There were 'moments' for Jarno Trulli, Senna and Adrian Sutil, but of far greater significance was a spin for world championship leader Webber, who lost his Red Bull RB6 just three laps in after taking a bit too much kerb in Turn Twelve, spun into the barriers and then as he rebounded back across the track again collected the luckless Rosberg, ending the young German's impressive challenge – and quite possibly also ending the disconsolate Australian's title bid altogether. His first accident-induced DNF of the campaign, it could not possibly have come at a worse moment.
With the safety car returning, Sauber duo Kamui Kobayashi and Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov pluckily elected to switch to intermediates – arguably a little too early – and as the action resumed on lap 24, with 17 laps remaining to be completed to reach three-quarter distance and thereby full points, the drivers found themselves up against the clock.
Staying in the wars, Trulli lost his Lotus front wing with a clumsy move on Senna into Turn Six, as Vettel began to move clear again at the front, lapping four tenths of a second quicker than Alonso and 1.4 seconds faster than Hamilton as the field started to spread out – with the exception of Button and Schumacher, still very much together in their duel over what was now fifth. That battle was resolved when the revitalised multiple world champion successfully dived down the inside of the reigning world champion on lap 27 in the same place as Rosberg had passed Hamilton earlier on.
Di Grassi became the race's next victim when he lost control and thumped into the circuit barriers as Vettel increasingly found his feet in the treacherous conditions and pulled ever further away. As the track came increasingly towards the intermediates, however, it was the canny Button who became the first of the front-runners to pit for inters – and emerged right behind a five-car scrap. Happily, after clearing one of the Saubers, a spin from Heikki Kovalainen following a tap from a Toro Rosso removed another driver from the Briton's path as he bade to make the most of his early switch.
Vettel soon demonstrated that anything Alonso could throw at him, he had an answer to as the pair traded fastest laps, whilst down at the back of the order, Sébastien Buemi locked up as he aimed his STR down the inside of Timo Glock, careering into the side of the Virgin Racing entry and bringing out the safety car again with debris littered across the track at the fastest point of the circuit.
Whilst race leaders Vettel and Alonso continued on, the majority of those behind pitted immediately for a change of rubber, and when the German and Spaniard came in a lap later, a delay for the latter enabled Hamilton to vault him into second – right in the slipstream of Vettel, although admitting to not feeling comfortable tyre-wise.
There was almost a second pit-lane incident this year between Renault and Force India as Kubica was released very nearly into the path of the incoming Sutil – mirroring a similar occurrence in Hungary back in the summer – but as the racing resumed yet again, Vettel leapt off into the lead once more as Hamilton ran wide into Turn One, handing the position he had gained off Alonso right back again and swiftly finding his mirrors full of the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa, with the ever-present Schumacher shadowing the pair of them in fifth and wet-weather maestro Rubens Barrichello sixth for Williams.
Button's race, however – and his title defence – went from bad to worse when Sutil went for a move and ran them both wide and off the track, costing the McLaren further ground and leaving him all the way down in P15. This time, though, Alonso was not letting Vettel get away, pegging his RBR rival back as the pair dropped Hamilton behind, whilst Sutil's lively afternoon continued as the German undid all of his good work by running very wide off track and ceding a whole clutch of places again.
The next drama was provided by the ever-entertaining Petrov, who threw away eleventh place on lap 41 with a hefty impact that will have done his employment chances at Renault in 2011 few favours – but for Vettel it mattered little, as the following lap, three-quarter distance arrived, and better yet for the Heppenheim native, he was beginning to inch away from Alonso, who himself had the advancing Hamilton to deal with.
However, a small error from Vettel into Turn Three enabled Alonso to close up on him, dragging Hamilton along for good measure, with a mere 3.5 seconds blanketing the front trio as the leader perhaps unsurprisingly started to complain about the fading light and the visibility problems it was creating – though Hamilton still seemed happy enough.