The McLaren rejoined the action just
– and perhaps critically – ahead of Coulthard, albeit dashing the world championship leader's hopes of a hat-trick of victories and leaving him to try and fight his way back up into the points again from tenth position, around one of the most difficult circuits on the calendar on which to overtake.
That removed the pressure almost entirely from Massa who, with a 23-second cushion over new second-placed man Kovalainen, stood to regain the advantage in the drivers' standings. The Brazilian pitted for his second and final stop with 26 tours left to run – rejoining narrowly in front of Glock, who in an inspired performance had just set the quickest final sector of anyone in the race.
Kovalainen and Glock's second stops saw the status quo
preserved at the front of the field, with the former rejoining briefly behind the still duelling Alonso and Raikkonen, and a flying Hamilton now hunting down eighth-placed Kubica six seconds up the road for the final points position.
A lurid slide from Raikkonen – sending the Ferrari shooting off-piste – badly harmed his chances of pipping Alonso in the pair's second round of stops, and left him potentially at the mercy of Piquet behind too. Incredibly, the Finn nonetheless succeeded in jumping Alonso after the duo made their respective pit-stops, whilst Kubica's second pit visit promoted Hamilton back into the points, as Giancarlo Fisichella and Nakajima very nearly touched in their battle further down the order.
Hamilton's charge continued with Toyota telling Glock to push as the McLaren – 19 seconds behind with 17 laps left to run – was still a threat, and suddenly, now released from behind Alonso, Raikkonen was the fastest man on the race track.
Piquet rejoined from his second stop practically side-by-side with Trulli, and as the Italian kept his foot in around the outside of the first corner in an effort to regain the place, his uncompromising Renault adversary aggressively forced the Toyota wide and held onto the position.
With 13 laps remaining, the recovering Hamilton's next quarry was former team-mate Alonso, with whom the Briton fell out so spectacularly at the Hungaroring this time twelve months ago, ahead in fifth. Further up the order, Glock was beginning to feel the pressure as he ran wide with Raikkonen now hunting him down – the Finn setting a new fastest lap of the race as he took as much as a second-and-a-half out of the Toyota per lap.
Hamilton's pace, though, was now beginning to fade, with the Stevenage ace having covered more laps on the super-soft rubber over the final third of the grand prix than he had done at any other stage during the course of the meeting – giving McLaren yet further cause for concern as the Woking-based outfit's weekend continued to degenerate from a dream into a nightmare.
Raikkonen, by contrast, had got the gap to Glock down to a shade over two seconds with six laps remaining, making the first rostrum finish of the reigning GP2 Series Champion's career at the pinnacle of world motorsport look increasingly tenuous as the defending Formula 1 World Champion lined up to pounce. A lap later and the difference between the pair had been reduced to next-to-nothing, as the Force India of Adrian Sutil was pushed into the garage to mark only the race's second retirement.
As the race entered its last three laps Toyota were left to agonisingly bite their nails for the second time this season – following Trulli's defence against Kovalainen for the final podium position in France – but the biggest drama of all was yet to come, as Massa's Ferrari suddenly and spectacularly blew its engine going across the start-finish line, cruelly putting the crestfallen Brazilian out of contention after having not put a wheel out of line race-long.