ABU DHABI // British driver Lewis Hamilton raced to victory in the third Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix yesterday - and immediately made the win a birthday present to his mother Carmen.
"I want to dedicate this one to my mum on her birthday and it is great having her here this weekend. Thanks for coming out here," he said over the McLaren team radio after taking the chequered flag at the floodlit Yas Marina circuit.
Hamilton has endured a troubled season this year with several collisions on track in his McLaren-Mercedes and a number of issues at play in his private life.
Yesterday, however, starting from second position, he benefited when the only man ahead of him, the German driver Sebastian Vettel, suffered a punctured rear tyre on the first corner and barely made it to the second before being forced out of the race.
Having inherited the lead, the Briton refused to relinquish it as he claimed his 17th career win and his first in Abu Dhabi.
"Into the closing laps I found myself beginning to think about victory," he said. "But I didn't want to do that really, so I kept saying to myself, 'Don't even go there'.
"It worked. I stopped my mind from wandering and I didn't allow myself to think about the win until I'd crossed the line. To be able to walk away with a smile feels just fantastic; victory is good for the soul."
Among those cheering him home from the pit walls were Rory McIlroy, the world’s No2 golfer, and his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the No1 ranked tennis player.
The Brazilian footballer Ronaldo, the Manchester City defender Gael Clichy and several other English Premier League players were also among the 50,000 thrilled spectators.
Race fans had been flocking to the track since early yesterday afternoon.
“I got here to soak up the atmosphere and see the support races,” said Alistair Henson, a business consultant visiting from the UK.
“The welcome we got at the airport, the hotel, and at the track was just amazing. We feel really welcome. They told me to come back again next year, and I think I will.”
By mid afternoon car parks filled up around the track and months of planning were finally coming to fruition. Throngs of fans filled the buses that looped Yas Marina Circuit with a heavy police presence directing traffic around the island.
“I want to see Vettel win again,” said Martin Keiber from Germany. The 33-year-old, who was wearing the famous navy Red BullTeam shirt, said he had been a fan of Vettel’s driving since he started in F1.
“It is a great place to come and see an F1 race. It looked very good on television last year and I thought I would like to visit the track. Everything has run smoothly around the island and I don’t have much to recommend to improve on,” said the flight mechanic.
It was the first grand prix for Abu Dhabi residents Anthony McMillan and Kate Merrick. “It’s noisy,” said Ms Merrick. The 32-year-old school teacher said it was well organised and everything went smoothly. Mr McMillan, who has been to F1 races at Silverstone in the UK, was impressed with the facilities and the track.
Boyco Manchev came from Bulgaria to see the McLaren Team victorious. “We are touring around the UAE and this is all very good,” said the 33-year-old.
Simon Harvey flew in from Belfast, Northern Ireland to experience his first grand prix. “It’s everything I expected,” he said.
Merchandise stalls before the race were busy selling team shirts and hats. Vettel’s shirts and hats were still in stock afterwards, with Hamilton’s shirts in high demand. Ferrari was also in demand despite fewer of the famous red shirts visible in the stands than in previous years.
Sherry Lee, 32, bought one for her younger brother in the UK. “He’s a massive fan and his birthday is next week, but finding Fernando Alonso to sign it might be a bit too much to hope for,” she said.