But falling from second to eighth on lap one was a minor setback compared to the hammer blow his title hopes took when his car briefly cut out on lap eight.
He fell from sixth to 18th, and eventually finished two positions and ten seconds short of the fifth place that would have made him champion.
It’s deeply ironic that, after McLaren had seemingly beaten their reliability problems of 2006, it should come back to haunt them in the final race.
Neither of their drivers have suffered a race-ending car failure this year, although they have had some technical problems.
Alonso suffered a gearbox failure in qualifying at Magny-Cours, which left him tenth on the grid. Hamilton had wheel failure at the Nürburgring (caused by a faulty wheel gun) which caused a crash, leaving him tenth on the grid. A tyre failure in the Turkish Grand Prix dropped Hamilton from third to fifth by the end of the race.
If Hamilton was fortunate at all it was that the failure wasn’t terminal and he was able to keep going – just like Mika Hakkinen did when driving for McLaren in the same race in 1999.
Hamilton’s battle from 18th to seventh was reminiscent of Michael Schumacher’s final race last year. The German dropped to the back of the field after an early puncture, and fought back to take fourth place.
McLaren switched Hamilton onto a three-stop strategy which appeared risky, but team boss Ron Dennis later insisted it had been ten seconds quicker than a two-stop strategy.
His string of passes provided the highlight of the race – particularly when he pulled off a particularly optimistic pass on Rubens Barrichello from a substantial distance back at turn one. It was uncannily like watching his battle from the back at Istanbul in GP2 last year again.
But, just as he fell one place short of winning that race, today he was two places away from the fifth place he needed. It’s a cruel way to lose the title, but perhaps there is a little mercy in it. Had he finished sixth, he would have become the first person to lose the championship despite scoring as many points as the winner, having scored fewer wins than Raikkonen.
Raikkonen’s been robbed of points finishes by mechanical problems twice this year, however, and he will be mightily relieved that at the final race the law of averages made its presence felt.