Button's retirement also promoted Alonso to third place, with just team-mate Massa between himself and the best haul of points he could have expected given Hamilton's dominance. With an exchange of places still allowing Massa a potential return to the podium, it came as no surprise when the Ferraris swapped second and third, the Brazilian having been told by engineer Rob Smedley to 'think about how you're going to manage the tyres'.
By the time Alonso moved into second place, however, Perez was already lapping more than a second faster than either of the Ferraris in his similarly-powered Sauber. The Mexican had started on row six after failing to repeat his Belgian qualifying form on Saturday afternoon, but was already up to eighth in ten laps and made the most of running longer than his rivals on his first set of tyres, having opted to run the harder prime Pirelli from the off. Switching to the softer medium option on lap 29 dropped him back to eighth, but he was immediately able to bang in fastest laps, gained from the misfortunes of both Vettel and Button, and passed Raikkonen twice in the space of a lap to secure fifth before Schumacher pitted to promote him to fourth.
Despite Massa being urged to up his pace again, the Brazilian had no answer to the Sauber's relentless progress, losing third at Parabolica on lap 43. Alonso was several seconds down the road, but was also powerless to resist as Perez took only three laps to account for the other Ferrari and move into second place. Hamilton, too, was warned to raise his game by a couple of tenths but, ultimately, it was only the remaining laps that prevented what could have been a grandstand finish as the pair were split by just four seconds at the flag. Perhaps it's no wonder that Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has called for shorter grand prix distances....
Despite having to settle for third place, Alonso recouped almost all of the points he lost to second overall in Belgium. With Vettel sidelined, Hamilton vaults from fifth to second in the standings, but is fully 37 points behind his former nemesis as the season leaves Europe and heads for Singapore in two weeks' time. Raikkonen, who finished just over a second shy of Massa to claim fifth place at Monza, is now third in the championship, just a point behind Hamilton.
The Brazilian was briefly hampered by a loss of telemetry that caused his crew to lose track of his position on the road but, in truth, he was always likely to have to cede to his team-mate, especially as other title hopefuls began to hit trouble. That he then missed out on a first podium since Korea two years ago was symptomatic of the misfortune he has suffered of late.
Raikkonen was largely anonymous as Lotus again failed to make the most of the E20 and save for his repeated battles with Perez, would have been happy to pick up useful points towards a late title charge. He was followed across the line by Schumacher, who dropped two places over his grid position after a two-stop strategy failed to pay off for Mercedes. Team-mate Nico Rosberg suffered similarly, coming home one place further back despite taking fastest lap, taking seventh ahead of Paul di Resta, who attempt to overcome the grid penalty he incurred for changing his gearbox on Saturday morning was hampered by a temporary KERS failure. Kamui Kobayashi, comprehensively out-performed by team-mate Perez, and Bruno Senna, who snatched the last point from Daniel Ricciardo on the final lap, completed the scorers.
Pastor Maldonado, overcoming a ten-place hit after qualifying, also finished ahead of the Toro Rosso, while Jerome d'Ambrosio claimed 13th on his return to the grid, despite one leery moment exiting the Lesmos. Heikki Kovalainen headed the runners coming home a lap down, beating Caterham team-mate Vitaly Petrov to the flag by just 0.1secs, while Charles Pic got the better of the Marussia battle by a lot more over Timo Glock. Pedro de la Rosa had to settle for 18th on his 100th race appearance in the top flight, while Narain Karthikeyan again brought up the rear.
A bad day for Red Bull was exacerbated by Mark Webber's late spin at Ascari, which left the Australian with unmanageable flat spots and precipitated a DNF two laps from home, and Jean-Eric Vergne's early acrobatics, after a suspected suspension failure pitched the Frenchman's Toro Rosso over the kerbs at Rettifilio and left him nursing bruises. Nico Hulkenberg was the other casualty, his Sahara Force India losing its brakes in the closing stages.
The battle for the title reconvenes in two weeks' time in Singapore, where Alonso will be hoping for Lady Luck to again help turn the lights out on his rivals.