Worse still, Renault released Robert Kubica into the path of the incoming Adrian Sutil, to the detriment of the German's race. While Sutil was out on the spot, Kubica resumed a lap down, was then handed a ten-second stop-go penalty, and eventually called it quits a couple of laps later.
In the meantime, the field had packed up behind the safety car, now led by Webber, but with Vettel still looking a clear favourite for victory. The question of team orders again raised its head, with suggestions that Vettel may back Alonso up enough to allow Webber to delay his stop and rejoin in second spot, creating a vital 1-2 for Red Bull, but few expected the German to make quite as big an unaided hash of the restart as he appeared to, dropping more than the permitted ten car lengths from his team-mate, who all but pushed the safety car to its departure down pit-lane.
With no distractions into turn one, Webber did indeed disappear, making full use of the fuel he had saved while shadowing Alonso to reel off a string of fastest laps, aware that he needed to build up a lead of around 20 seconds over the Spaniard if he was to slot in behind his team-mate.
Vettel's error, however, changed the picture entirely, with the stewards announcing, first, that he was under investigation for dropping too far behind Webber at the restart and, then, that he would have to serve a drive-thru' penalty for the misdemeanour.
Vettel's anger was clear as he gesticulated to his team all the way down the pit-lane, but he only lost one place, to Alonso, by the time that he rejoined. The German's ire would not have been soothed much, either, by then news that championship leader Hamilton was grinding to a halt at turn three, the victim of a suspected transmission failure on the lead McLaren. With Button barely registering in the points at that stage, both title races looked set for a shake-up.
Even though his team-mate was now not the main threat, Webber still needed to open out enough of a gap to ensure that Alonso was not handed victory for the second Sunday in a row, and the Australian, despite running long on Bridgestone's supersoft compound, responded by banging in a string of qualifying-style laps, extending his advantage each time around.
Once enough of a lead had been established, the question switched to the optimal time to make the stop, with traffic bunching at various points around the lap, and the threat of another safety car ever-present. The call finally came on lap 43, with Webber holding a 23.7secs cushion over his rivals, and the stop was perfect, the Australian rejoining still comfortably ahead. From there, it was merely a question of carrying the RB6 to the chequered flag, and Webber was never troubled.
Alonso, meanwhile, had an angry Vettel all over him for several laps, but held firm, ultimately frustrating the German further before the Red Bull dropped away by a couple of seconds in the closing stages. That, too, was tactical, as Vettel used the clearer air to bang in the fastest lap of the race, a 1min 22.362secs effort the easily eclipsed anything anyone else had managed - even his team-mate during his mid-race charge.
With Hamilton out, Massa was able to retake fourth, but had little to offer the top three on his return to the site of the accident that nearly claimed his life a year ago, coming home eight seconds adrift of Vettel, and more than 27secs shy of Webber.
The rest, however, were even further back, with Vitaly Petrov taking his best result in F1 in fifth after Barrichello's attempt to run long before making his lone tyre stop not having the pace to keep him ahead of his rivals. The Brazilian slipped back to eleventh during his stop, but emerged behind former Ferrari team-mate Schumacher with just 14 laps remaining.