There was even greater late-race drama, though, when Massa spun on the entry to the tunnel as he chased Fisichella. As the Ferrari rejoined, an unsighted Sutil in the sister Force India was caught off-guard and planted his VJM01 in the tyre barriers – bringing out the safety car for the second time with ten laps to the flag, and eradicating Alonso's 18.5-second lead in one fell swoop.
As the safety car returned to the pit-lane, nine laps remained to run – and Hamilton knew he had been given a second chance. Alonso scampered away as Rosberg concentrated on fending off his former karting sparring partner, and further back the second Williams of Nakajima was crawling all over Coulthard for the final points-paying position.
Alonso, though, was not messing about, as he sensed his first grand prix victory in more than a year, pulling out an incredible 3.7 seconds over Rosberg in one lap alone, with Hamilton a further 1.2 seconds in arrears. The Spaniard's advantage was more than six seconds a lap later still, with only five tours now remaining…
As Hamilton continued to pile the pressure on Rosberg, Raikkonen was doing likewise to Glock, but with just four laps left the Finn completed Maranello's day of abject misery, as he slid his F2008 into the wall and threw away four points – handing McLaren the advantage in the constructors' title chase, making it four races in a row now in which he has failed to score and finally and irrevocably bringing the curtain down on his faint hopes of retaining his hard-won 2007 crown.
That error promoted Vettel to fifth place and Heidfeld to sixth, with Coulthard seventh and Nakajima into the points in eighth, as Button and the lacklustre Kovalainen completed the top ten.
As the field headed into the last lap, Hamilton looked to have settled for third and a seven-point advantage over Massa in the championship standings – meaning he can now afford to finish second to his Ferrari rival in each of the final three grands prix of the campaign and still be crowned – but all eyes were on Alonso, who completed the drive of a true champion to secure a totally unexpected triumph twelve months on from his last win in the top flight at Monza in 2007.
Behind the man from Oviedo, Rosberg came home for a superb runner-up spot, ahead of damage limitation expert Hamilton, Glock, Vettel, Heidfeld, Coulthard and Nakajima, with Button, Kovalainen, Kubica, Bourdais, Massa and Fisichella rounding out the finishers at the end of 61 thrilling laps.
Massa, indeed, crossed the line an unlucky 13th – perhaps apt in a race of such ill-fortune for the Brazilian – having lapped ten seconds off the pace on the final tour as Ferrari had to swallow the bitter pill of their first non-score of the season.
The driver they were all talking about once the chequered flag had dropped, though, was Alonso, who had declared the grand prix 'lost' following his qualifying disaster only to reap good luck in the race in much the same way as he had been dealt bad luck the previous day.
Punching the air in pure delight and doubtless a touch of disbelief on his slowing-down lap, the result was a fitting reward for a team that has suffered, as the 2008 campaign has progressed, more than its fair share of heartbreak.