In a processional European Grand Prix where one of the few outstanding moments was the spectacular backflip accident that befell his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel bounced back into contention for the world championship with an easy win.
Webber's afternoon of woe began when he was beaten away at the start by Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, and then hung out to dry as he lost momentum in the first corner and got swallowed by traffic.
He fell from second on the grid to ninth by the end of the opening lap and a pit stop six laps later, to switch from the supersoft Bridgestone tyres to the more durable medium compound rubber, dropped him down to 19th place.
It was while challenging Heikki Kovalainen for 18th on the approach to Turn 17 that he ran into the back of the Lotus, in a mirror image of an accident between Rodolfo Gonzalez and Josef Kral in the morning's GP2 race.
Webber's Red Bull somersaulted alarmingly backwards through 180 degrees, then landed upside down before flipping back on to its wheels and spearing head-first into the tyre wall at high speed.
The Australian emerged battered and bruised, but was otherwise unhurt by an accident eerily reminiscent of the one that befell him at Le Mans with Mercedes in 1999. "Well, it always takes two to tango, doesn't it? There's two of us in this incident," he said.
"I was looking for the best tow to get the job done and pass him and he was playing quite hard as well down the inside, blocking all of a sudden very aggressively. I was surprised how early he braked, that's the thing which caught me out.
"It was a nasty incident. Clearly, I was surprised by what was happening on the run down to that corner. Yeah, he braked, or lifted or whatever, and it turns out it's about 80 metres before I braked on the previous lap, so I mean it's a different category..."
Kovalainen said: "We were racing for position so I was always going to defend. I didn't do anything wrong. I think he missed his braking point and he ran into me at a very bad angle – his front tyre hit my right rear and he took off. I shook hands with Mark in the medical centre. I'm absolutely fine, and glad Mark is too."
Up front, Vettel's main moment of worry came in the first corner as an aggressive Hamilton dived down the inside and slid momentarily into the Red Bull after being bounced to the left by the inside kerb. They touched, and the McLaren suffered slight front wing damage. Both drivers made pit stops on the 10th lap under the safety car, when it was deployed following Webber's accident, as did Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Vettel and Hamilton retained their leading positions as most other drivers had pitted the previous lap, but Alonso dropped from third to 10th and Massa from fourth to 19 and they were doomed for the remainder of the afternoon.
Hamilton, however, was informed on the 20th lap that he was under investigation for overtaking the safety car prior to his pit stop, and was then given a drive-through penalty. "I don't remember too much about it, to be honest," he said. "I came round Turn 1 and saw the safety car pretty much alongside me. I thought I had passed it so I continued."
Alonso was fired up by the outcome of that little bit of theatre, since he lost a lot of time as he had to stay behind the safety car. Afterwards he told Spanish television: "It's a shame, not for us because this is racing, but for all the fans who came here to watch a manipulated race.
"We were running well in third place, then the safety car came out, which wasn't too good for us. But Hamilton overtook it, something that I have never seen before, overtaking the medical car with the yellow flags.
"We were a metre off each other and he finishes second and I finish ninth. When you do the normal things, which is respect the rules, the one who doesn't respect them finishes second."
Sauber had started Kamui Kobayashi on the harder tyre and thus he didn't have to pit when everyone else did to swap from their supersoft tyres.
Suddenly, he was running in third place and he stayed there, keeping Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and Robert Kubica at bay, until the 53rd lap when he had finally had to pit to switch to option tyres.
Kobayashi's high position was to Hamilton's benefit on the 27th lap, as he was able to serve his drive-through penalty and return to the track without losing second place, such was the margin he opened up as the Japanese driver contained the rest of the challengers.
Kobayashi's pit stop left Button third, behind Hamilton, on a weekend of damage limitation for the team, as they will not have the sort of aerodynamic upgrades that others brought here until they get to Silverstone in a fortnight. The result means Vettel is now just 12 points behind championship leader Hamilton, who has 127 points.
European Grand Prix, Valencia, Spain (57 laps): 1 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1hr 40min 29.571sec; 2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:40:34.613; 3 J Button (GB) McLaren 1:40:37.229; 4 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 1:40:50.198; 5 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:40:51.693; 6 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:40:54.739; 7 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber 1:41:00.536; 8 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:41:00.870; 9 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:41:02.380; 10 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber 1:41:11.985; 11 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:41:12.858; 12 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:41:13.953; 13 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 1:41:15.461; 14 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:41:16.192; 15 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:41:17.810; 16 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:41:18.397; 17 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing at 1 lap; 18 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing at 2 laps; 19 K Chandhok (India) HRT-F1 at 2 laps; 20 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 at 2 laps; 21 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 at 4 laps. Not classified: 22 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 49 laps completed; 23 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 8 laps completed; 24 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 8 laps completed .
World Championship standings : Drivers: 1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 127pt; 2 J Button (GB) McLaren 121; 3 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 115; 4 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 103; 5 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 96; 6 R Kubica (Pol) Renault 83; 7 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 74; 8 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 67; 9 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 34; 10 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 31; 11 R Barrichello (Br) Williams 19; 12 V Liuzzi (It) Force India 12; 13 S Buemi (Swit) Scuderia Toro Rosso 9; 14 K Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber 7; 15 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 6; 16 J Alguersuari (Sp) Scuderia Toro Rosso 3; 17 P de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber 1; 18 N Hulkenberg (Ger) Williams 1; 19 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 0; 20 K Chandhok (India) HRT-F1 0; 21 L di Grassi (Br) Virgin Racing 0; 22 J Trulli (It) Lotus F1 0; 23 B Senna (Br) HRT-F1 0; 24 T Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 0.
Manufacturers : 1 McLaren 248pts; 2 Red Bull 218; 3 Ferrari 163; 4 Mercedes GP 108; 5 Renault 89; 6 Force India 43; 7 Williams 20; 8 Scuderia Toro Rosso 12; 9 BMW Sauber 8; 10 Lotus F1 0; 11 HRT-F1 0; 12 Virgin Racing 0.