Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya steered clear of a dramatic first-corner crash to win the German Grand Prix and throw the world championship race wide open.
The Colombian finished more than a minute clear in the extreme heat at Hockenheim as world title contenders Kimi Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher were eliminated at the start.
Defending champion and current leader Michael Schumacher gained just two points for seventh place after he suffered a puncture when in second place with just four laps remaining.
McLaren's David Coulthard took advantage to finish second, with the Renault of Jarno Trulli, who was suffering from dehydration at the end of the race, in third followed by team-mate Fernando Alonso.
The result means that Michael Schumacher holds onto his lead in the drivers' world championship with 71 points, but Montoya trails by just six points with four races remaining.
"The whole weekend went really well for me," said Montoya. "I got a lot out of the car and then it was just a case of trying not to make any mistakes."
Michael Schumacher's late puncture was a cruel blow as he looked set to extend his lead at the top of the overall standings, but his left-rear tyre failed as Ferrari pursued a high-risk two-stop strategy.
Rubens Barrichello's ponderous start to the race led to the first-corner crash that cost Ralf Schumacher and Raikkonen their place in the race.
Starting from second, Ralf Schumacher moved across to defend his racing line, squeezing Barrichello's space. Raikkonen was right alongside the Brazilian and, with nowhere left to go, he slammed into the Ferrari before skidding into the tyre barrier with a huge impact.
Although Ralf Schumacher accelerated away from the first-corner accident, the Williams car had sustained such damage that it proved impossible to continue.
The knock-on effects of the incident also accounted for several cars further back in the field with Ralph Firman, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Justin Wilson - in his first race for Jaguar - all forced out.
With the safety car out, Montoya, who had started on pole, escaped the mayhem to hold onto the lead from the Renault duo of Trulli and Alonso, with Michael Schumacher fourth.
The Williams driver set an electric pace and sped more than 20 seconds ahead of Trulli by lap 24 as Michael Schumacher - another beneficiary of the first corner chaos - played safe in fourth.
On lap 31, Alonso misjudged a right-hand corner and drifted onto the grass to gift third place to the defending world champion and the Renault was soon passed by Coulthard.
The Toyota pair of Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta showed their decent showing in qualifying was no fluke as they came in fifth and sixth - the first time they have had both cars in the points.
BAR's Jenson Button earned a point in eighth after a superb drive from 17th on the grid.
Justin Wilson suffered disappointment in his first race for Jaguar. He was forced to retire after six laps with damage incurred in the first-corner melee.