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Vettel defies Abu Dhabi odds to retain lead in F1 title race

November 4, 2012 -- Updated 1902 GMT (0302 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kimi Raikkonen wins Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but Sebastian Vettel retains overall lead
  • Vettel finishes third despite starting the race from pit lane due to qualifying infringement
  • His main title rival Fernando Alonso cuts the gap to 10 points by finishing second
  • Vettel's Red Bull team must wait to clinch manufacturers' title after Mark Webber does not finish

(CNN) -- Sebastian Vettel's run of four successive victories ended on Sunday, but the German's remarkable drive in Abu Dhabi kept him in pole position to become Formula One's youngest triple world champion.

After being disqualified from Saturday's qualifying due to a technical infringement, the Red Bull star was allowed to start from the pit lane -- but still managed to finish third after one of the most chaotic races this season.

His heroic showing overshadowed Kimi Raikkonen's first victory since 2009, and ended the Finn's slim hopes of a second world title ahead of the final two races.

Vettel's lead was cut by three points to 10 as main rival Fernando Alonso finished second for Ferrari, and the Spaniard said he was happy after improving from sixth on the starting grid.

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"We were not super competitive this weekend. We had to fight through the laps, then we had a good strategy that gave us a chance for the victory, but second was the maximum," Alonso said.

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Australian Grand Prix: March 18, Melbourne<br/><br/>2012 champion: Jenson Button, McLaren Australian Grand Prix: March 18, Melbourne

2012 champion: Jenson Button, McLaren
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The top three benefited by the withdrawal of Lewis Hamilton, who seemed set for his first victory since Monza in September as he raced clear.

However, the 2008 world champion suffered yet another mechanical problem as his McLaren developed fuel pressure problems -- it was the second time in five races the Englishman has retired while leading.

"I'm gutted. I feel certain we could have won," said Hamilton, who will switch to the Mercedes team next year.

"I was just entering a corner and the car just died on me. I was cruising and still pulling away when I had my problem."

Vettel's hopes seemed bleak early in the race after he twice made contact with other cars and suffered minor damage -- but that was nothing compared to the scrapes in which his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was involved.

The safety car was called out twice, which worked in Vettel's favor, and Webber failed to finish after tangles with Williams' Pastor Maldonado and Ferrari's Felipe Massa and then a terminal shunt from Sauber's Sergio Perez which also took out Lotus' Romain Grosjean.

"The second safety car helped, then I had a nice fight with Jenson (Button). It was a thrilling grand prix, up and down all the time," said Vettel, who won in Abu Dhabi in 2009-10 but retired last year with his second world title already in the bag.

"There are still two races to go. We saw how things can change yesterday. There was a chance we could screw it up, but we didn't do that."

Webber's DNF meant that Red Bull will have to wait another race before clinching a third successive manufacturers' title -- holding a lead of 82 points over Ferrari with 86 still on offer.

Red Bull's Mark Webber is one of the biggest names in Formula One. The Australian has vast experience on the grid but the origins of his motorsport career lie in go-karts. Red Bull's Mark Webber is one of the biggest names in Formula One. The Australian has vast experience on the grid but the origins of his motorsport career lie in go-karts.
In focus
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Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi (white shirt) is the focus of constant media and public scrutiny as the 26-year-old walks in the paddock of the Suzuka circuit on Saturday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix. Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi (white shirt) is the focus of constant media and public scrutiny as the 26-year-old walks in the paddock of the Suzuka circuit on Saturday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix.
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Gold medal hero
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Jenson Button helped McLaren stay third as he finished fourth ahead of Maldonado, while Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi improved his hopes of another season at Sauber by placing sixth.

Massa, who has had his Ferrari contract extended by another year, was seventh ahead of Bruno Senna -- who gave Williams a second driver in the top 10 despite an early collision with Sauber-bound Nico Hulkenberg.

Force India's Paul di Resta was ninth after his teammate Hulkenberg's early exit while Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo -- who earned Vettel's anger after causing him front-wing damage -- was 10th.

Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, delivered Lotus' first victory this season as he continued a consistent return to F1 that has put him third in the overall standings -- but now 57 points behind Vettel with only 50 points available.

"It's been a hard season, not an easy time, but hopefully this gives us more belief," said Raikkonen, who will stay at Lotus for the second year of his contract.

"I hope this can turn the tables and give us many more wins, if not this year then for next year."

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