SINGAPORE, Sept 23, 2012 (AFP) - Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel survived an incident-packed Singapore Grand Prix to reignite his world title defence with a thrilling victory on Sunday.
After two safety cars, crashes and the shock retirement of Lewis Hamilton while leading, Vettel, Formula One's youngest double champion, finished in front of McLaren's Jenson Button for only his second win of the season.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso was third, mounting his eighth podium of the year in the dramatic night race around the narrow, demanding street circuit through the heart of downtown Singapore.
Force India's Paul di Resta took an impressive fourth and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was fifth, ahead of Lotus's former world champion Kimi Raikkonen.
Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez -- promoted one place after a time penalty for Mark Webber -- rounded out the top 10 in a race that was cut short by two laps to 59 after hitting its two-hour time-limit.
With the win, Vettel climbs to second in the standings behind the consistent Alonso, who has a reduced lead of 29 points. Raikkonen lies third and the unlucky Hamilton drops down to fourth.
"This has been one of toughest races of the year, to be honest," said Vettel, last year's winner in Singapore, who will now fancy his chances of a third straight title.
"There are so many bumps, there's no room for mistakes and it just seems to go on forever... I'm just incredibly happy."
Hamilton made a smooth start from pole accompanied by Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, but a misjudgment on the first corner cost the Venezuelan two places as Vettel and Button sailed through.
Several cars ran wide on the first two corners and Caterham's Vitaly Petrov lost some of his front wing, but an investigation found no cause for punishment.
Ferrari's Massa was the big loser in the early jostling as he dropped to the back after pitting with a puncture. At the front Hamilton and Vettel, swapping fastest laps, were peeling away from Button.
Red Bull driver Webber came in for soft tyres on lap nine, setting a trend followed by the leading drivers. His team-mate Vettel overcame a scare at turn 10, the notorious "Singapore Sling".
Sauber's Perez also had a problem at the tough corner and Maldonado would have had his heart in his mouth as he pounded the brakes and narrowly averted a slide heading wide into a left-hander at the end of a long straight.
Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 12 but was soon back in front, ahead of Vettel. But disaster struck on lap 23 when a gearbox failure put him out of the race, prompting gasps from the crowd.
Vettel was now in the lead for one of the rare occasions this season, but HRT's Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan added a fresh twist when he ploughed into a barrier and stopped on the track, prompting the safety car.
Most cars took the opportunity to pit. But Maldonado, after complaining of a hydraulic problem, rolled his car into the garage and out of the race.
Button nearly collided with Vettel before the safety car left the track -- and straight after the resumption Schumacher ploughed dramatically into the back of Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, smashing up the front wheels of his Mercedes.
Despite the front of Schumacher's car briefly becoming airborne, both drivers emerged unharmed. The seven-time world champion was later hit by 10-place grid penalty, to be served at the next race in Japan, over the crash.
After the safety car withdrew for a second time, Massa made contact with Bruno Senna as he barged past, and only just retained control of his car in a wild manoeuvre that took him up to ninth.
Vettel set consecutive fastest laps as he scented his second victory in a row in Singapore, with a lead of nearly two seconds over Button heading into the final 15 laps. Alonso was seven seconds adrift in third.
Perez lost bodywork in a misguided attempt to squeeze past Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, and Webber veered off the track as he passed Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, a move that cost him a 20-second time penalty.
But the race was now Vettel's to lose and he brought calm to the chaotic grand prix with a smooth ride to the abbreviated finish.