28 September 2008
Singapore 2008: Alonso wins 'lost' race.
Fernando Alonso has returned Renault to the top of the rostrum in Formula 1 for the first time in almost two years by producing the drive of a champion to triumph in the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix night outing this weekend.
Indeed, it was a race of epic proportions in more ways than one, with Alonso's success the result of superb pace, a timely accident for team-mate Nelsinho Piquet and – ironically – the qualifying misfortune that had left him down in 15th place on the starting grid. Behind the Spaniard, Lewis Hamilton may only have finished third, but on Ferrari's darkest day of 2008 it was enough to put the Stevenage ace thoroughly in command of the title battle as the championship showdown closes in.
With Felipe Massa making a textbook getaway from pole position when the lights went out, Hamilton had to fight off defending F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen who dived to the inside, as all 20 cars got safely through the opening few corners. Hamilton's McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, however, was less fortunate, trying to brave it out around the outside of Robert Kubica's BMW-Sauber only to be unceremoniously bundled aside by the Pole as the pair briefly locked bodywork.
That cost the Finn positions to both Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel in the Scuderia Toro Rosso and Timo Glock, and though he nipped by the Toyota into turn seven, Glock was immediately back past again into the very next corner.
Massa had extended a lead of almost 1.3 seconds by the end of the opening lap, with Raikkonen being dropped in third ahead of Kubica, Vettel, Glock and Kovalainen. A little further back still, Jarno Trulli had made a strong start in the second Toyota to gain two positions from eleventh to ninth, but with the Italian being on a heavy one-stop strategy, the old spectre of the 'Trulli Train' rapidly resurfaced.
Behind the 34-year-old sat a clearly frustrated Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima, a fast-starting Alonso – the only driver in the field to begin the race on soft tyres, as Renault seemed to be living up to Pat Symonds' post-qualifying promise of trying out an inventive strategy – Jenson Button, both Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coulthard and the STR of Sébastien Bourdais.
Despite a good deal of debris on the track, Rosberg was clearly trying every which way to get past Trulli, with Nakajima locking up behind and very nearly slamming into the back of his team-mate – what would undoubtedly not have gone down well during Sir Frank Williams' last grand prix appearance of the 2008 campaign – as the 'train' lapped regularly a full five seconds slower than race leader Massa.
Indeed, such was Massa's supreme pace that within just three laps Raikkonen was six full seconds in arrears, as Trulli began to go backwards, ceding places to both Williams' and Alonso, the Spaniard going all the way around the outside of his former team-mate at turn six to gain the inside line for turn seven and fairly scampering away.
With eight laps run and as the gap at the front ebbed and flowed, Raikkonen began to come alive, as Massa ran over one of the pieces of debris on the circuit that got lodged in the T-tray underneath the front of his car – but the pace just continued to get hotter and hotter still.
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