You have to love Kimi Raikkonen. In the age of the politically correct race driver, the plain-speaking Finn brushed aside questions about his emotional feelings after holding off Fernando Alonso in a spectacular Abu Dhabi Grand Prix today to score a brilliant win in his comeback season.
"I don't feel a lot," said The Iceman, in that inimitable staccato speech pattern. "The last time everyone gave me s**t because I didn't smile enough. But I'm very happy for the team and myself, but mainly for the team."
When his engineers had attempted to inform him of progress over the radio, he had come over all Garbo and retorted: "Just leave me alone!" Later, he added: "It's not as if I'm stupid. I can remember what to do." Conventional, he isn't.
The key to Lotus's long overdue 2012 victory came first when he beat Mark Webber and Pastor Maldonado away from the start line, and slotted in behind runaway early leader Lewis Hamilton. And then when the latter's McLaren quit on the 20th lap.
"I'm gutted," Hamilton said. "I feel certain we could have won today. Everything was going really well and the car was a dream to drive. I was cruising and still pulling away when I had a fuel pressure problem. It was very sudden, and the car just died on me."
At that point, it seemed that Raikkonen had it made and that victory - his 19th - was a done deal. But this was the most spectacular race in Abu Dhabi's brief history.
First there was the huge shunt on the ninth lap when Nico Rosberg careered over the top of Narain Karthikeyan's HRT, which was experiencing steering hydraulic problems. Rosberg's Mercedes landed on its wheels, but it took a while to clear the debris.
Hamilton dealt easily with the safety car intervention, and soon pulled away again when the track went green on the 15th lap. But once he'd retired, Raikkonen controlled the race even when Fernando Alonso's pressure on Maldonado resulted in the Spaniard passing the Venezuelan on the 21st lap. At that stage, the Ferrari lacked the pace to challenge the Lotus, and Alonso was busy responding to attacks from Webber and Jenson Button.
Then it went wrong for Webber on the 23rd lap when he was involved in an incident when trying to pass Maldonado. That saw the Red Bull half spin and lose places to Button, Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez. Three laps later, the Australian had an incident with Massa, which saw the Brazilian spin.
By the time the pit stops had been made, between the 27th and 31st laps, Raikkonen faced a new threat and was only 1.4 sec clear of Sebastian Vettel, who had been forced to start from the pit lane after his Red Bull was deemed to have had insufficient fuel in its tank after qualifying third. The world champion was blending superb, relentless driving with excellent strategy. He didn't make much progress in the opening laps, after suffering front-wing damage after a brush with Romain Grosjean, then suffered further damage when he had to avoid hard-braking Red Bull stablemate Daniel Ricciardo while running under the safety car and hit a DRS signal board. An early pit stop on the 13th lap dropped him to the tail of the field again, but he worked his way back up as others made their stops, and now the question was whether his tyres could go the whole distance as Alonso and Button battled in his wake.
The answer was negative, but a beautifully timed second stop on the 37th lap saw him take a set of fresh tyres and drop only to fourth, crucially keeping ahead of a frenetic battle between Grosjean, Paul di Resta, a recovering Perez and Webber.
At that stage, he was almost 30 seconds adrift of Raikkonen, but when Perez tried to go around both di Resta and Grosjean on the 38th lap, he triggered a second safety car intervention as Grosjean spun and Webber, left with nowhere to go, crashed into him.
As the wreckage was cleared away, and Perez was given a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, Vettel benefited massively and closed to within 3.3 sec of the leader. Alonso and Button were still between him and Raikkonen, however, and now he was riding his luck.
At the same time, Alonso launched a concerted challenge for victory with a flurry of fastest laps which reduced the gap to Raikkonen from 3.2 sec on the 46th lap to 0.8 sec by the finish. Meanwhile, Vettel finally squeezed ahead of Button with three laps to go, and began to eat into the two leaders' advantage, but he was still 3.3 sec behind when the flag fell.
"I'm very happy," Alonso said after taking three crucial points back from Vettel in the race for the title. "We were not super-competitive this weekend, but I had some good overtakings, and good strategy let us fight until the end for victory. Second place, after starting sixth, was the maximum we could have done."
"I thought I could do this," Vettel said of his podium finish, "but in the first couple of laps it was messy and the target was drifting away. After the problems with the front wing, it was full attack or nothing.
"It was a fantastic race, helped a little by the second safety car, and I had a really nice fight with Jenson. He was very difficult to pass, but very fair, and I just squeezed my way past into Turn 11. For me it was a thrilling grand prix, up and down all the time."
Abu Dhabi: results and standings
FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina Circuit
1 K Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1hr 45min 58.667secs
2 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:45:59.519
3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:46:02.830
4 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:46:06.454
5 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:46:11.674
6 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber-Ferrari 1:46:18.743
7 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:46:21.563
8 B Senna (Br) Williams 1:46:22.209
9 P di Resta (GB) Force India 1:46:22.827
10 D Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:46:26.130
11 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:46:26.742,
12 J-E Vergne (Fr) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:46:33.573
13 H Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:46:46.431
14 T Glock (Ger) Marussia 1:46:55.140
15 S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:46:55.435
16 V Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:47:03.262
17 P de la Rosa (Sp) HRT-F1 1:47:10.445
Not Classified: 18 C Pic (Fr) Marussia 41 Laps completed
19 R Grosjean (Fr) Lotus F1 Team 37 Laps completed
20 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 37 Laps completed
21 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 19 Laps completed
22 N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-F 1 7 Laps completed
23 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 7 Laps completed
24 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 0 Laps completed
1 S Vettel (Ger) 255pts
2 F Alonso (Sp) 245
3 K Raikkonen (Fin) 198
4 M Webber (Aus) 167
5 L Hamilton (GB) 165
6 J Button (GB) 153
7 F Massa (Br) 95
8 N Rosberg (Ger) 93
9 R Grosjean (Fr) 90
10 S Perez (Mex) 66
11 K Kobayashi (Japan) 58
12 N Hulkenberg (Ger) 49
13 P di Resta (GB) 46
14 P Maldonado (Ven) 43
15 M Schumacher (Ger) 43
16 B Senna (Br) 30
17 J-E Vergne (Fr) 12
18 D Ricciardo (Aus) 10
19 T Glock (Ger) 0
20 H Kovalainen (Fin) 0
21 V Petrov (Rus) 0
22 J d’Ambrosio (Bel) 0
23 C Pic (Fr) 0
24 N Karthikeyan (India) 0
25 P de la Rosa (Sp) 0
1 Red Bull 422pts
2 Ferrari 340
3 McLaren 318
4 Lotus F1 Team 288
5 Mercedes GP 136
6 Sauber-Ferrari 124
7 Force India 95
8 Williams 73
9 Scuderia Toro Rosso 22
10 Marussia 0
11 Caterham 0
12 HRT-F1 0