," he said, his old smile back after all the months of angst. "I was looking after the tyres, managing the gap and the team did a fantastic job in the pit stops. It's very rare to get the opportunity to control a race, but we had the pace and were able to put the laps in and keep the gap the same or pull more out. At one stage Fernando was pulling the gap, after starting slower than me in each stint, but nonetheless I'm very happy how it went. I'm ecstatic and happy to be back here. I can get my flight tonight and smile."
His triumph makes it three-all in the victory stakes with Button, even if he cannot now beat the latter to second place overall. "It's one of my best races in terms of my own performance," added Hamilton. "I didn't make any mistakes, and after the things that have been going on, the pressure I've been under, all the doubt that surrounded me, I feel proud to come out on top. And it being my Mum's birthday makes it even better."
Abu Dhabi details
FIA Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, UAE
1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1hr 37min 11.886sec
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:37:20.343
3 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:37:37.767
4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:37:47.670
5 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:38:02.464
6 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:38:04.203
7 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:38:27.850
8 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:38:29.008
9 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:38:52.973
10 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 lap
11 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari at 1 lap; 12 R Barrichello (Br) Williams at 1 lap; 13 V Petrov (Rus) Renault at 1 lap; 14 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams at 1 lap; 15 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso at 1 lap; 16 B Senna (Br) Renault at 1 lap; 17 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 at 1 lap; 18 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 2 laps; 19 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 2 laps; 20 V Liuzzi (It) HRT-F1 at 2 laps. Not classified: 21 D Ricciardo (Aus) HRT-F1 48 laps completed; 22 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 19 Laps completed; 23 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing 18 laps completed; 24 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1 lap completed.
World Championship Standings
1 Vettel 374pts
2 Button 255
3 Alonso 245
4 Webber 233
5 Hamilton 227
6 Massa 108
7 Rosberg 83
8 Schumacher 76
9 Petrov 36
10 N Heidfeld (Ger) Renault 34
11 Sutil 34; 12 Kobayash 28; 13 Alguersuari 26; 14 Di Resta23; 15 Buemi 15; 16 Perez 14; 17 Barrichello 4; 18 Senna 2; 19 Maldonado 1; 20 P de la Rosa 0; 21 Trulli 0; 22 Kovalainen 0; 23 Liuzzi 0; 24 D'Ambrosio 0; 25 Glock 0; 26 Ricciardo 0; 27 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F1 0; 28 K Chandhok (India) Lotus F1 0.
1 Red Bull 607pts
2 McLaren 482
3 Ferrari 353
4 Mercedes GP 159; 5 Renault 72; 6 Force India 57; 7 Sauber-Ferrari 42; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 41; 9 Williams 5; 10 Lotus F1 0; 11 HRT-F1 0; 12 Virgin Racing 0.