Renault’s Fernando Alonso scored a surprise success just when he most needed it, in one of the most eagerly anticipated Grand Prix in Formula One history, under the lights of Singapore on Sunday. And he owed much of it to team mate Nelson Piquet, whose crash on the 14th lap changed the face of the race.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa led from pole position from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, and Alonso dropped way back when he was the first to stop as the result of an aggressive opening stint. Then Piquet had his shunt and out came the safety car. Fourth-placed Robert Kubica for BMW Sauber and Williams’ Nico Rosberg both pitted before the pit lane was officially opened, and when it was on the 17th lap, Massa’s race fell apart as he led Hamilton, Raikkonen, Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel and Toyota’s Timo Glock.
The green light within his cockpit told Massa he could restart, but the refuelling hose was still attached to his car. He knocked over a mechanic as the hose tore away, and fuel spewed everywhere. Subsequently he was given a drive-through penalty for another unsafe exit in front of the Force India of Adrian Sutil.
Kubica and Rosberg were given 10-second stop-and-go penalties. The Pole’s ruined his race, but Rosberg was able to keep in play even after serving his. In the pit stop shuffle Hamilton got delayed running behind Alonso, Rosberg, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella (who had started from the pit lane after set-up changes on his Force India), and Mark Webber and David Coulthard in the Red Bulls. Eventually the British driver moved up to fourth behind Alonso, Rosberg and Coulthard, but he was losing a second a lap behind the Scot, and that was where his chance of winning evaporated.
Not even a second safety-car period, on the 51st lap after Massa spun and an unsighted Sutil crashed, could throw him a lifeline, but with Raikkonen crashing while fighting Glock for fourth place on the 58th lap, he could afford to settle for the six points that took his championship tally to 84 points, with Massa still on 77, Kubica 64 and Raikkonen 57. Equally, McLaren were able to move a point ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ chase.
Thus Alonso scored his first win since Monza 2007 and Renault’s first since Japan 2006, and Rosberg scored his best-ever finish after a fine drive. Behind Glock, Vettel fended off Nick Heidfeld for fifth, and Coulthard and Kazuki Nakajima completed the points scorers.
Jenson Button was ninth for Honda ahead of an unhappy Heikki Kovalainen, who lost out badly in a first-lap brush with Kubica as they fought over fourth place; the Pole was 11th from Sebastien Bourdais, the deeply unhappy Massa and Fisichella. Raikkonen was classified 15th.
Trulli failed to finish with a mechanical problem, as did Webber; Barrichello ran out of fuel in his Honda, and Sutil and Piquet both crashed.
With far more overtaking than the drivers had predicted, Formula One’s first-ever night race packed in plenty of excitement, and was adjudged a great success.