The headaches of a Formula One season must at times feel overwhelming for drivers, especially when the wins seem to be more elusive than ever. But victory has the ability to wash much of the concern away, and, to some degree, Lewis Hamilton must have felt relief when he crossed the line first after the sun had set in Abu Dhabi.
The victory was set up by mere bad luck for pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, who -- for once this season -- looked mortal. Mere moments into the event, Vettel suffered a tire puncture and slid off the circuit, ending his race after just a lap. Hamilton then vaulted into the lead and rarely relinquished it, putting on a true show in F1's penultimate event. It ended a seven-race winless streak for Hamilton, the second-longest in-season streak of his career, and it gave McLaren a sixth win of the season, one more than last year's total.
It also gave the team at least a moment of bragging rights over its rivals. Since 2007, Hamilton's first year in the sport, McLaren has 27 victories, one more than Red Bull in that same span.
With Jenson Button finishing third, McLaren received a significant boost as F1 begins to wind down for the year. And although Red Bull has been dominant in 2011, McLaren has certainly had a respectable season, as well. Button and Hamilton have combined for 17 podium finishes, the team's highest output since 2007, when its stable boasted Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
Alonso finished a distant second Sunday but was consistent throughout the race. A relatively slow final pit stop was his ultimate undoing, as he spent nearly two full seconds more on pit road than Hamilton did on his last stop of the evening.
A two-stop strategy was the order of the day, and it left the pits relatively quiet, with only 42 total stops. It was the fewest stops since Monza, and it marked the fourth consecutive race in which total stops have decreased, beginning with Singapore.
As for Vettel, the retirement provides a lone blemish on his otherwise incredible 2011 season. It was his first such result in more than a year, and it broke a streak of 19 straight races finishing with points. With one race still to go this season, he has another chance at adding to his accolades, and a 12th win would put him one shy of the single-season record. As to where he'll land on the list of the most dominant seasons, that's certainly up for debate, but no doubt he's in the discussion. In the meantime, Hamilton's win only furthers the argument that fans could be in for many future years of legendary battles.
Abu Dhabi was not kind to all competitors, one being Toro Rosso, but the team's poor result belies its strong season. A distant ninth in the constructors' championship in 2010, the Ferrari-powered outfit has tallied more than three times as many points this season and has earned 15 more points than Renault over the past six events.
The squad stuck with Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi for this season, and the two have truly improved. Alguersuari has flourished the most, earning points in seven of the past 12 races. In fact, his 26-point tally since Canada matches that of Force India's Adrian Sutil. He's ending the season on a very positive note, and it might do wonders to help continue his F1 career.