Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button look set to fight out the Formula One world championship between themselves after claiming a 1-2 finish for the Brawn GP team at Monza, while Red Bull Racing rivals Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel left all but empty-handed.
The Brawn team's confidence after qualifying on row three with a single-stop strategy was borne out in fine style as, despite ceding early ground to two-stoppers Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil, Barrichello and Button were able to keep close enough to vault into the pound seats while their rivals took on a third set of fuel and tyres, eventually coming home over 30 seconds clear of the Ferrari after Hamilton crashed on the final lap, bringing out the safety car.
Hamilton just made the most of his pole position to ease ahead into the first chicane, while Raikkonen used his KERS - and the grass - to go around the outside of Sutil and challenge for the lead. Sutil, meanwhile, stuck to the inside on the advice of his team and did enough to thwart Heikki Kovalainen, who was the loser among the frontrunners, looking at Sutil into the first part of the chicane, but finding himself shuffled out by the following Barrichello, and only just holding station ahead of his team-mate.
While the top six escaped towards the Lesmos, with the fast-starting Tonio Liuzzi also hounding Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel struggling to hold off those behind him in eighth, Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber found his race ended early, courtesy of a tag from Robert Kubica which beached the Australian in the gravel at the Roggia chicane. Button then made a crucial move on Kovalainen at the first Lesmo, sticking his nose inside the McLaren and benefiting when the Finn ran a touch wide, to keep in touch with Barrichello as Kovalainen began to suffer another Monza nightmare.
Vettel and Kubica continued to battle for the next couple of laps but, at the front, Hamilton was clearing off, setting new fastest laps with each tour as he attempted to build enough of a gap over his more distant pursuers to make his chosen strategy work. By the end of lap four, he was 2.8secs clear of second-placed Raikkonen, and continued to consolidate his advantage until pitting on lap 15 - a couple of lap ahead of where most 'experts' had predicted.
The stop dropped the world champion to fifth, with Raikkonen now at the front and trying to extend his slim lead over Sutil before his scheduled call for fuel and tyres. The German, however, was the next to blink, coming in on lap 17 and dropping to seventh. Raikkonen's stop slotted the Ferrari back in behind Hamilton, but there were suspicions that the Finn had been short-filled, such were the Scuderia's fears about Sutil's pace.
Barrichello and Button thus inherited the top two spots and would run until just after half-distance, but there was a brief moment of concern for the Mercedes-engined runners on a track where powerplants and transmissions take a hammering when Liuzzi pulled over with a clutch failure on lap 22.
Button was the first Brawn to pit, in line with their respective fuel loads, stationary for 9.1secs and returning to the track in fifth spot as the two-stoppers filled the gap between the white cars. Barrichello's run only lasted one lap longer, but the Brazilian was stopped for half a second less and resumed still with the upper hand over the championship leader.
Both Brawn drivers rejoined with a clear track fore and aft, and were able to push without the problem of traffic. Suddenly, where there had been messages to them - Button especially - urging lap times closer to Hamilton's, the emphasis switched, with the world champion being told that he needed to make up time before his second stop.