Fernando Alonso’s bad luck turns good for win

2008 Singapore Grand Prix

While Felipe Massa led at the start Fernando Alonso was a long way back

While Felipe Massa led at the start Fernando Alonso was a long way back

Fernando Alonso scored his first win in over a year and Renault’s first win in almost twice that time as the new Singapore circuit created a surprise result.

It was an unusual podium featuring Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the latter extending his title lead on a poor day for Ferrari.

Felipe Massa failed to score after another disastrous problem during their pit stops, and Kimi Raikkonen crashed late in the race.

Mixed fortunes for Alonso

Fortunate toyed with Alonso all weekend. He was quickly up to speed on the bumpy Singapore street circuit, fastest in the second and third free practice sessions, and fancied his chances of taking pole position.

But a car failure in qualifying left him a wretched 15th – a starting position no driver had ever won a Grand Prix from in the 799 world championship events leading up to this race. It took a strategic gamble and a stroke of fortune to bring him into play on race day.

At the start Felipe Massa was quickly down to business, pulling out a lead over Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen stayed third ahead of Robert Kubica, who barged Heikki Kovalainen aside at turn three, leaving Sebastian Vettel and Timo Glock to pass the Finn.

Jarno Trulli made an excellent start from 11th to move up to ninth. But with a fuel-heavy car he quickly had a train of rivals stuck behind him: Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, David Coulthard and Sebastien Bourdais all covered by 5.1s on lap five.

After several attempts Rosberg got by Trulli on lap seven. Soon Nakajima and Alonso were also through, but the leaders had dashed away.

Massa maintains his lead

Massa had a three second lead over Hamilton by lap nine, with Raikkonen a further 4.3 behind. But Raikkonen’s lap times started to improve and he set a pair of fastest laps, cutting Hamilton’s advantage to 2.6s by lap 13.

Meanwhile Alonso, who along with Rosberg had started on the less favourable super-soft tyres, made his first pit stop. Although he fell to last it proved extraordinarily fortunate timing when his team mate crashed two laps later, Nelson Piquet Jnr backing his car into the wall in front of the grand stands by the Marina.

The arrival of the safety car on track meant the pits would have to be closed. The leaders had already passed the pit lane entrance when the crash happened but Red Bull reacted quickly and got Mark Webber and David Coulthard in.

Rosberg and Kubica, however, were running low on fuel and had to pit while the pit lane was off-bounds. That meant they were guaranteed a penalty later in the race.

Pit lane disaster for Ferrari

When the pit lane opened most of the remaining cars streamed in, including both Ferraris and McLarens, Vettel, Glock, Nakajima and Button. Felipe Massa was first into his pit box but when Ferrari’s unique gantry lights above the pit told him to leave the fuel nozzle was still attached to his car.

Massa took the fuel hose down the pit lane, knocked one of his mechanics over, swerved in front of Adrian Sutil, and stopped before the exit. His remaining mechanics sprinted the entire length of the pit lane after the car, and after a few heaves managed to wrench the hose off the car. But the stewards took a dim view of the incident, and along with Kubica and Rosberg, Massa was later hauled in for a penalty.

It was a double blow for Ferrari as Raikkonen had been forced to queue behind Massa before making his pit stop, and Kovalainen had the same problem with respect to Hamilton.

Video of Massa’s pit lane disaster

Rosberg loses the lead

The penalty was of little consequence to Massa as he has already fallen to the back of the pack. But Rosberg, who had been ahead of Alonso, potentially lost a shot at victory at this point.

He led the field after the restart with Trulli and Fisichella – both of whom had not pitted – right behind him. Then came Kubica who was due a penalty, and Alonso, then the two Red Bulls of Coulthard and Webber, who had got their pit stop in early. Then came the first of the original group of leaders, Hamilton, ahead of Vettel and Glock.

With Trulli and Fisichella holding the field up Rosberg pulled as far away as he could before taking his penalty. He managed nine laps before he had to take to the pits, pulling out enough of an advantage to resume in front of Coulthard and Hamilton.

After the others had made their pit stops and served their penalties Alonso took the lead from Rosberg, Coulthard and Hamilton. He came out in front of the Red Bull after his pit stop on lap 41, which gave Hamilton the chance he’d been looking for to pass.

Coulthard defended turn seven but a late-braking move by Hamilton gave him third place. It hardly mattered though, as both pitted on the end of that lap and a problem getting away four Coulthard meant Hamilton would have had the place anyway.

Meanwhile Raikkonen had made better progress up through the field than Massa. Massa had fuelled to the end of the race on lap 31, meaning he was tackling half the race distance on one set of super-softs. Raikkonen was up to ninth by lap 37 and took Trulli on the following lap to move up into the points.

Massa seemed to be struggling with his tyres and a moment’s misjudgement at turn 18 sent him spinning backwards into the barrier. He was able to get going again, but pulled away as – who else – Sutil was arriving onto the scene. Sutil crashed into the barrier more comprehensively, calling for a second safety car period.

Late scare for Alonso

Once again it seemed fortune was playing with Alonso. He’d had a healthy lead over Rosberg before the second interruption, now his advantage was gone – and so was Rosberg’s with respect of Hamilton. But they were both on the soft tyres while Hamilton was on the super-softs, and if that was not enough to dissuade him from making a rash more the thought he was about to make big gains in the championship surely was.

Hamilton got a bit of a run on Rosberg at the lap 53 restart, but a little over-steer at the exit of turn five gave Rosberg crucial extra breathing space and allowed him to hold onto second.

Hamilton had Glock on his case who in turn was defending from Raikkonen – but not for long. On lap 57 Raikkonen hit the kerbs at turn 10 too hard and went straight into the barrier. It was a fourth no-score for Raikkonen and, completing Ferrari’s misery, gave McLaren the constructors’ championship lead.

Alonso’s win might have looked lucky, but his fortune in the race was at least partly caused by his misfortune during qualifying. Any winner after two hours on a bumpy, barrier-lined track in such heat must be a worthy one.

Hamilton extends his championship lead

Rosberg’s second place and Kazuki Nakajima’s late promotion to eighth (thanks to Raikkonen) gave Williams a vital boost. Hamilton’s six points were, ironically, the same he had lost in the contentious stewards’ ruling on Monday, giving him a seven point advantage over Massa though he will no doubt be ruing that it is not 13.

Glock was fourth after comfortably out-driving team mate Trulli all weekend, his team mate retiring from fifth on lap 51 with an hydraulic problem,. Vettel’s sixth place was especially impressive compared to his team mate’s torrid weekend, Sebastien Bourdais finishing 12th after spinning early on.

Nick Heidfeld scored three points and, like Kubica, is mathematically still in the title chase. Coulthard claimed two points for Red Bull after Webber dropped out half way through the race, and the final point went to Nakajima.

Massa was 13th after his pit problems and penalty, a galling result after an initial problem that was totally out of his control. Only Fisichella finished behind him, and Raikkonen, whose F2008 was buried in the turn 10 wall.

Full 2008 Singapore Grand Prix results
Full championship standings after Singapore

Update: Several months after the race it was discovered Renault instructed Piquet to crash to help Alonso win. The race finishing positions were not altered.

Fernando Alonso\'s win was his first since Monza last year

Fernando Alonso's win was his first since Monza last year

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97 comments on Fernando Alonso’s bad luck turns good for win

  1. Alex Cooper said on 28th September 2008, 18:04

    I don’t have a problem with Alonso, though I agree with Martin Brundle who during his commentary suggested that Alonso’s image is need of repairing in the eyes of some F1 people after last year.

    It was a hard fought win today, though, and he and Renault fully deserve it. An inspired strategy.

    Kudos to ING for getting their product so well noticed on Martin’s grid-walk, followed by their team winning the race!

  2. I feel that Massa’s drive through penalty was unjust. Surely the FIA should follow precedent and issue him with a 10,000 Euro fine?

    (before anyone bites I should inform you that I have an appointment this evening to have my tongue surgically removed from my cheek)

  3. Wow, I just love this kind of races because you enjoy them so much!! I was stuck in my chair through all the race :D I can’t bear boring races like that one in Valencia. The races are so much fun when Alonso is in the middle :) His car has been competitive for all the week, making the best times and all, so I guess the win is deserved, lucky or not.

    The one that had the worst luck was definitely Massa :( . It was a pity.

    By the way, you can cut the chicane at the start of the race if you don’t have enough room to pass save the corner. That’s how it’s always been. Other completely different thing is doing that in other moment of the race, just to gain a position. In the first corner there are so many cars that you have to go open sometimes if you don’t want to hit someone.

  4. Amazing experience, Inaugural night race.

    As a Williams fan couldn’t have been much happier with the results.

    Alonso two times World Champion taking Top step of podium..but was the first safety car orchestrated?
    It resulted just after Alonso’s pit-stop.
    And my speculation is fueled seeing Briatore, getting evasive, when scribe asked him “Piquet” chipped in a “small way”

    My heart goes out for Massa – Ferrari didn’t learn from the Valencia gaffe and ultimately that came and bit them at wrong time. Montezemello , needs to suck up his ego and get rid of Italian team managers, get back Todt and Brawn

    Great race overall, but not sure night race at “dedicated road circuit” would be a good idea. the novelty factor will wear off if overdone


    PS – Live Blogging @f1fanatic was amazing experience. Thats closest I have been to enjoy a F1 race while bantering with buddies,ever since I moved on this side of Atlantic :D

  5. Mahesh: what would you do if you were Piquet and Briatore told you that you have to crash your car into the wall to give Alonso a chance to win? O_O What’s Piquet, a kamikaze? His car crashed at a very high speed, there’s no way that was calculated.

  6. @Alex Cooper – Don’t expect more from Fernando Massa or that matter any driver. It attribute it to a) age b) Driver’s fragile ego. All the drivers have shown these tendencies.

    Occassionally you have a really good, well mannered bloke. But good blokes hardly have the last laugh if History of competitive sports goes ( Some that do are exceptional)

    Returning to Alonso – I am not sure if Martin Brundle has missed it. His McLaren “Experience” has brought lots of calmness and Maturity in Alonso. His esctatic responses to Glories of Kubica,Heiki (Poles) and recently Vettel taking his record of Youngest race winner, has been well telivised.
    Alonso of 2003-2007 was not this type. everyone must have seen him sulk on Trulli’s Monaco win 04 and his Whine when Fisi was not letting him pass at Canada’05.
    So Alonso is changing, question is are we the spectators still watching him with tinted glasses ???

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th September 2008, 18:20

    There’s a video of the start here but it’s rather hard to see where he was before the first corner. I’d like to see the onboard before making by mind up. It wouldn’t be the first time the stewards had ignored drivers cutting the first corner to make up places.

  8. The ING Renault won in Singapore the home of ING, just when ING were reviewing whether to continue in a sponsors role…….. amazing good luck eh?

  9. @ Paty – If my contract was renewed for next two years , I would do that for “team cause”. Piquet is under pressure to hold his seat. He is not bad driver, but he has joined a team on it down turn, which doesn’t have resources like McLaren or Ferrari and in days where testing is limited, And these are some reasons he is struggling in his Debut year.

    In F1 as in life , perceptions matter a lot, a Kimi may suck but still get good seats and good monies, while a Bourdais maybe dumped though his extracting more out of his STR than what a Kimi is doing with superior Ferrari. So If playing team game , is assuring me future I will do that.
    But then again, Teams have short memories , who forget team games of drivers in a race or two (ask Nick how he feels about letting Kubica through at Canada)…

  10. ING is dutch aren’t they? So I don’t really see the link there steve.

    I am both glad and sad to see a more mature Lewis waiting with a potentially dangerous overtaking. Pre-Spa Lewis might have taken on DC and Rosberg earlier, and either succeeded with a stunning ballsy move or crashed out.

    More about the start, Kubicas tough take on Kova there was really on the limit since Kova was well ahead. Borderline penalty no?

  11. Post 10# Jian

    It was a day and a race filled with ironies and karma. Massa has gathered bad karma from the unsafe release ahead of a certain Adrian Sutil in Valencia, from saying that he was satisfied with the ruling and his extra points this Monday. His drove brilliantly today yet the mishap was well earned

    Let me ask you, what was the bad karma Massa did to earn an engine failure at Hungary; a fuel hose problem at Canada?
    We all agree that Ferrari did an embarrassing work in the pits today; but PLEASE, don’t tell me Massa’s mishaps today were “WELL-EARNED”.

  12. @Jian – ING is Dutch , but they are a) expanding in Asia b)Singapore is Financial Hub, all Major Financial Institutions have operations in Singapore, from where they oversee Asian Markets…

  13. @Jian – “I am both glad and sad to see a more mature Lewis waiting with a potentially dangerous overtaking. Pre-Spa Lewis might have taken on DC and Rosberg earlier”

    Lets keep our judgement reserved on that. Remember this was street circuit..so can’t compare his reactions at Road circuit like Magny or Spa to Singapore, here a “ballsy” overtake could have ended up in Armco lining the street and game over. He has to play for numbers now, rather then have sweaty palms and hit wrong buttons :p

  14. About Alonso’s first lap shenanigans, Don’t ever trust Planet-F1 to give accurate reports. They are complete suckers for Lewis Hamilton.

    After Valencia; their headline was “Massa wins European Grand Prix, but for how long”

    After Spa: “Lewis robbed of win, Death of FIA”

    And now this,

    P-F1 is worse F1 site ever..

  15. @Mahesh: it still looked too much to me, if you see the video of the accident, it’s difficult to imagine it like a plan. It’s life we’re talking about, not a contract. His head was pretty close to the wall, and I wouldn’t confide so much in the car’s resistence. Besides, after that Piquet looked really pissed… If he put an act, then he’d rather leave the F1 and go to Hollywood, he could make it big time there.

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