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

Advert | Go Ad-free

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

  1. MacademiaNut said on 29th September 2008, 6:08

    @Keith,

    This discussion on karma reminded me of a program that I saw on TV long time ago about some of the superstitious beliefs that the top chess grandmasters and top athletes have to date. To name two:

    1. Gary Kasparov touches all his chess pieces once before he makes his first move.

    2. Michael Jordan wore his NCSU (college basketball) jersey underneath the Bulls jersy.

    Do you know from interviews of past F1 racers, if they had any such superstitious beliefs? I guess it would make a nice article.

  2. CarlitosF1 said on 29th September 2008, 8:27

    Good point GeorgeK, the Singapore performance level of the Williams and particularly Renault are both surprising indeed. Renault have stunningly turned a tortoise into a competitive car seemingly overnight (I say overnight because whatever the team’s efforts may have been over the season, the car was still a tortoise in Monza a couple of weeks ago.) They brought a new front wing to Singapore but Alonso himself talked about an improvement of no more than half a tenth per lap. Have Briatore & Co. started to make the pending homework regarding the car’s engine? As for Williams, I’m totally helpless as to understand how they did so well this weekend… There’s some thread at pitpass.com forum rising suspicions about a proper comeback of Williams in 2009.

  3. Sumedh said on 29th September 2008, 9:36

    This year, Ferari and Mclaren have been evenly matched at almost every race.. unlike last year; when fortunes would swing wildly for both teams..

    However, among the other 8 teams, the trend has been weird; Its anybody’s guess as to who will be best of the rest at Fuji..

  4. I don’t know if people realized that many things in Renault didn’t work this week-end, and however they won at the end: one of the drivers DNF, mechanical problem for ALO in the quali, they had no simulator to prepare the race (that’s why they take the bikes…), during the race the computers didn’t work so they were unable to tell ALO how much advantage he must get before the second pit stop, the drink bottle didn’t work either so ALO couldn’t drink during the race, the strategy they applied a priori was not the best but they didn’t have the brakes to, and probably other things… They were lucky (except for Piquet) but I think the win was deserved.

  5. Its been painful to watch Alonso struggle with the Renault this year, and so even more wonderful to see the result on Sunday – Congratulations Fernando + all the team! What is interesting to consider is has the struggle made FA a better driver? Great drivers struggling with difficult cars and the outcomes? an interesting article Keith?

  6. @Roser – What source provided you with Renault “Internals”, If indeed all these are facts, increases value of Alonso’s drive a 100 times.

    On that note – Lewis Hamilton had wagered Button on “being most fit driver” on the grid, Ham looked most tired of the three podium finishers and Alonso most fit. Maybe it was the win that boosted energy in the Spaniard.

    @CarlitosF1 – You have mentioned in previos post about being a “Ohhh Kimi is sooooo cuuuuuuuute” type Gals. Its incredible to see that you are going to so many forums to get insights on the sport. :)

  7. Nico’s 2nd was one of my highlights of this year so far. What a great drive.

    CarlitosF1 – I hope it’s not just speculation about Williams. I’d dearly love them to hit the top again.

  8. @Mahesh: it is all in the interviews with Flavio and Alonso, but put together…

  9. Fortunes favour the brave they say, so Alonso was fortunate, Piquet was brave and Renault laughed all the way to INGs asian market HQ?

  10. CarlitosF1 said on 29th September 2008, 17:38

    Mahesh: As a sort of newcomer to loving F1 (and to this blog) my enthusiasm is getting pretty annoying for my friends (to label them ‘largely uninterested in F1′ would be a huge understatement), with my thorough insisting on the endless quest for the inside line, carbon-fiber poetry under the floodlights, man vs machine epic and so on… Yeah!

    Tom: Rather offtopic, but Williams seem to be very deep into KERS handling and (pls someone correct me if I’m wrong) have been the very 1st team to try a 2009-style rear wing. And I’d also like them to see them lagging a little less and scoring a little more.

    Great idea for an article MW, good drivers struggling in bad cars.

  11. Colin Williamson said on 29th September 2008, 17:56

    First of all congratulations Singapore for the great racing over the 3 days of the event, fantastic result also, I am from UK and the only downside having lived in singapore and asia for the last 17 years was the crowd safety at the circuit, also agreed with the party of 20 others we had at the event (locals also)from our Singapore company who is involved in construction and safety issues under Singapore regulations, the basic problem was insufficient controlled fence exits (EXIT ONLY) being open for people leaving at the end of the night, I was stood in a crowd of thousands standstill for about 15 mins with people getting more and more angry and frustrated and pushing and shoving began with no police or stewards to be heard, and connections through to the mall exits closing at 9.30pm which meant that people had to walk nearly half the circuit to exit the alternative areas coming back to city hall MRT (1.5 hrs later), when you have thousands of people leaving through a single overpass exit you are creating a potential disaster, on the second night security eventualy sent people on the track to avoid problems due to loss of control near gate 7, fencing in certain areas near to gate 7 were physically forced back due to crowd conditions, this was partially rectified on night 2 when police were in force to make sure of crowd movement, at the end of the night on sunday it should not take nearly a complete walk of the circuit to exit when other exit options remain fenced off and closed, lets try and get it right next time, we have already decided to re-consider the position next year.

  12. A fully deserved win for Alonso, and great to see Williams back on the podium (hopefully they can make it up to the top step soon, although I think it unlikely).
    I to wondered why it took so long to issue Rosberg and Kubica with their stop/go penalties. I remember reading earlier this year that the safety car rules were to be looked at so people who need to stop aren’t penalised so much, but it seems nothing has been agreed yet.

    From the TV pictures I thought it looked like Ferrari had reverted to using a lollipop again for Massa’s second stop, but one of the pit crew was partially blocking the camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see the traffic light system again.

    For the race itself, without the safety cars and Massa’s pit problems I think the race could have been as dull as Valencia, and although the night race was a success in terms of logistics etc I wouldn’t like to see established Grand Prix become night races, as has been mooted for Australia. Does anyone else not mind getting up early to watch a Grand Prix, as long as it is only a few times a year?

  13. It’s been a very special moment over the past 12 years waking up at 3am to watch the Australian Grand Prix weekend. Same with all the Far Eastern races, and it’s never bothered me. I’d hate to see them all go to night races, but you have to admit the whole thing looked excellent in the dark.

  14. How come Ferrari has not received a fine for the fuel hose incident. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Sutil receive a fine for a similar incident last year?

  15. @CarlitosF1 – Glad to find another F1 enthusiast. As a Life long Williams fan, Every season when Williams is doing good in “Winter Championship”, I nurse a hope that things will be great and every season its a let down. Nevertheless, hope never dies :)

    About Williams taking lead in KERS game. I feel Honda and Toyota should hold upper hand, and they are using KERS in their road cars. Williams has acquired a local UK firm that is using Flywheel based KERS device. It would be interesting to see how that fares against the “Constructors” and not to mention their Engine Supplier “Toyota” I have been reading Force F1 is planning to move to Honda (and as is STR) as Honda has its KERS well synchronized with Engine and It would be a Off the shelf solution for these teams. So lets wait and watch how Williams KERS gels with Toyota Engine.

    If indeed Williams is competitive, there are lots of commercial benefits coming way of My Team :D

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.