Suddenly, though, the Renault engine in the back of Vettel's RB6 began to sound sick and Alonso swept past into the lead, with tell-tale smoke signs shortly afterwards leading to an eruption from the V8 – and with it, the loss of what had appeared to be a certain race victory for the luckless 23-year-old, having put not so much as a foot out-of-place. Red Bull's predilection for self-destruction in F1 2010 had suddenly struck again, and the title chase had been turned right on its head once more – and it was falling right into Alonso's lap.
Sutil's scrap with the Saubers came to a perhaps predictable conclusion as the German lost it as he endeavoured to take Kobayashi on the outside, side-swiping his opponent as they duelled over ninth place, scattering debris across the track once more.
As the laps – and the clock – ticked down and darkness fell, new race leader Alonso began to edge away from Hamilton as the positions looked settled, but there was heartbreak for Williams' Nico Hülkenberg who was forced to sacrifice an excellent sixth place with a late-race tyre change, the rubber on his FW32 worn down to next-to-nothing as team-mate Barrichello similarly started to suffer and fall back.
Further back, Button's slim chances of points ended with a pirouette just three laps from home, but out front Alonso was pressing on, lapping comfortably clear of anybody else in the race as he dropped Hamilton like a stone, the McLaren star like his team-mate visibly struggling.
For Ferrari's talisman, however, there was no such drama, as the Oviedo native motored serenely on to take the chequered flag for his third victory in four races to claim the world championship lead for the first time since the Bahrain curtain-raiser, whilst Hamilton kept his own title bid alive with the runner-up laurels. Massa came home to take a deserved podium in third, as Schumacher matched his best finish of the campaign behind his former team-mate in fourth.
Following an unusually quiet and somewhat nondescript race, Kubica took advantage of others' late tyre woes to move up to fifth from towards the foot of the top ten, as Vitantonio Liuzzi scored a vital result for Force India with sixth place, passing the fading Barrichello, who clung onto seventh, with Sauber pairing Kobayashi and Heidfeld winding up eighth and ninth and the unfortunate Hülkenberg recovering to tenth.
Behind the young German, the sole-surviving Scuderia Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari ended up just outside the points in eleventh, ahead of Button – whose challenge for the crown, although still mathematically possible, is surely now over – and new team runners Kovalainen, Senna and Sakon Yamamoto.
To see the race result in full, click here