Behind the battle over the podium spots, Alonso lay a distant sixth, with both Webber and Schumacher gaining on him, with di Resta, Kobayashi, Sutil, Heidfeld and Petrov disputing the last of the points-paying positions – but all eyes were very much on Webber, who was lapping an incredible three seconds a lap faster than anybody else in the field, and had soon nailed Alonso for sixth.
As Sergio Perez made controversial contact with Heidfeld further down the order, Hamilton was flying and with just ten laps to go, he had caught Massa for second place, effortlessly snatching it away along the straight and setting his sights firmly on race leader Vettel, with tyres that were – crucially – six laps younger than that on the Red Bull ahead of him, and just three-and-a-half seconds in arrears.
Vettel responded to the pressure by setting his fastest lap of the race, but tellingly, even that was still four tenths of a second slower than the pace at which Hamilton was travelling, with Rosberg and Button now chasing Massa down for the final podium position. Rosberg dived down the inside of Massa into the Turn 14 hairpin, but in going in too deep on the brakes, the German ran wide on the exit and gifted Button fourth place in the process – whilst behind them, the charging Webber was flying along at a fair rate of knots, lapping some three seconds a lap faster and just ten seconds behind.
As Perez continued his combative drive by coming together with Force India rival Adrian Sutil with a banger racing-style move down the inside into Turn One – leaving the German with a damaged front wing and earning himself a drive-through penalty for his troubles – Hamilton was inexorably eating away Vettel's lead. With five laps left to run, they were absolutely together, as Button moved past Massa for third and left the Brazilian to deal with fending off Rosberg and Webber, who was driving absolutely like a man possessed.
Rosberg forced his way past Massa for fourth heading onto the pit straight – sending the Ferrari wide indeed in the process – with Webber continuing his remarkable charge to similarly overtake the scarlet machine shortly afterwards, meaning that with four laps remaining, the Aussie lay just two seconds behind Rosberg and less than five in arrears of Button.
As a KERS-less Vettel defended his lead from Hamilton for all he was worth, parking his car neatly on the apex of corners in an effort to slow the following McLaren down – but even that was not enough as the irresistible Briton swept by on the run down to Turn Seven and sped away into the distance.
The chief focus now, then, turned to Webber, and whether he could steal the final podium spot – and the answer, extraordinarily, was that he could. Lacking KERS like his team-mate, still he didn't let that hold him back as he gutsily toughed it out with Rosberg to move into fourth, and then forced his way past a combative Button at the end of the back straight on the penultimate lap to crown an absolutely outstanding performance.
As Hamilton took the chequered flag for a superb victory and Vettel hung grittily on for second place on fast-deteriorating rubber, Webber was inarguably the star of the race as he completed the podium, a scant 7.5 seconds shy of winning the grand prix and 2.4 seconds behind his team-mate – had there been just a handful more laps, who knows what Mark might have achieved...
Button wound up fourth ahead of Rosberg and Massa, the Paulista comfortably ahead of off-form team-mate Alonso, who was tracked right the way across the finish line by Schumacher in seventh and eighth places respectively. Petrov and Kobayashi completed the points-scorers, ahead of di Resta and Heidfeld, who collided on the final lap as the German tried to go around the outside of Turn 14 but squeezed the Scot, who gallantly refused to yield and lost some pieces of his car for good measure.
Rubens Barrichello, Buemi, the delayed Sutil, an impressive Heikki Kovalainen, Perez, Maldonado, Jarno Trulli, Jerome D'Ambrosio, Timo Glock, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan all similarly took the chequered flag – meaning HRT could take heart from a two-car finish at the end of a race that had served up drama and spectacle from lights-out to chequered flag.
Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and most of all Pirelli – we salute you!