Massa was the first man to blink at the end of lap 18, switching over to a used set of Bridgestone's harder-spec rubber, with Kubica making his stop on the same tour and Webber doing likewise, giving Trulli the incentive to push in an effort to get by the Red Bull.
Such had been Massa's pace, indeed, that he rejoined the fray still in front of team-mate Raikkonen, and Hamilton gave the lie to those who believed he would be running somewhat longer than the Ferrari by coming in next time around. Critically, though, the Briton re-took to the circuit behind the scrapping Alonso and Raikkonen, promoting team-mate Kovalainen to the head of the field for the first time in the race.
Glock was the next man into the pits – going further into the grand prix than many had expected and fuelling for a lengthy middle stint – with Kovalainen stopping at the end of lap 20 and enduring a minor delay on his rear wheel.
Raikkonen got baulked by the Scuderia Toro Rosso of Vettel as both he and Alonso came up to lap the young German – and the two former world champions were both into the pit-lane at the end of the lap, Alonso holding onto the place by the narrowest of margins.
Trulli was the last of the front-runners to pit a lap later still, the Italian successfully leapfrogging both Webber's RBR and Kubica's fading BMW, whilst a long-running Piquet very nearly came out from his stop in front of Raikkonen too, which would have meant double Renault trouble for the Ferrari star – and double frustration to boot.
Coulthard was up into fifth place 27 laps in, just over eight seconds adrift of Glock and running a long first stint with the super-soft tyres on his Red Bull, whilst his soon-to-be successor Vettel became the race's first retiree after his engine overheated during his opening stop.
When Coulthard did finally come in at the end of lap 29, he rejoined the fray alongside Rubens Barrichello, with the pair of them staging a near-repeat of their Hockenheim tussle – albeit without the costly clash at the end of it this time.
Up front, meanwhile, Massa was still edging slowly clear of the chasing Hamilton, holding a margin of nearly four seconds as the race neared its midway mark, whilst a small fire during Sébastien Bourdais' first pit-stop was swiftly put out by the STR crew, before Kazuki Nakajima had a similar encounter in his Williams.
There was subsequently a further fuel fire incident when the unfortunate Barrichello came in to make his first stop as, in a near carbon copy of the Brazilian's Silverstone woes that had arguably cost him second place in the British Grand Prix, the fuel hose initially failed to properly connect to his Honda and flames began to lick the side of the car.
With 30 laps to go, there was suddenly disaster for McLaren when Hamilton went off-course, the legacy of a left front puncture – as he had suffered in Istanbul last year – that sent him touring back to the pit-lane as quickly as he dared. That left the Briton to complete the final 29-lap stint on Bridgestone's super-soft tyres – reducing his grand prix to an exercise in damage limitation and promoting Glock up into a potential podium position.