Double world champion Fernando Alonso scored his first win of the 2008 season with a fantastic drive in the first ever Formula One night race in Singapore. The Spaniard recorded his 20th career Grand Prix victory (his previous was back in 2007 at Monza) and the Renault team’s first since Suzuka two years ago.
The surprising race victory was made even sweeter as Alonso started the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in a disappointed 15th position following a fuel feed problem in qualifying. The Spaniard had the speed to match the top runners but it was pure irony that his own team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr (who crashed into the wall on lap 14) that resulted in Alonso taking his first victory for the team.
As for Felipe Massa, who started the race from pole position, it was weekend to forget after yet another dramatic incident in the pits… The Brazilian was looking comfortable after leading from lap one ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Scuderia team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Meanwhile Fernando Alonso was making good progress after the team adopted an aggressive pit strategy for the race. It worked beautifully as the Spaniard made his first pit stop, two laps before his team-mate hit the wall resulting in a Safety Car period.
It was at this point, Ferrari chose to pit both Massa and Raikkonen for fuel and new tyres but it all went wrong for the Brazilian. Unlike the rest of the Formula One grid, the Ferrari team uses a unique gantry lights over the traditional ‘lollipop’. The lights above the pit told the driver when it was safe to go but unfortunately, it was human error by the pit crew to tell Massa to leave the area too prematurely…
Seeing the green light above him, Massa accelerated with the fuel hose still attached knocking over several mechanics… He rejoined just in front of Adrian Sutil, the same driver in that controversy pit lane incident in Valencia. Massa stopped his car at the end of the pit lane so that his Ferrari pit crew can remove the damaged fuel hose. It took a while to wrench the hose off the Ferrari but by then Massa had lost the lead and was way down the order. The Brazilian finished in a disappointing 13th with a drive-through penalty for ‘unsafe release in the pits’ adding insult to his injury.
During this Safety Car period, the pit lane was closed but Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica had no option but to pit as the pair were running low on fuel… And yes, that silly rule for pitting when the pit lane is closed means Nico and Robert were given ten-second stop and go penalties. But in the case of Rosberg, the Williams driver made up the lost ground by setting qualifying laps one after another that resulting in a superb second place at the chequered flag, his best ever for the German.
As for Lewis Hamilton, the championship leader extends his points lead with a third place finish. He is now seven points clear of nearest challenger Massa with three races left in this exciting season. The McLaren driver can afford to finish second behind the Brazilian in the remaining Grands Prix and still be crowned champion.
Returning back to Alonso, not even a second Safety Car period, caused by Massa spinning and an unsighted Sutil crashed into the tyre wall on lap 51 could prevent the Spaniard on winning this night-time race. The 2005 and 2006 champion benefitted from his short fuel stint in the first part of the race to leap up the order in the Renault. And thanks to running this aggressive strategy, good fortune and great pace, Alonso scored his 50th podium finish.
Kimi Raikkonen ended Ferrari’s weekend from hell by crashing in the final stages of the Singapore Grand Prix. The Finn simply clipped the chicane kerb a bit too hard, which resulted in the red car making heavy impact against the outside wall… It was another non-points finish for the reigning world champion and the Finn admitted afterwards that his title hopes are now over.
Toyota’s Timo Glock finished in fourth after passing Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel during the second restart. While BMW Sauber Nick Heidfeld, David Coulthard for Red Bull Racing, and Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima completed the points scorers ahead of Honda’s Jenson Button.
So a fantastic race at Singapore. With far more overtaking than the drivers had predicted, Formula One’s first-ever night race packed in plenty of excitement, and was adjudged a great success.
Race results from Singapore – 61 laps:
1. Alonso Renault 1h57:16.304
2. Rosberg Williams-Toyota +2.957
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +5.917
4. Glock Toyota +8.155
5. Vettel Toro Rosso-Ferrari +10.268
6. Heidfeld BMW Sauber +11.101
7. Coulthard Red Bull-Renault +16.387
8. Nakajima Williams-Toyota +18.489
9. Button Honda +19.885
10. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes +26.902
11. Kubica BMW Sauber +27.975
12. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari +29.432
13. Massa Ferrari +35.170
14. Fisichella Force India-Ferrari +43.571
15. Raikkonen Ferrari +4 laps
Fastest lap: Raikkonen, 1:45.599
Trulli Toyota 51 laps
Sutil Force India-Ferrari 50 laps
Webber Red Bull-Renault 30 laps
Barrichello Honda 15 laps
Piquet Renault 14 laps
World Championship standings, round 15:
1. Hamilton 84
2. Massa 77
3. Kubica 64
4. Raikkonen 57
5. Heidfeld 56
6. Kovalainen 51
7. Alonso 38
8. Vettel 27
9. Trulli 26
10. Glock 20
11. Webber 20
12. Rosberg 17
13. Piquet 13
14. Barrichello 11
15. Nakajima 9
16. Coulthard 8
17. Bourdais 4
18. Button 3
1. McLaren-Mercedes 135
2. Ferrari 134
3. BMW Sauber 120
4. Renault 51
5. Toyota 46
6. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 31
7. Red Bull-Renault 28
8. Williams-Toyota 26
9. Honda 14
Next race: Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji Speedway, October 10-12