Alonso's earlier stop, meanwhile, had paid dividends as it vaulted the Spaniard back past Webber once more – but both were behind di Resta, yet to stop in the Force India and impressively running right the way up in third place. The Ferrari eventually found a way past, leaving the Scot to deal with fending off a fast-advancing Webber until his own first pit visit at the end of lap 19, freeing the Aussie up to chase down Alonso all over again.
Further down the order, Schumacher hammered the kerbs to avoid clattering into Kamui Kobayashi, whilst the German's countryman Timo Glock was the race's first retirement after spinning his Virgin Racing machine into the barriers.
Almost ignored up front, Vettel motored on serenely, some 15 seconds clear of Button and a gaping 34 ahead of Alonso, by now beginning to suffer with brake temperature issues and more rear tyre woes. By lap 23, meanwhile, Hamilton was right behind Massa once again – albeit down in 12th and 13th places respectively. This time around, he would clear him rather more cleanly following a mistake from the Brazilian, who subsequently pitted.
Alonso's own second stop at the end of lap 26 elevated Webber to third, whilst di Resta was storming up behind FIF1 team-mate Sutil for fifth. Mindful no doubt of the constructors' world championship situation, the German would soon dutifully yield, leaving him needing to cope with the attentions of compatriot Rosberg in seventh. The Mercedes, however, would then run wide, and he paid the price as Sergio Pérez vaulted past him.
In attempting to immediately recover, Rosberg dived down the inside of the Sauber into Turn One, making contact and aggressively pushing Pérez across the same escape road he himself had been forced to use on the opening lap to regain his position. With the pair slowing each other up, the charging Schumacher in the sister Mercedes was brought right into the fray, but after getting a tremendous run through Turn Seven, it all came to grief as he clipped Pérez heading into Turn Eight, finding himself sent flying up into the air and landing again with a thud before slamming into the tyre barriers. Happily, the most successful driver in the sport's history was able to clamber out unaided.
That triggered – as in all previous Singapore Grands Prix – the appearance of the safety car, prompting Webber to pit straightaway...and still rejoin behind race-long arch-rival Alonso, albeit now on tyres that were four laps younger. Vettel, meanwhile, had the advantage of a Jarno Trulli/Vitantonio Liuzzi/Kobayashi buffer in-between himself and second-placed Button, and 28 laps remaining.
The leader made sure of bolting upon the re-start to open up an immediate margin over Button, as Alonso and Webber – caught up in traffic – continued to duel. Only a handful of corners later, the Red Bull star brilliantly snuck up the inside of the Ferrari into Turn Ten with a supremely bold and opportunistic manoeuvre. Alonso barely even saw him coming.
Vettel served a timely reminder of his outstanding raw pace by setting the fastest first sector of the race from the safety car re-start – and come the end of the lap, he already had an extraordinary nine seconds in his pocket over Vettel. The Schumacher incident, meanwhile, had played beautifully into Hamilton's hands, with the Briton now up to eighth place behind Sutil – and within sniffing distance of a podium finish. After fending him off for a while, the FIF1 man ultimately yielded – leaving Hamilton to set off in pursuit of Rosberg in sixth. He would not be behind the Mercedes for long. Next up – di Resta, and into Turn Seven a lap later, the job was done. P5.
As Hamilton concentrated on chasing down fourth-placed Alonso, third-placed Webber was similarly homing in on Button as Vettel made good his escape – although the Briton was managing the gap and pressure well, as the pecking order up-and-down the field began to stabilise somewhat and the embattled Kobayashi earned himself a drive-through penalty for ignoring blue flags.
With 13 laps to go, Webber pitted for a set of super-softs, rejoining right behind Hamilton on significantly older rubber and swiftly making his way past the traction-less McLaren. Button, meanwhile, ended all doubts about whether he would need to stop again by coming in next, swiftly followed by his team-mate, who re-emerged all the way down in ninth.