Raikkonen finally came in on lap 32, Lotus having timed his visit to pit lane to ensure he had just enough of an edge over Vettel to retain the lead when he came back on the track. In any case, there was no chance of Vettel making it all the way to the finish on the set of tyres he'd been given on lap 10, and he was in for a fresh set on lap 38 - expertly timed by the team to put him back out in fourth place safely in front of a gaggle of combative cars consisting of Romain Grosjean, Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez and Mark Webber.
That would not have been a safe place for Vettel to have had to contend with, as events the following lap proved: di Resta got the better of Grosjean for fifth place, and then it was Perez' turn to pass the Lotus and to quickly line up a move on the Force India. That did not go so well, and Perez ended up running wide, then making contact with Grosjean as he tried to come back on track. Webber then ran right into the danger zone and sustained rear wheel damage from the spinning Lotus for his pains.
With Webber and Grosjean too seriously damaged to continue, race control had no option but to deploy a second safety car. Di Resta was able to limp back to pit lane for repairs, while Sergio Perez was assigned the blame for sparking the whole mess and handed a ten second stop-go penalty by the race stewards.
As the drivers prepared for the restart on lap 43 with 12 laps to go to the finish, it was Kimi Raikkonen still in front with Alonso, Button and Vettel in close pursuit. Maldonado was in fifth place ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, followed by Felipe Massa, Bruno Senna and Jean-Eric Vergne with Paul di Resta now claiming the last point in tenth place after a wild, topsy-turvy day of it.
Snapping at his checklist-reading race engineer that he knew what to do to prepare for the restart, Raikkonen proved the point by having no problem pulling away at a brisk clip ahead of Alonso. The man most under pressure was Jenson Button in third place, who had Sebastian Vettel all over the back of his car as the track went green again. Button was initially able to frustrate Vettel's efforts and it appeared that Vettel might have to put discretion ahead of foolhardiness: but that's not the world champion's nature - and on lap 53 he kicked in the DRS as the two cars ran into turn 11 and pulled off a gutsy move on the McLaren to claim third place.
That put him right behind Alonso, making it a dream recovery from his qualifying disaster for Vettel, and thoroughly well-deserved and hard-earned. Up the road, Alonso could do nothing about Kimi Raikkonen to do anything about eking out a few extra championship points and had to settle for second place. That meant that Vettel retained the lead of the world championship by 10pts over Alonso, despite the handicap of starting from the back. Alonso would surely have been hoping for more in the circumstances, while Vettel's beaming smile spoke volumes about his own pure joy in the outcome of the evening's race.
And then there was the small matter of the winner of the race: the eighth different Grand Prix winner of 2012, with Kimi Raikkonen picking up his 19th Grand Prix win, his first since Spa in 2009 and the first since his return to F1 after a two-year sabbatical. And it was also first win for Lotus F1, who looked thoroughly dazed by the turn of events that they had been striving for all season long and which seemed to be slipping away from them this season.
He might have benefited from electrical heartbreak for Lewis Hamilton's McLaren to give him the lead in the first place, but there was no question about how Raikkonen had seized his opportunity and wrung every ounce of success out of it. A peerless performance, topping a worthy podium of world champions.