Lewis Hamilton reclaimed the top step of the F1 podium in style as he took full advantage of a rare retirement for Sebastian Vettel to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Briton started alongside the world champion after missing out on pole position in qualifying and had slotted in behind the fleeing German when a right rear puncture sent the Red Bull pirouetting off the circuit at turn two.
It appears that putting the wheel over the far edge of the kerb was to blame for the deflation, but needing to drive the entire circuit before returning to the pits effectively ended Vettel's race as the flailing rubber damaged the rear of the RB7 beyond repair. Remarkably, it was Vettel's first DNF of the season, his first since Korea last year, and only the second for Red Bull as a team in 2011 following Mark Webber's self-induced exit at Monza, but it opened the door for a different face out front.
Hamilton needed no second bidding to seize the initiative, pulling an immediate gap over his pursuers, who spent the opening lap squabbling amongst themselves. The other McLaren of Jenson Button had initially held third, but was quickly passed for what became second by a fast-starting Fernando Alonso, who had already dispensed with Mark Webber. Felipe Massa slotted into fourth, ahead of the two Mercedes, who uncomfortably close - for the second year in succession - on the run to the first chicane.
Once the DRS systems were activated, Button - with Alonso out of reach - also came under pressure from Webber, but the double zone, situated so close together on Yas Marina's two longest straights, allowed the Briton to come straight back at his rival. Although Button then appeared to pull out of Webber's reach, the pair were back together for a second bite eight laps later, with wheels banging before Webber clobbered the inside kerb and ran wide, allowing Button to reclaim third once more. The Briton, however, was wounded, and any thought of launching a mid-race push to catch the leaders largely evaporated along with his McLaren's KERS.
If Webber had any thought of capitalising, however, that disappeared at the first round of pit-stops. Massa began the rush for tyres on lap 15th, with the top three coming in next time around. Webber ran another lap longer, but a sticky right rear cost him nearly six seconds to those around him and dropped the Australian behind Massa.
Approaching mid-distance, Hamilton held a 3.6secs advantage over Alonso, who was hanging with the McLaren despite not being able to show anything like comparable pace through practice and qualifying. The Spaniard was, in turn, comfortably ahead of Button, with Massa able to run ahead of Webber, Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta who, unlike the majority, started on the harder prime tyre and made it last through to lap 27, having kept his slower machine ahead of faster rivals for much of the opening period.
Further back, Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez were hovering just outside the top ten despite having made early stops to rid themselves of the medium compound, while Heikki Kovalainen had his Lotus up into the top 15, just ahead of the recovering Williams duo who had been forced to start from the very back after engine and penalty woes respectively.
Webber was unable to make DRS work for him when he caught Massa either, and the Red Bull team opted to try an alternative strategy, fitting another set of softs to the Australian's car when he made his second stop. The trade-off for better pace, however, was the need to make a third stop late in the race to complete the mandatory run on both supplied compounds.