Vettel's pit-stop promoted Rosberg back into the lead but, again, the German's joy was short-lived as Alonso caught and passed him at Les Combes. Hamilton assumed second place a lap later, while the recovering Vettel picked off Kamui Kobayashi for fifth at the same time.
The first round of tyre stops was cycling through quickly by now, and both Alonso and Hamilton followed in quick succession. The Spaniard's stop unwittingly produced the move of the race, if not the season, as the accelerating Ferrari was caught and passed, into Eau Rouge, by Webber. The Spaniard did not make it easy for his rival, giving him just enough room between car and verge, but both survived.
Alonso was back through a lap later, however, but both were already having to chase Vettel, who was now back into second, passing Rosberg for the second time, this time through Blanchimont. The German was again in trouble with his tyres, though, reporting the return of blisters on his second set after just a few laps, but knew that he could not afford to change them immediately without handing an advantage to the opposition.
Vettel's patience was rewarded just a handful of laps later, however, as the safety car was called upon to clear debris from the end of the DRS zone at Les Combes. Not only could the Red Bull team afford to pit for tyres, but one of the German's likely rivals was out of contention, as Hamilton's charge back towards the head of the field had come to a violent end in a collision with Kamui Kobayashi. The McLaren driver had used DRS to pass the Sauber on the Kemmel straight, but neglected to consider that Kobayashi might still be close to him as he edged left to take the ideal line for Les Combes. The pair tangled, with the McLaren being spat hard into the Armco on the outside before coming to rest in the run-off area.
Vettel was joined in the pits by Button and Rosberg, as well as those who had yet to make a stop, while the safety car period was extended slightly by Ricciardo's HRT rolling to a stop on track. Alonso led at the restart, but Vettel was quickly on his tail after passing team-mate Webber exiting La Source. One lap later, and the German was back into P1....
As the race moved through its halfway point, Alonso remained sandwiched between the two Red Bulls, with Rosberg and Massa completing the top five, but the order remained more fluid behind them, particularly as Button began to make progress through the field.
One lap after the restart, the Briton passed both Vitaly Petrov and Sergio Perez in a single move exiting La Source, then caught and passed Schumacher, after a trial run, under braking at the Bus Stop chicane. Sutil succumbed at Les Combes on lap 23, again after a look at the chicane, before both Massa and Rosberg were despatched at the same place on laps 25 and 26. When Alonso pitted to take on the harder tyre, as mandated by the rules, on lap 29, the 2009 world champion was into the top three and looking good for a podium.
Vettel pitted next time around, promoting Button to second, but if the Briton's believed that he had the potential to take another unlikely victory - and in fully dry conditions at that - it was to be dashed when carrying the softer tyres through to the end proved impossible. The ensuing stop dropped him back to fourth, but he was not finished in his pursuit of the podium, hunting down Alonso, whose Ferrari clearly liked the harder tyre a lot less than its softer cousin, and reclaiming third with a couple of laps to run.
Behind the Spaniard, Rosberg and Massa continued to battle over fifth until the Ferrari driver was forced to make two pit-stops in the space of four laps, the result of a puncture just minutes after completing his final tyre change. That dropped him out of the points, but he continued to battle, moving back into the top ten with six laps to go and then relieving Petrov of eighth on the final tour.
Rosberg, meanwhile, had his own problems. Just as he appeared on course for a top five finish, despite increasing pressure from Mercedes team-mate Schumacher, the team warned him to back off and watch his fuel consumption, eventually making him a soft target for the seven-time world champion, who completed his comeback from starting on the back row with a move in to Les Combes with two laps to go.