A new fastest lap from Raikkonen – the first man to dip below the 1m45s barrier – saw the Finn take a full seven tenths out of Hamilton's advantage over the course of a single tour, as the Scuderia seemed to begin to sense a one-two to grab control in the drivers' title chase back from the Briton.
Kovalainen, meanwhile, was struggling back in traffic behind Vettel and Glock, lapping up to a second-and-a-half shy of his team-mate, as Alonso became the first man to blink at the end of lap twelve and the under-fire Bourdais the first man to spin, the Frenchman rejoining the fray after a neat 360.
Just a couple of laps later came the race's first major – and as it would transpire pivotal – incident, when Nelsinho Piquet lost control of his Renault and spun it sideways into the wall on the exit of turn 17, bringing out the safety car. Whilst both Red Bulls and Honda's Rubens Barrichello reacted quickly enough to make their pit visits before the safety car was deployed, Rosberg and Kubica were less fortunate, having to come in to re-fuel whilst the pit-lane was still closed – and taking the accompanying penalty that goes with it.
Barrichello's good fortune, meanwhile, rapidly turned into bad fortune as his car stopped out on-track with no fuel having gone in, whilst as soon as the pit-lane was open Massa, Hamilton and Raikkonen came in en masse, with high drama as Ferrari's pit-stop again ended in disaster. As Massa was given the green light to pull away, the fuel hose was still attached, and as the Brazilian accelerated he took it with him, pulling a mechanic to the ground and almost colliding with the Force India of Adrian Sutil – again, not for the first time in 2008…
The ensuing drama also cost team-mate Raikkonen time, and after reaching the end of the pit-lane Massa was forced to pull to the side and wait for his pit crew to arrive to remove the offending hose, cheered on ironically by McLaren's mechanics as they rushed to his aid.
All of that chaos left Rosberg leading Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella – who had started the grand prix from the pit-lane following his two Saturday shunts – Kubica, Alonso, Webber, Coulthard and Hamilton, with Rosberg and Kubica both facing stop-go penalties and Massa plum last.
Kovalainen and Raikkonen were also big losers from the pit-stop rush, exiting down in 14th and 15th positions respectively, as a clearly frustrated Massa – almost 20 seconds off the race lead – ran wide through the final corner in his efforts to get past Bourdais.
Fisichella – lapping three seconds slower than leader Rosberg – was now backing the field up, with Kubica, Alonso and co seemingly unable to find a way past the experienced Italian, again punching above his weight in the Force India. That allowed Rosberg to extend his advantage to some ten seconds, as it was confirmed that the German, Kubica and Massa were all under investigation.
Massa was the first to be awarded a drive-through penalty, with Rosberg and Kubica subsequently receiving stop-and-gos, as Fisichella continued to frustrate the pursuing pack behind him, and Hamilton remained tucked up behind the two RBRs with 35 laps left to run.
Webber was the next man to run into trouble, going wide as he ceded places to Coulthard, Hamilton, Glock and Vettel – and kissing goodbye to a potential podium finish. Rosberg pitting to serve his penalty, meanwhile, promoted Trulli to the head of the field and made it an Italian one-two on the leaderboard with Fisichella up to second.