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.
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.
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.