Sebastian Vettel overturned a fifteen point deficit to Fernando Alonso to become the youngest ever Formula One World Champion, taking victory at the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Alonso only needed a fourth-place finish to become champion, but finished seventh after his Ferrari team pitted him early, and he then spent much of the race stuck behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
The two McLaren drivers joined Vettel on the podium as Lewis Hamilton claimed second ahead Jenson Button.
Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov all prevented Alonso from taking a third world title as they finished fourth, fifth and sixth in Abu Dhabi.
The other championship contender, Mark Webber, also took an early pit stop, and finished the race in eighth, just behind Alonso. Jaime Alguersuari and Felipe Massa rounded off the top ten.
You could cut the tension with a knife as the mechanics cleared the track ready for the formation lap in Abu Dhabi. Championship leader Fernando Alonso was sitting third on the grid – the man supposedly with the least to do today. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton sat first and second, just aiming for the best result possible, allowing events behind them to take their course. Mark Webber was the man with the most to do. He started fifth, and needed to get ahead of Alonso if he was to have a chance of the title.
Jenson Button, starting from fourth, got off the line well, overtaking Alonso. Behind him though, there was very light contact between the two Mercedes drivers, and Michael Schumacher was sent into a spin.
Most of the field managed to avoid the stricken German, who was stuck facing the oncoming traffic, waiting for an opportunity to turn around and continue. However, Tonio Liuzzi couldn't avoid him, and climbed up over the nose of the Mercedes, and narrowly missing the seven-time world champion's head. Fortunately both drivers climbed out of the car ok, but the incident meant that the safety car was deployed early in the race.
Some runners took this opportunity to make an early pitstop as the safety car emerged, including Nico Rosberg, but none of the championship contenders decided to change their tyres.
The race got back underway at the end of Lap 5, but there were no changes of position at the front on the restart. With the safety car out of the way, Vettel started to put in a series of fastest laps, a gradual began to pull out a lead over the rest of the field.
Webber made an early stop on Lap 12 for a new rubber, after complaining that the grip on his rear tyres had gone. This dropped the Australian down into sixteenth place, behind some of the drivers' who had already made a visit to the pits. In the lead up to his stop, the Red Bull driver had also made contact with the trackside Armco, banging his rear wheel into the metal barriers.
On Lap 14, Massa, who had been sitting behind Webber, made his pit stop. He emerged behind the title contender. Webber got past the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari and went on to set a new fastest lap of the race. Whilst this was going on, Hamilton had cruised up to the back of leader Vettel.
Alonso came in for his pit stop as Lap 16 began, pitting from fourth. The Spaniard got out just ahead of Webber. The top two in the title standings before this race began were now circulating in twelfth and thirteenth.
Vettel and Hamilton didn't follow suit, choosing to remain out on their super-soft tyres. Rosberg was an important factor in this decision. He didn't need to stop again, and was in front of Alonso. The two leaders didn't want to pit and end up behind the German, but by Lap 20 they both had a big enough margin over Rosberg to make a stop and come out of the pits in front.
Vitaly Petrov – who also made an early stop – was holding Alonso and Webber behind him nicely. Alonso had a go at the Renault driver on Lap 24, and went off track.
Hamilton pitted at this point, taking on the harder tyre. He emerged fifth behind the Renault of Robert Kubica – who was still yet to stop. Vettel made his the next time round.
Vettel came out in second, and now had Kamui Kobayashi and Kubica between him and Hamilton. In fact, those drivers were fighting amongst themselves – with Kubica taking third from the Japanese driver whilst this was going on.
Jenson Button, who was in temporary lead of the grand prix, set a fastest lap. The Brit was looking to stay ahead of Hamilton when he made his pit stop. Hamilton had other ideas though – overtaking Kobayashi to take fourth.
At half distance, the destination of the championship title was far from clear. Vettel was second, awaiting Button's pit stop so he could retake the lead of the grand prix. Alonso and Webber were eleventh and twelfth, over half a minute behind race leader Button. Hamilton was sitting fourth, being held up by Kubica. Both Petrov and Rosberg were ahead of Alonso and, crucially, had already made their mandatory pit stops. If Alonso was going to get the fourth place that he would need if Vettel won the race, he would need to pass both of these drivers on track.
As the race continued, the two Renault drivers were still playing a big part in the championship battle. Kubica remained ahead of Hamilton, and Petrov was still keeping Alonso at bay.
Jenson Button finally made his pit stop at the end of Lap 39, handing the race lead back to Vettel. Button's extended stay on super-soft tyre didn't let him leapfrog Hamilton, and the Brit emerged in fourth place.
Thirteen laps from the end Vettel reported a problem with his radio, but was well on course to become the youngest ever Formula 1 world champion. Alonso was down in eighth – and only two of the cars in front of the Spaniard had yet to make a stop. In fact, Kubica now had enough of a gap over Alonso to emerge from his pit stop – when he eventually made it – in front of the Spaniard.
Kubica finally made his pit stop – from second place – at the end of Lap 47. After a slightly messy pit exit, the Pole emerged back on to the track ahead of teammate Petrov – who was still holding Alonso at bay.
A stop for Adrain Sutil the next time round meant that the whole field had made their mandatory pit stops. Vettel led with Hamilton second and Button third. Rosberg had the fourth place that Alonso so desperately needed, but the two Renault drivers were holding Alonso down in seventh. Mark Webber was still directly behind him.
And there it remained until the end of the race. With ten pole positions, and five victories, Sebastian Vettel took the championship by four points. Alonso and Ferrari were undone by an early safety car, a badly timed pit stop, and a lack of pace in Abu Dhabi.