Lewis Hamilton came to China with one hand on the crown but left with a narrow points lead after he made his only real error of the season, throwing the championship race wide open.
He walked into controversy as soon as he entered the paddock on Thursday with the news that the stewards were investigating his conduct in the previous Japanese Grand Prix and were looking to see if he were to blame for an accident between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber behind the safety car. It was hardly the way Hamilton wanted his weekend to begin.
Hamilton led from pole with Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari chasing him. Hamilton retained the lead on the first round of pit stops but then rain fell and Raikkonen ate into Hamilton's advantage. The Ferrari was kinder to its tyres than the McLaren and it showed as Raikkonen slashed over two-and-a-half seconds of Hamilton's lead in a lap.
On lap 28 Raikkonen moved into the lead and Hamilton fell away but didn't pit until lap 31. By that stage his tyres were useless and as he peeled into the pit lane, he slid into a gravel trap and ended his race. "It was like driving on ice," bemoaned Hamilton. "The tyres were finished."
His retirement left Raikkonen in the lead with Alonso second throwing a lifeline to both drivers' championship hopes. Raikkonen's win was the 200th for Ferrari. In the title race Hamilton led Alonso by four points, who in turn was three clear of Raikkonen.
Felipe Massa's Ferrari was third and Vettel atoned for his Japanese disaster by bagging fourth place from Jenson Button (Honda). Tonio Liuzzi gave the Toro Rosso team plenty to celebrate, taking sixth place to bag the team a total of eight points, their highest ever points haul.