SAO PAULO, Brazil - Kimi Raikkonen is known as "The Iceman," and he more than kept his cool Sunday. He won the Brazilian Grand Prix and captured the Formula One title in the tightest race for the championship in 21 years.
The Ferrari driver rallied from third place in the points standings for his first F1 crown, taking advantage of Lewis Hamilton's mistake on the first lap and Fernando Alonso's disappointing run.
Raikkonen grabbed the lead with 21 laps to go and was followed by teammate Felipe Massa. Alonso, Hamilton's McLaren teammate, finished third.
"This is a great feeling," Raikkonen said. "We had some hard times, some reliability problems and lost some points. A lot of people didn't believe in us, but we showed that they were wrong and we were able to come back. It was a great season."
The Finn, known as "The Iceman" for his cool style, was reserved in his celebrations on the podium, waving his cap to the crowd before briefly throwing his arms in the air.
Hamilton came into the race leading the points standings and needed a top-two finish to become the first rookie to win the title and F1's youngest champion. He went off the track on the first lap and later had car problems to finish seventh.
Alonso, second in the standings coming in, would have had to have finished second and Hamilton fifth to keep Raikkonen from winning the championship after his victory. Raikkonen erased a seven-point gap coming into the race to finish with 110 points, one more than Hamilton and Alonso.
Alonso was trying to become only the third driver to win three consecutive titles in the history of F1, along with Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
"I knew it was going to be a difficult situation for me," Alonso said. "It was impossible to keep the pace from Ferrari. I was just waiting for something."
Hamilton started in the front row beside pole-sitter Massa, but was passed by Raikkonen and Alonso in the first turn. He then made a mistake trying to pass Alonso three turns later and dropped to eighth after the first lap.
"When I saw Hamilton going off, I knew that maybe we had some chances," Raikkonen said. "I wasn't 100 percent sure, I was really just waiting. It took a long time to hear that we had finally won it."
The Englishman moved back to sixth place after six laps, but his car slowed dramatically with a gear box problem two laps later and he seemed on the verge of retiring. His car suddenly picked up pace again, but he had already dropped to 18th.
"Lewis has enjoyed phenomenal reliability from his car this year," McLaren team chief Ron Dennis told British television. "It was just a default in the gearbox which selected neutral for a period of time, but then sorted itself out."
Hamilton's car seemed to be without problems for the rest of the race as he moved past the slower cars with ease. By lap 18 of 71, Hamilton was 11th, but he couldn't manage to move up past seventh.
"It has been an incredible season," Hamilton said. "Under extremely difficult conditions I beat the two-time world champion, which was my objective from the very beginning.
"I went into the race and said to myself, 'Whatever happens today, it's been a phenomenal year. Who would've thought I would be leading the world championship during the last races? It's a great feeling being in that position. The team did a phenomenal job all year."
Massa and Raikkonen stayed 1-2 from the start. Raikkonen took the lead after a final pit stop, coming ahead of Massa as the Brazilian apparently slowed.
"We had the perfect team work," Raikkonen said. "Felipe worked hard ... he's been a big help."
Massa, who had won four times in the previous five races he started from the pole, had an emotional victory in Interlagos last year as he became the first Brazilian to win at home since the late Ayrton Senna in 1993.
The Brazilian GP marked the end of one of the most thrilling and turbulent F1 seasons in decades.
It was the first time since 1986 that three drivers reached the final race in contention for the title. It had not happened since Alain Prost edged Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet to win that year's championship.
The season, the first without the great Michael Schumacher, was marred by a spying scandal that led to a record $100 million fine for McLaren, which was found guilty of using leaked data from Ferrari. The British team was kicked out of the manufacturers' championship, which was easily clinched by Ferrari.
There was also a heated internal dispute in the McLaren team, with Hamilton and Alonso trading accusations most of the season.
The controversy led to speculation that Alonso would leave McLaren next season. Renault, the Spaniard's team when he won the last two championships, said it would welcome his return, and even Ferrari was thrown into the mix.
It was the third year in a row the F1 season was decided at the Brazilian GP. Alonso won both of his titles at the Interlagos track in 2005 and '06.