That promoted Hamilton into the lead, where the Stevenage-born ace would remain throughout the opening round of pit visits, continuing to pull away from his pursuers. His advantage was boosted partly by mishaps for his rivals in the pit-lane, with a delay for Webber followed by Red Bull releasing the 32-year-old directly into the path of Raikkonen's Ferrari, with the two cars narrowly avoiding contact – and there was further pain for F1's newest grand prix-winner when Timo Glock in the Toyota forced his way by later around the lap.
More misery fell upon the in-form team of the moment as Vettel suffered a poor pit-stop, and not long afterwards complained over the radio that something was broken on his RB5, with the rear looking to be dragging along the ground. Following a pit-stop to check the car over, the man from Heppenheim rejoined – but the damage had already been done, and just a lap later he was back in again for good.
Elsewhere during the stops, Rosberg rejoined the fray narrowly ahead of Webber, only to almost immediately be caught napping by his ex team-mate as the Red Bull audaciously drove all the way around the outside of the Williams into turn two. Rosberg would lose further ground to Kovalainen following the Finn's own stop a couple of laps later.
Vettel's retirement – joining compatriot Adrian Sutil in the Force India and Alonso in taking an early bath – relieved some of the pressure on Button, who rose as high as second behind countryman Hamilton as others pitted, but not before coming under renewed attack from Nakajima, the sole surviving FIF1 of Giancarlo Fisichella and Trulli, with the latter comfortably jumping the Brawn by dint of staying out even longer still. The man who really spoiled the world championship leader's day, though, was Glock who delayed his own first stop all the way to lap 32, and when he rejoined found himself ahead of Trulli and Button, now barely inside the points.
All of this, though, was of little consequence to Hamilton, who courtesy of his supreme pace and the calamities befalling his rivals, had stretched out his advantage over second-placed Raikkonen to more than six seconds, with Webber in third a further five seconds in arrears and coming under threat from the second McLaren of Kovalainen, with Rosberg still well in attendance too in fifth, ahead of the two Toyotas and Button.
Webber, visibly, was struggling for grip on the harder tyre during his middle stint, as the super-soft shod Kovalainen ramped up the pressure, and fellow Finn Raikkonen focussed his attentions on hunting down Hamilton. With McLaren and Ferrari back on-form and both Brawn and Red Bull firmly in the wars, the 2009 form book was being turned upon its head.
Indeed, as the oversteer-plagued Button slipped ever-further adrift of the Toyotas, he found himself under attack from Nelsinho Piquet – desperate to score a point or two to save his faltering F1 career – the ever-present Nakajima and BMW-Sauber pairing Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, with team-mate Barrichello in 13th and bearing the battle scars of opening lap damage that had cost the Brazilian early ground.
Kovalainen was the first driver to pit for a second time with 26 laps remaining, rejoining with a clear track ahead of him though now on the unpopular harder-compound Bridgestone rubber – and the defending Hungarian Grand Prix winner soon found himself subject to the unwelcome attentions of Trulli behind. Compatriot Raikkonen was next in a lap later, though the 2007 world champion's designs on victory took a knock when he lost time by being briefly unable to engage gear for a few seconds upon leaving his box.
Hamilton was next to blink, leaving the reigning title-holder with 24 laps to endure on the harder tyres, with Rosberg following suit three tours later as the inspired Glock – back at the scene of his maiden rostrum finish in the top flight twelve months ago – was giving Raikkonen a few headaches, though the young German had still to pit for a second time. Webber's stop, meanwhile, saw the man from Queanbeyan re-emerge narrowly ahead of Rosberg, who had regained track position over Kovalainen, as the Suomussalmi native began to grapple with overheating front tyres and fall away from the podium battle.
An 'off' for Piquet at turn eleven dropped the recently-turned 24-year-old back into the internecine BMW tussle and away from contention for the final points-paying position, still occupied by Button. Fellow Brit Hamilton, meanwhile, was inexorably pulling away from Raikkonen as he sought to secure his first triumph – first rostrum finish even – of what has been up until now a desultory campaign as the defending world champion.