Lewis Hamilton boosted his championship chances with a fighting second place but his McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, saw his fade away after a disastrous Korean Grand Prix, while the Red Bull racers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were also left to count the cost of failing to finish.
"It was very tricky out there, particularly at the end," Hamilton said after a superb fighting drive won him second place. "It was pitch-black, I couldn't see much and my tyres were finished. It was a big surprise to see both Red Bulls go out. Fernando drove really well but I'm very happy to have scored some points after a couple of disappointing races."
The McLaren lacked Ferrari's ultimate pace, however. "I was losing a lot of time to Fernando, particularly in the final sector. But we've got two races ahead of us, more coming for the car, and the guys back at the factory are doing a great job. The championship definitely isn't out of reach – we can still do this."
Although things went Hamilton's way, they definitely didn't go Button's. His first tyre stop fell at the wrong time. He came into the pits on lap 28, whereas Hamilton and Felipe Massa waited until lap 31, when they were called in under the safety car after Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi had taken out Timo Glock's Virgin. Alonso and Vettel did likewise, a lap later. While they all regained their positions Button had slumped from sixth to 15th and was never able to recover after Adrian Sutil pushed him off the road on the 36th lap; he then struggled while running behind the Saubers and Jamie Alguersuari's Toro Rosso.
"I just didn't have enough grip today," the outgoing world champion said. "I was really struggling with locking fronts as soon as I touched the brakes; every time I braked for a corner, I went straight on.."
Button was one of several drivers who thought the race should have been flagged sooner, as visibility became a serious issue. "In my view, for sure, it was way too dark to race a Formula One car in the conditions we witnessed at the end of the afternoon."
Reflecting on his chances of retaining his crown, he added: "To win this championship, I'll now have to rely on the cars in front of me failing, so today was a pretty disappointing day."
If it was tough on Button, it was disastrous for both Webber and Vettel.
"It was totally my fault, I got on the kerb on the exit of Turn 12 and it was a very slow-motion moment off the back of that kerb – it was my mistake and it wasn't my day," Webber said of his crash.
"This is not a nice moment, but I think it was a difficult race for all of us today," Vettel added.