Before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012 the stage was set for an exciting, unpredictable race with a potentially dramatic effect on the drivers' championship. Few people could imagine just how wild, epic, even historic the race would turn out to be.
Kimi Raikkonen drove from fourth place on the grid to victory 55 laps later, for the 19th win of his career and the first since his return from retirement after two years away from the series.
It was also the first victory for his team under its new name - Lotus. But the Raikkonen and Lotus story was only a sideshow in a race that became all about the two drivers who lead the drivers' championship: Fernando Alonso, who finished second for Ferrari, and Sebastian Vettel, who finished third for Red Bull.
Raikkonen may have won the race, but he was simultaneously knocked out of contention for the title. The Finnish driver won the world title for Ferrari in 2007, but he was then in third, 57 points behind the leader, Vettel. Raikkonen would finish the season in third, two races later. There were only a combined maximum of 50 points remaining to the winner in the two remaining races of the season.
Before the race, five drivers could have still won the title mathematically, but now only two can: Vettel, who leads with 255 points, and Alonso, who is second with 245 points.
The race-day drama began when Vettel was disqualified from qualifying on Saturday and was forced to start the race from the pit lane, effectively in last place, instead of the second place he had earned. He was disqualified for not having the mandatory one-liter sample of fuel left in his car's gas tank at the end of qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, who was also still in the running for the drivers' title, had scored the pole position. Mark Webber, in the other Red Bull, started second, Pastor Maldonado of the Williams team, started third, Raikkonen started fourth, Jenson Button in the other McLaren started fifth and Alonso started sixth.
Webber made a terrible start, and Raikkonen leapt from fourth to second, Maldonado was third and Alonso passed Button to slot into fourth. Hamilton sped off in the lead. For the first 20 laps it looked as if he would cruise to victory.
But he suddenly pulled off the track and had to retire.
''I'm gutted; I'd had really good pace all weekend and I feel certain we could have won today,'' Hamilton said. ''I had a fuel-pressure problem -- it was very sudden, I was just entering a corner and the car just died on me.''
From there, Raikkonen took the lead and never let it go.
At that point, Alonso and Vettel, who had seemed out of contention for any points, became the focus. As the sun began to set on Formula 1's only twilight race on the ninth lap, an enormous accident spread debris across the track and required the safety car to neutralize the race while the mess was cleaned up.
Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes team had plowed into the back of the HRT car of Narain Karthikeyan and then flown over its cockpit. Although it appeared as if Rosberg was at fault, Karthikeyan had braked abruptly.
''Narain told me that his steering broke and he needed to brake, which I didn't expect in that high-speed corner,'' Rosberg said. ''There was no time for me to react, and I'm very thankful that we are both fine.''
By then, Vettel was already in 12th position, and only two spots away from scoring a point. But as the racing cars followed more slowly behind the safety car, Daniel Ricciardo in a Toro Rosso suddenly put his brakes on just ahead of Vettel.
Vettel had to swerve off to the side of the track to avoid him, but he struck a trackside sign and damaged the front wing of his car. He had to make a pit stop to change the wing, and once again he was in last place.
After five laps behind the safety car, the race restarted, and again Vettel began his ferocious climb up the pack. Again it had seemed impossible that he could score points.
But by Lap 32, after the leaders had made their pit stops, Vettel was in second position and only 1.4 seconds behind Raikkonen. Alonso was third, 5.9 seconds behind Vettel. Button was fourth, just 0.9 seconds behind Alonso.
On Lap 37, Vettel made another pit stop for a tire change just as Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race. Again it looked as if Vettel was finished.
But he returned to the track in fourth position, behind Button, with Alonso in second. Still, Vettel was 14.4 seconds behind Button, and 29.8 seconds behind Raikkonen.
Then, on Lap 39, two of three drivers fighting for fifth position collided and that led to another one colliding with them from behind. This knocked Romain Grosjean, in the other Lotus, and Mark Webber, in the other Red Bull, out of the race.
Again the safety car was called in to permit track marshals to clean up the debris, but giving Vettel another chance to gain position, as the cars bunched up behind the safety car.
When the race picked up again with 13 laps left, it came down to a couple of duels: Alonso against Raikkonen for the lead, and Vettel against Button for third.
In gripping action, Vettel managed to pass the McLaren driver with just three laps left, but Alonso never could get by Raikkonen.
''I pushed 150-percent for eight laps to catch Kimi but it was never enough to be close,'' said Alonso, before adding of the title race: ''I am confident. We will fight until the end.''
Vettel, for his part, said that despite starting at the back of the pack he always believed he could finish on the podium. He then conceded how difficult the task had been: ''Usually it is hard enough to fight your way once through the field, but we did it twice today,'' he said.
Raikkonen's victory was also the first for a team named Lotus since Ayrton Senna won for the Lotus team in 1987 at the U.S. Grand Prix. The original team closed down in 1994 before being revived in 2010 by a different group, and then, after a long battle in the courts, the former Renault team took over the name this year.