Vettel, who started from the pit lane, now leads Alonso by 10 points with two races remaining. They are the only drivers still in contention for the title. The victory was the first of Raikkonen's comeback season and first since the 2007 world champion won in Belgium with Ferrari in 2009. It was also the first win since 1987 by a car racing under the Lotus name.
It was exhilarating stuff throughout the 55 laps, from the first corner, through two safety car sessions, to the end. Messages to Raikkonen during the race were met with dismissive comments so typical of the Finn as at one stage he said: “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Following his 19th career win, asked as to how he felt at triumphing in a race again, the ‘Iceman’ simply said: “Not much really.” Pressed for a response from David Coulthard, Raikkonen added: “I’m very happy for the team. It’s been a hard season, not an easy time, but hopefully this gives us more belief.
“I hope this can turn the tables and give us many more wins, if not this year then for next year.”
Team principal Eric Boullier said after last Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix that he felt the elusive win for his team would have to wait until next year. But seven days later Boullier was ecstatic as he said: “Oh my God! Those last few laps were the longest of my life.
“This means a lot. It’s the reward for everybody at Enstone after a tough three years. I am very happy for everybody at the factory. We missed out at the start of the season, which was frustrating, so I’m relieved for everybody.”
Alonso was content with second, despite the proximity of Vettel, and said: “I’m very happy. We were not super competitive this weekend. We had to fight through the laps, then we had a good strategy that gave us a chance for the victory, but second was the maximum.”
Vettel, who swore twice during his questioning, was initially asked whether he believed he could be on the podium after starting from the pitlane.
With a smile, he replied: “Yes, I did to be honest with you. After the first couple of laps the target was drifting. I had a messy start and damaged the front wing. During the first safety car there was a big mistake from Daniel (Ricciardo), but after that it was either full attack or nothing.
“The second safety car helped, then I had a nice fight with Jenson. It was a thrilling grand prix, up and down all the time.”
Asked about being so close to now winning his third world title, he said: “There are still two races to go. We saw how things can change yesterday (when he was penalised for a fuel irregularity). There was a chance we could screw it up, but we didn’t do that.”