His team-mate, however, continued to endure a fraught afternoon, suffering his own slow pit-stop after finding his team unprepared despite calling him in in a bid to pass Petrov. The Briton dropped to 15th on the road, adding to the frustration he felt after what he claimed was a poor strategy in qualifying that left him susceptible to the red flag for Sergio Perez's accident and then the victim of a penalty for cutting a chicane.
Button was 14secs up the road by lap 30, and looking for a possible second Monaco victory, when Timo Glock coasted to a halt in the Swimming Pool section with suspected rear suspension failure. Perhaps believing that a safety car would be called to cover the recovery of the Marussia Virgin, McLaren called Button in for his second stop, dropping the Briton behind both Vettel and Alonso, while Williams pitted Rubens Barrichello for the first time, dropping the Brazilian from fourth to 14th.
If McLaren had been a little premature in anticipating the safety car for Glock's retirement, it clearly didn't foresee its other driver being involved in an incident that saw the race neutralised just a couple of laps later. Hamilton, clearly still fuming after his early race travails, had already tangled with Massa at the hairpin, the Briton claiming his rival turned in on him despite the McLaren hardly being alongside, but worse was to come as the pair raced through the tunnel. As Massa ran wide, Hamilton seized the opportunity to go through, but the Ferrari continued into the barrier before skating down the left-hand side of the track and into retirement.
The location of the stricken Ferrari, however, prompted the stewards to call for the safety car. The Scuderia took the opportunity to pit Alonso for the second time, dropping him behind Button, but Vettel steadfastly remained out on track. Adrian Sutil and Kamui Kobayashi both pitted and benefited from the safety car, remaining fourth and fifth respectively.
The pace was controlled for just four laps, and Button was quickly through the backmarkers to continue his chase of Vettel but, with the German still not stopping and Button again on supersofts, his chance of victory appeared to lay in his ability to pass the Red Bull. Alonso remained third, ahead of Sutil, Kobayashi, the recovering Webber, Hamilton, Maldonado and Petrov, with the second Renault of Nick Heidfeld in the final points position, but a lap behind the leaders.
Hamilton's afternoon got worse when he was handed a drive-thru' penalty for the contact with Massa, dropping him to ninth, and McLaren decided to throw the dice with Button in an effort to pre-empt its rivals following suit with Vettel and Alonso. Although the Briton dropped to third as a result of the stop - Sutil and Kobayashi were a long way back and no threat for the podium - he again began to reel in the top two, his soft tyres in better shape than either Vettel or Alonso's. All three remained viable victors, provided that neither Red Bull or Ferrari flinched and pitted their driver, and were nose-to-tail by lap 60, with Alonso looking for a way through into Ste Devote on a number of occasions.
Further back, the action had not abated either, and a sideways Kobayashi scythed inside Sutil at Mirabeau to claim fourth. Webber took advantage of the German's fading tyres to move ahead of the Force India a couple of laps later, but Sutil was still to have a big effect on the outcome of the race as, on lap 69, he ran wide and collected the barrier at Tabac. Attempting to nurse his car back to the pit with the right rear tyre hanging off, the German slithered across the road entering the Swimming Pool, causing the chasing Hamilton to check up. That move caught Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari unawares and, as the Spaniard climbed over Hamilton's rear wing, Petrov found he had nowhere to go but into the barriers.
With Alguersuari and Petrov's cars too badly damaged to continue, and the Russian in need of medical attention, there was no option but to recall the safety car - a decision that was quickly followed by the appearance of the red flag. With 75 per cent of the race run, many expected that to be it, but the field lined up on the grid, and work began on repairs and tyre changes for the six laps that remained.
After a lengthy interruption while Petrov was extracted and ferried to hospital, the race resumed behind the safety car but, with everyone on the same, fresh, tyres, there was, predictably, no further tension at the front. Hamilton again attracted the attention of the stewards for a move on Maldonado that saw the impressive Venezuelan end his race in the barriers, while Webber did his bit to enliven the proceedings, lunging down the inside of Kobayashi for fourth at the chicane. Hamilton's sixth looks likely to come under threat from a second penalty which, if confirmed, could shuffle the order. Until then, however, Sutil remains seventh, with Heidfeld, Barrichello - with the first points of 2011 for Williams - and Sebastien Buemi completing the scorers.
In a city known for its casino, however, it was perhaps fitting that gambling on making it to the finish on a set of tyres - and ones fitted by mistake during the pit-stop chaos at Red Bull - was enough for Sebastian Vettel to extend his championship lead and, perhaps, take a firmer grip on a second world title.