Fernando Alonso took a extraordinary victory at the European Grand Prix as the Valencia street circuit finally provided a thrilling and impulsive race.
Alonso finished 6.4s clear of Kimi Raikkonen in second as tyre management became critical towards the end of the race and Lewis Hamilton, who had been running second but struggling with degradation, was taken out by Pastor Maldonado on the penultimate lap. Michael Schumacher inherited third - and the first podium since his return to F1 racing - ahead of Mark Webber, who came through went from 19th on the grid to fourth.
For the first 28 laps of the race it looked like Sebastian Vettel would win with ease, but a safety car period eliminated his early lead and then his chances evaporated completely with a consistency problem. Romain Grosjean was also in contention until a faulty alternator brought him to a halt on lap 40 as he closed on Alonso for the lead.
The surprise finish also provided a good points haul for Force India, with Nico Hulkenberg finishing fifth and Paul di Resta seventh, split by the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in sixth. Jenson Button struggled to eighth position in front of Sergio Perez and the recovering Maldonado in the final two points-paying positions.
At the start the race looked as though it would take a familiar path with Vettel streaking away into a 20-second lead as he chased his third uninterrupted victory at the street circuit. But the first sign he wouldn't have it all his own way came on lap 27 as Jean-Eric Vergne mysteriously veered into the Caterham of Heikki Kovalainen, causing both cars to suffer punctures. The resulting rubber and debris brought out the safety car, and in the push of a button in race control Vettel's lead over Grosjean was abridged to nothing.
At the restart Alonso moved past Grosjean for second and he didn't have to wait long for a clear track to materialize ahead of him as Vettel's Red Bull came to a halt in the third sector of the lap. From that moment the race was all about tyre management, with the lead drivers all taking on a new set of tyres under the safety car and then faced with the confront of making them last to the end.
The Lotus of Grosjean looked best equipped for the task, but on lap 40 it dropped off the back of the Ferrari and eventually came to a halt on the straight following the swing bridge. That promoted Hamilton to second, but he had to manage his charge in the knowledge that Raikkonen was looming behind. In the end the McLaren proved hardest on its tyres and Raikkonen pounced, finding a way past under traction out of turn 17.
By that point Alonso's race was safe and the focus switched to Maldonado who was closing fast on Hamilton. After Raikkonen's easy pass it seemed predictable that the Williams would follow, but Hamilton was not going to grant the position easily. With just one and half laps remaining, Maldonado tried to find a way past Hamilton on the outside of turn 12, but he couldn't make it stick and found himself marooned on the kerbs on the inside of turn 13. As he rejoined the track he broadsided Hamilton in what was an unnecessarily-clumsy collision that pitched Hamilton into the barriers. Maldonado limped to the finish minus a front wing but was given a 20-second post-race penalty, demoting him to 12th and handing tenth to his team-mate Bruno Senna. The impact allowed Schumacher to finish on the podium for the first time since 2006 as he kept out of problem to come through from 12th on the gird.
With his two closest championship rivals failing to finish, Alonso now leads the drivers' title chase by 20 points from Webber. Hamilton is now 23 points off the Ferrari driver with Vettel 26 adrift.