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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Alonso wins in Singapore

Fernando Alonso used an opportune safety car period to put himself into position to win the first F1 night race under the lights in downtown Singapore.

“Fantastic. A first podium of the season and first victory as well and I am extremely happy,” said Alonso. “I cannot believe it right now, I think I need a couple of days to realise we won a race this year.”

Just as elated was Nico Rosberg, who took second in conditions which proved hot, but remained dry despite a threat of rain.

“Everything went our way for once which is fantastic for me and for the whole team,” he said.

Lewis Hamilton recovered from the shakeup to take third, while Ferrari suffered a terrible day with Felipe Massa well out of the points and Kimi Raikkonen in the wall in the closing laps.

“We had great pace generally,” Hamilton said. “It was unfortunate that I got stuck behind David Coulthard as he was a good second slower than me but also a good second slower than everyone in front of us. It was so difficult to get close to him and to overtake but he drove a fantastic race and so did these two guys. It is good to be up here though, we got good points.”

For Alonso, it was a great achievement considering most wrote his challenge off after his car failure in Q2 yesterday. It has been a tough season at Renault, but while may are more concerned about his next job, the Spaniard took a moment to savor the result.

“We have had a tough, tough 2008 championship but now we are fighting for fourth place in the Constructors’. This victory is well deserved as the guys worked extremely hard all through the season,” Alonso enthused. “We start far behind, maybe one second behind BMW, now we are the same pace as them or even better and this is thanks to a great job. We will keep on pushing. Three more races to go and next year more.”

Massa was the leader until the safety car came out, summoned when Alonso’s teammate Nelson Piquet put his Renault into the wall, and closed the pitlane just in time for to catch out the one-stoppers.

Ferrari was obviously thrown off its game, and mayhem ensued in the pits when Massa’s lollipop man released the Brazilian early, and he took off down the pitlane with the fuelhose attached.

He was able to stop at the end of the lane while the team removed the impediment, but for all intents and purposes, his race was done. A drive through for “unsafe release” added insult to injury. Massa tooled around in the back for the remainder of the night.

In replays, the light on Ferrari’s new electronic pit signal was green, and it was not the first time this season this fascinating piece of gadgetry seemed to malfunction. One wonders how much of an improvement it is upon the old-fashioned lollipop.

“It's hard to deal with losing in this fashion a race that was within our grasp, with a car that was just the way I wanted it,” said Massa. “We had a good strategy and all the signs were there that we could get a one-two finish. But things can change in a moment and that's what happened today. At the pit stop, one of the guys made a mistake. But we are only human. Each one of us always tries to do our best and these things can happen.”

It was a bitter blow for the Brazilian, Massa had beaten Hamilton off the line and quickly rocketed into the lead. Teammate Raikkonen was not able to do the same, and the McLaren man slipped into second and pursuit.

“I think in the first few laps being behind Felipe but being quite quick compared to him at the beginning I probably used up more of my tyres than I potentially needed to. That was the only opportunity for me to get past him,” Hamilton explained.

Massa’s gap was 4.5 seconds when Piquet found the wall on turn 17.

With the pits closed just when one-stoppers were running on fumes, both Rosberg and Robert Kubica were forced to come in, incurring stop and go penalties. The result was disastrous for the BMW Sauber man.

Rosberg, out in front, was able to minimize the impact on his race by building a gap.

“When I saw the safety car coming out just on the lap where I had to pit, the crew had already told me come in this lap and then the safety car comes out and I was thinking ‘this is not possible, it is every single time exactly the same thing.’” Rosberg said. “I was really annoyed and I thought that was it, that was the end of it. I then realised I was able to pull enough of a gap afterwards to be in a good position after my stop and go, so that was great.”

But the true beneficiary was Alonso, who had pitted before the safety car period.

“We chose to do a very aggressive first stint as we knew starting 15 you cannot overtake anyone here. We thought about a one stop strategy but we had some concerns with the brakes, so we said one stop is not possible, so we tried something very different,” Alonso explained.

Between the penalties and the Massa chaos, once again we were left questioning the logic of a rule designed to limit just this kind of craziness.

The Spaniard began to consolidate his lead while his challengers fell in behind him. Hamilton had his hands full stuck behind David Coulthard and race leader Jarno Trulli, on a one-stop, pitted on lap 33.

By the time of the second round of stops, Alonso and Rosberg were the frontrunners. Hamilton used a bit of Red Bull chaos to get past Coulthard in the pitlane, but it was going to take something big to close the gap.

And that’s when Adrian Sutil, trying to avoid Felipe Massa, nosed into the wall on turn 17. By now Trulli’s challenge was over, and only Rosberg stood between Hamilton and Alonso as the field bunched up behind the safety car.

But on the restart, Alonso again streaked off into the distance, while McLaren took the safe rout, pressuring Rosberg but not attempting an ill-advised pass, and Alonso became the first winner of the Singapore Grand Prix.

“I think I had a little bit of an advantage compared to Nico because of the tyres. I think the prime were a little bit better, so I was with the better tyre in the last stint of the race,” Alonso said. “I was running with low revs when I was alone and then at the restart I put maximum engine and thanks to the tyres as well I was able to pull away from Nico.”

The odds are vastly improved for Hamilton, who stretched his lead in the drivers championship to seven points, and saw the likely end of world champion Kimi Raikkonen’s bid when the Finn clipped the controversial high curb at the turn 10 chicane and went into the wall.

“My situation in the championship was already rather compromised, so this doesn't really make that much difference but I am unhappy because the team has lost precious points in the constructors' classification,” the Finn said.

McLaren now leads the constructors championship, holding a one-point edge on their rivals from Maranello.

With three races to go, Ferrari and Massa could ill-afford this kind of drama. Advantage Hamilton, but it is a slim advantage.

“Seven points to make up in three races? That can be a lot or it can be a little,” said Massa. “We have the potential to do well, as we saw today and we will give it our best shot. We mustn't give up and I'm sure we won't.”

The action continues in two weeks time at Fuji for the Japanese Grand Prix. Given the unpredictable nature of the Japanese weather, it should prove interesting. Don't miss the top stories of the day, subscribe to the SpeedRead Web newspaper now! -- Email SpeedRead -- Learn more about author C.D. Six

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it about time for Luca to take a three pound hammer to the 'twinkle-light' system? At least when the paddle slams back down, the driver hits the brakes. By the time the little light changes back to red, the driver isn't looking at it anymore.
Chris

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