Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Alonso basks in spotlight after night to remember

Fernando Alonso

Nelson Piquet Jnr won the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix for his team, but he was not the victor.

One of the most dramatic and anticipated starts in Formula One history, under the lights of Singapore, saw Ferrari's Felipe Massa streak into the lead from Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, and that was the order for the first 11 laps as Alonso was trapped in 11th place behind the Williams duo of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima. Alonso dropped even further back when he was the first to refuel on the 12th lap, but that was to prove serendipitous when Piquet crashed heavily into the wall on turn 17 after spinning. As the safety car came out, fourth placed Robert Kubica and Rosberg both pitted before the pit lane was officially opened. When it was, on the 17th lap, Massa led the rash of stops from Hamilton, Raikkonen, the Italian GP winner Sebastian Vettel and Toyota's Timo Glock. And that was when Ferrari's first catastrophe struck.



The green light within his cockpit told Massa he could restart, but the refuelling hose was still attached to his car, and he inadvertently bowled over a mechanic as the hose tore away, spewing fuel everywhere. At the same time, he repeated his Valencia transgression, making an unsafe exit from the pit lane into the path of ... Adrian Sutil, the man to whom he had done the same thing there.



This time, as Kubica and Rosberg were given 10-second stop-and-go penalties, Massa was given a drive-through penalty, and effectively his afternoon was over.



This should have benefited Hamilton, but in the pit-stop shuffle he fell behind Rosberg (yet to serve his penalty), Jarno Trulli in a fuel-heavy Toyota, Giancarlo Fisichella (who had started from the very back), Kubica (also yet to stop), Alonso, and Mark Webber and David Coulthard in their Red Bulls.



Rosberg was able to serve his time on the 28th lap and only drop to fourth, which became second to Alonso when Fisichella and Trulli subsequently made their respective stops on the 29th and 33rd laps. Ironically, Hamilton had spoken the previous day of being trapped behind Coulthard, unable to pass, and now the same thing was happening as he lost a second a lap behind the Scot, and his chance of victory.



Alonso was able to make his second stop on the 41st lap, and retain the lead, just as Hamilton finally found a way past Coulthard before their final stops a lap later. The Englishman went well, but Coulthard did what Massa had done and took off with the refuelling hose still attached.



Now Alonso appeared to have it in the bag, holding a commanding lead of 18 seconds over Rosberg when the hapless Massa spun on turn 18 on the 51st lap. The Brazilian got going again, but an unsighted Sutil crashed his Force India at exactly the same spot as the Ferrari pulled away. Out came the safety car for the second time, and bang went Alonso's lead. Suddenly, Hamilton could smell blood in the water as he got another shot at his old enemy, and Rosberg. There were 17 minutes left of the race's two-hour time limit, and there was everything to play for.



At the restart on the 53rd lap, however, Alonso got the drop on Rosberg and simply swept away to open up a 3.7-second lead over the German, and was soon piling on the advantage again as Rosberg had his hands full with Hamilton. And that was all she wrote as far as the battle for the lead was concerned.



"It is a fantastic first victory and I am extremely happy," Alonso smiled. "I cannot believe it right now, I need a couple of days to realise we won a race this year! It just seemed impossible! Suddenly we have been competitive all weekend. We were unlucky yesterday and lucky today. The first safety car helped me a lot, and I was able to win.



"We had to have an aggressive, short first stint, because it is so hard to start 15th here. The start was good but not good enough, and we were very lucky, but the pace was there and the car was super today."



Further back, Raikkonen was all over Glock in the fight for fourth, and Nick Heidfeld was similarly hassling Vettel, but as Hamilton had suggested, overtaking was never going to be easy here. Nor was staying on the track, as Raikkonen proved on the 58th lap when he slid his Ferrari into an unyielding wall after bouncing over unforgiving kerbs. That ended an appalling day for the Scuderia, which was made all the worse as McLaren moved one point ahead in the World Championship for Constructors.



Wisely, Hamilton rolled off the pace in those final laps, six points being infinitely preferable to an embarrassing walk home. They increased his tally to 84, building him a seven-point advantage over Massa, 20 over Kubica and 27 over Raikkonen. Some days you don't have to finish first to be a winner.



"My first stop went really well," Hamilton said, "but I had to wait as a few cars were coming past, including Felipe, so I lost a little bit of time but it didn't cause me any troubles. We had great pace, but I was just unfortunate to get stuck behind DC [Coulthard]. It was so difficult to get close enough to him to overtake but he drove a fantastic race and so did these guys. But we got six points so it was a great race for us. There was no need to take any risks as the Ferraris were out of the points, but when you get close to people it's just impossible to overtake. I did enjoy driving this track. It was a tough weekend, but I'm very, very happy."



Thank you for being part of history, the signs said as everyone left. It certainly felt like it. Some new races manage to become instant classics. This was one of them.



Singapore Race details



Race



1 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1hr 57min 16.304sec



2 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota +00:02.957sec



3 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +00:05.917



4 T Glock (Ger) Toyota +00:08.155



5 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari _00:10.268



6 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +00:11.101



7 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault +00:16.387



8 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota +00:18.489



9 J Button (GB) Honda +00:19.885; 10 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +00:26.902; 11 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber +00:27.975; 12 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari +00:29.432; 13 F Massa (Br) Ferrari +00:35.170; 14 G Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari +00:43.571; 15 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +4 laps. Not classified (did not finish): J Trulli (It) Toyota 11 laps; A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 12 laps; M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 32 laps; R Barrichello (Br) Honda 47 laps; N Piquet (Br) Renault 48 laps.



Fastest lap: Raikkonen 1min 45.599sec, lap 14.



Drivers' standings



1 Hamilton 84pts; 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; 10= Webber 20; 12 Rosberg 17; 13 Piquet 13; 14 Barrichello 11; 15 Nakajima 9; 16 Coulthard 8; 17 Bourdais 4; 18 Button 3; 19= Fisichella 0; 19= Sutil 0; 19= T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri 0; 19= A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri 0.



Constructors' standings



1 McLaren-Mercedes 135pts



2 Ferrari 134



3 BMW Sauber 120



4 Renault 51



5 Toyota 46



6 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 31



7 RedBull-Renault 28



8 Williams-Toyota 26



9 Honda 14



10 Force India-Ferrari 0



10= Super Aguri-Honda 0



Remaining races

12 October: Japan, Fuji (0530 BST start)



19 October: China, Shanghai (0800 BST start)



2 November: Brazil, Interlagos (start time tbc)