Webber became the first driver to blink three laps later to bolt on a set of used rubber, with Hamilton coming in two laps later still and rejoining just
ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari, and Vettel following suit a lap later again as the rain began to spit. Heidfeld, Button and Massa were next in-line – although a wheel nut delay for the Brazilian cost him time and places – with Alonso the last of the front-runners to stop.
Heidfeld was another loser from the pit visits as both McLarens succeeded in leapfrogging him into second and third, with Alonso doing likewise into P4 and Webber hauling himself back into play too in sixth. Hamilton enjoyed some fun-and-games as he went three-abreast with the duelling and yet-to-stop Schumacher and Sébastien Buemi into the final corner, artfully sweeping around the outside of both of them.
Towards the other end of the field, Jarno Trulli
emerged from his first pit-stop for Team Lotus only to lock up and go straight on at Turn One – as HRT's Narain Karthikeyan joined the already-retired Pastor Maldonado
on the sidelines. That list would soon similarly include Maldonado's team-mate Barrichello – whose FW33 stuck in gear to make it two consecutive double DNFs for Williams
following the team's Melbourne disappointment – and Perez, whose Sauber curiously gave up the ghost after being hit by a piece of flying debris from Buemi's Toro Rosso.
Meanwhile, with Ferrari
having found some pace, Alonso was the man on the move up at the sharp end, carving his way neatly up the inside of Button into Turn One, with the pair having dropped Heidfeld – whilst Hamilton had begun to peg Vettel, and set about reducing his 6.3-second deficit to Vettel with a third of the grand prix completed.
As Alonso sped away from Button, Heidfeld and Webber began homing in on the McLaren
behind, with Massa and Petrov coming along to play for good measure. As Buemi earned himself a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit-lane, Hamilton reduced Vettel's lead to just 4.6 seconds as the German's pace fell away – lapping the slowest of any of the top six drivers – and Massa heaped more misery upon Red Bull
by finding a way past the tyre-troubled Webber.
The Australian was the first man to pit again for the second time on lap 23, whilst a gripless Heidfeld fell back from Button after skating briefly off-track through Turn Eleven, leaving him under pressure from the pursuing Massa. Button and Hamilton were the next drivers to pit, with Vettel doing likewise next time around and rejoining right in the wheel tracks of the Heidfeld/Massa scrap, as Petrov separated him from the fast-chasing Hamilton.
The British star wasted little time in releasing himself of his Renault
rival by diving up the inside into Turn Five, but Vettel responded by finding a way swiftly past Massa up the inside of the first corner, and when Heidfeld pitted the following lap, it was game on again at the front. The German lost out to the recovering Webber during the stops, whilst Alonso was by now struggling with a DRS system that was refusing to play ball, and to add insult to injury for the double F1 World Champion, he conceded third place to Button again during the stops.
With Vettel now struggling – in company with team-mate Webber – with a lack of KERS – Button homed in on team-mate Hamilton in the scrap over second, and as the momentum shifted yet again during the grand prix, Vettel this time edged out his lead once more, with Button applying the pressure on his compatriot and Alonso, on the harder tyre, falling away in fourth.
Webber made his third stop of the race on lap 33, rejoining just ahead of Petrov and Kobayashi, whilst a delay on the front-left for Hamilton during his own stop five laps later saw the Briton return to the fray just ahead of the Australian – but crucially, behind
Button, who was quick to pull away and begin the pursuit of Vettel. With the Red Bulls coming on increasingly strong as the laps ticked down, it was Hamilton who now found himself on the defensive against the revitalised Webber.
Trulli and Virgin racing rookie Jérôme d'Ambrosio were the final drivers to drop out of the action – the Italian with clutch failure on his Lotus – whilst Schumacher went for a brief bounce through the Turn Seven gravel, finding himself rapidly punished for his uncharacteristic error by the following Kobayashi.