Big three denied ultimate battle
For the first time in its short history, the Valencia track produced a thrilling grand prix but the irony is that in doing so a potentially even better one - in terms of the battle for the lead - was lost.
Mark Webber's horrifying accident precipitated a safety car that led to a controversy involving those old rivals McLaren and Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso - among others - that will only add to the already compelling narrative of this brilliant Formula 1 season.
But it also ended what was shaping up to be a fascinating battle for the top three positions between eventual winner Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso.
Had the race run smoothly, it was anyone's guess which one of them might have won. As it was, Webber's incredible escape handed a comfortable win to Vettel.
Despite the stunning pace the Red Bull has shown all season, it was only the German's second win this year and his first since Malaysia back in April, which tells its own story about how his team have failed to capitalise on their car advantage.
Team principal Christian Horner pointed out that Red Bull had won on a track where they had "no reason" to - they had not expected to challenge McLaren and perhaps Ferrari. That made it a contrast to several other races this season, which they have lost when they should have won.
Hamilton, for his part, will be content with superbly salvaging second place from a race in which he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty - and recovering from that to pressure Vettel in the closing laps.
Alonso, meanwhile, spent much of his afternoon in the lower reaches of the top 10, fuming about the way his hopes of a victory in his second home grand prix were dashed by the events that followed the crash involving his Australian friend.
The Spaniard had been confident of being absolutely competitive in the race, and his prediction looked spot on as he closed in on Hamilton and set the fastest lap of the grand prix to that point on the lap Webber had his crash.
The safety car intervention ruined Alonso's race but it took some time to work out what had gone on.
As the drivers all made their stops for tyres while the safety car was out, how, one wondered, had Hamilton managed to rejoin in second place while Alonso - who had been right behind him - had dropped to 10th?
It transpired that Hamilton had made an error as he headed along the pit straight to start lap 10.
He saw the safety car heading out of the pits and briefly lifted off the throttle before getting back on it. But that hesitation meant the safety car arrived just before the McLaren at the line on the track after which passing it is forbidden - so Hamilton committed the offence of passing the safety car.
Alonso, who then had to spend a lap stuck behind the safety car before making his pit stop, spotted Hamilton's mistake immediately and got straight on to the radio to his team to tell them they needed to make a protest to the race officials. Whether or not they needed any prompting, the penalty was duly imposed.
If Hamilton had simply carried on flat out, he - and perhaps Alonso, too - would have passed the Mercedes before it crossed the safety car line and there would have been no problem.
As it was, it ended any hopes of what could have been a superb battle between him and Vettel and it left Alonso fuming in the cockpit of his Ferrari as he struggled in vain to find a way past Sebastien Buemi's Ferrari-engined Toro Rosso for eighth place.
In the days of the previous Ferrari regime, their former team principal Jean Todt would have got on the phone to Toro Rosso to ensure their driver made way for the man in the works car.
But things have changed under Stefano Domenicali and Alonso was left to spend the rest of the race stuck and seething.
One can understand his complaints that what happened to him was "unfair" - he suffered for an incident which had nothing to do with him, while Hamilton held on to his position.
That is not a criticism of Hamilton - one assumes he did not set out to hold up Alonso, and he made up enough time before being served with his penalty to ensure he rejoined from it still in second place - but rather of the stewards, who took 15 laps and nearly half an hour to hand down the Englishman's punishment.
Alonso's mood will have been darkened further by losing a place to Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi - another man with a Ferrari engine behind his shoulders - on the penultimate lap after the Japanese rejoined following his late pit stop on fresh tyres.
And one suspects he will have been mollified not at all by his promotion one place to eighth after five-second penalties were given to nine drivers for a safety car infringement.
In these circumstances, drivers who have not yet come up behind the safety car have a time displayed on their dashboards for each sector, which they are not allowed to beat. And five of the six drivers between Hamilton and Alonso at the end of the race were investigated for doing exactly that - McLaren's Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil and Buemi. The size of the penalties meant only Buemi slipped behind Alonso.
From the perspective of a man who has been fighting this season to stay in the title battle in a car that, until the last two races, had slipped slowly from the pace, finishing eighth in a grand prix in which he should have been at least third - a difference of 11 points - will be painful indeed.
But that, of course, is relatively inconsequential compared to what could have happened in Webber's accident.
It's almost incredible that a man can walk away after landing upside down on his car's roll-hoop after running into the back of another car at 200mph.
Webber is as tough and cool as they come and it was a remarkable reminder of how different racing drivers are from ordinary mortals to see him coolly talking his way through the accident on television shortly after the race.
Nevertheless, it did, as David Coulthard pointed out on the television, raise questions about the decision to introduce adjustable rear wings next year in an attempt to make overtaking easier.
A number of drivers have expressed their concerns about the potential danger of the speed differentials that might arise as a result of a well-intentioned move to improve the show.
As Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after the race: "Lessons need to be learned and observed from that."