Button continued to lead through half-distance, the gap to Alonso ebbing and flowing as each made the minutest of mistakes and began to deal with the inevitable traffic, but it became ever more likely that the performance of their respective pit crews could determine the outcome. Kubica began the stops among the frontrunners, resuming in ninth place after his change of tyres, and Button soon got the call to 'push' as McLaren prepared to follow suit.
The Briton needed as big a cushion as possible if he was to overcome the power deficit his set-up dictated, but two laps, even as fast as he could go, did not appear to be enough. Alonso and Ferrari shadowed the leader until he peeled off, then floored the Ferrari, trying to make the most of its lighter downforce levels to claw back precious tenths. Button resumed in third, Massa also close enough to move ahead while the McLaren pitted, and remained there when Alonso made his stop a lap later, the Ferrari
team able to capitalise on the Spaniard's in-lap.
Massa wasn't quite able to repeat the feat, and rejoined in third after his stop, but Ferrari's tactics appeared to have paid off as Alonso made use of the clear road ahead of him to ease away from Button. The Spaniard quickly put full seconds between himself and second place, sealing the Scuderia's first home win since Schumacher's emotional farewell in 2006. Even a trip over the Rettifilio kerbs while distracted by a tailender could not deny Alonso, with Button now having Massa in his mirrors and focused on not losing second place.
At the same time as the lead was changing hands, Webber's pursuit of decent points was scuppered by Hulkenberg, who cut the chicane under pressure, but refused to yield sixth place to the Australian after getting back on track. Despite the matter being referred to the stewards, no action was forthcoming, and it took fully twelve laps before the Red Bull found a way by.
Ironically, Hulkenberg had already helped Webber gain one place, inadvertently baulking Kubica and allowing the Australian to get around the Renault for seventh on lap 36, but his subsequent actions did little to find favour with the Red Bull driver as the delay allowed Vettel to come back into the reckoning. The German had responded to his early glitch by posting faster and faster laps and, by delaying his tyre stop for as long as possible, had moved into fourth place with a little over ten laps to run.
Even though Webber began to eat into the gap, Vettel's half of the Red Bull garage refused to blink, waiting until the very last moment before calling their man in for tyres and leaving him just one lap to survive on the supposedly inferior prime Bridgestone. Vettel had around 23 seconds in hand over Webber when he stopped, with Rosberg between them on the road, and returned to the fray with both rivals still in his mirrors. Neither was able to challenge over the final 3.6 miles and Vettel's punching of the air appeared as joyful as the race winner's.
Behind Webber, Hulkenberg was a little over a second clear of Kubica in the battle for seventh, with Schumacher comfortably heading Williams' Rubens Barrichello in the final scoring positions. Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi had temporarily occupied a top ten slot in the early going, but had to settle for eleventh at the chequered flag, while Tonio Liuzzi came through to claim twelfth for a disappointing Force India team, having started from 20th. Vitaly Petrov, who lined up next to Liuzzi after a blocking penalty was applied after qualifying, took 13th, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa and Jaime Alguersuari, who struggled to make progress after a drive-thru' for cutting the chicane in the opening laps. Behind the lacklustre Sutil, Timo Glock won the newcomers battle for Virgin by just two seconds over Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen, but both saw their respective team-mates retire in the closing stages, allowing Sakon Yamamoto to fill the final classified position.
Hamilton's retirement, Webber's struggles and podium finishes for two of the three men who failed to score in Belgium have all helped to shuffle the championship picture as F1 leaves Europe for the five 'flyaway' races that will close out the season. Webber's damage limitation exercise proved sufficient to move him back to the head of the table, turning a three-point deficit to Hamilton into a five-point advantage, while Alonso's victory now makes him the leading threat to the top two, albeit 21 points off the top. Button remains fourth, a point further back, while Vettel, despite his fourth place, slips to sixth overall, but still within a race win of his team-mate.
Hamilton's DNF has also allowed Red Bull, despite possibly its worst show of the year, to retake the lead in the constructors' championship, with three points now separating it from McLaren. The Milton Keynes team believes it will be back on form in Singapore - and for the rest of the season - while McLaren will be wary of the renewed Ferrari threat as the title battle intensifies on the road to Abu Dhabi.