Fernando Alonso has continued his and the Ferrari team’s late surge for the championship crown with an excellent victory on the streets of Singapore.
While a lights-to-flag victory might seem a rather dominance display when you look at it, it was anything but that, with the Spaniard withstanding race-long pressure from Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull, winning by less than three-tenths of a second at the end of a Safety Car-interrupted 61-lap race.
Mark Webber took a seemingly unlikely third place to complete the podium, after finding himself well down in the midfield early in the race, when he bucked the tactical trend by making his pit stop relatively early in the race.
The race also dealt a significant blow to the championship hopes of Lewis Hamilton, who retired for the second consecutive race with another collision, this time popping a tyre when he collided with Mark Webber.
Many figures in the media laughed during the British Grand Prix weekend when Fernando Alonso suggested that he could win the 2010 Formula 1 world championship. After the Silverstone race, the Ferrari driver lay 47 points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Now, he lies just eleven points behind championship leader Webber, while Hamilton sits twenty points adrift in third.
Alonso has scored more points than any other driver in the last five rounds, and he showed exactly why he has already secured two World Championship with another excellent display in a car that probably trailed Red Bull in outright pace.
But having the quickest car on the circuit doesn’t necessarily guarantee a race win, which is something the Austrian squad would no doubt be quick to acknowledge after this weekend.
Alonso was able to keep the quicker Vettel at arm’s length for the entire race, leading into, during, and after the pit stops (on the same lap) as the pair switched from the super-soft to the prime tyre compounds.
Critics would question why Red Bull didn’t take the punt on running Vettel longer in the hope of leapfrogging Alonso, and they might be asking this in their post-race debrief. With McLaren not able to hold a candle to the leading duo, he had an ample margin behind him to attempt a few banzai laps in clear air, with the worst outcome being that he’d emerge still in second place. The decision seems to be rather typical of the generally conservative strategies Red Bull have adopted when challenging for a win, and they might again be kicking themselves for not taking the risk here.
The gap between Alonso and Vettel see-sawed throughout the race, and it was only in the closing laps where the German was truly able to close and mount a serious threat to the Ferrari. But the laps remaining simply ran out for him to have a real shot at taking the lead.
Webber’s third place owed plenty to an early pit stop and McLaren’s lack of pace in the middle of the race. In contrast to Vettel, the team elected to pit the Australian on the third lap when the Safety Car was called while the marshals removed Vitantonio Liuzzi’s abandoned Force India. Bringing him in from fifth, he emerged well down the order, and was the only frontrunner to dispense with his softer-compound tyre set so early in the race.
He returned to the circuit in eleventh place, and despite some initial misgivings, his mid-race pace proved sufficient to overhaul those ahead of him when they made their pit stops, although he still managed some impressive passive moves on Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi along the way. When the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Jenson Button pitted, he moved up to third place.
A mid-race Safety Car interruption to clear Kobayashi’s wall-embedded Sauber brought the McLarens back on to his tail, and on the first restart lap, he struggled to lap Lucas di Grassi’s Virgin, with the loss of momentum enough to give Hamilton a run on him into Turn 7.
With Webber defending the inside line, Hamilton swept to the outside and turned towards the apex, only to find Webber holding the inside line. The two made contact, pitching Lewis over the exit kerbing and damaging the McLaren driver’s tyres, while Webber incredibly was able to continue without a scratch.
A stewards’ investigation during the race correctly ruled it as a racing incident, and despite plenty of encouragement from his team, the chasing Button was unable to get close enough to Webber in the closing laps to challenge for third place, and settled for fourth. Button now sits a full 25 points shy of Webber in the championship race.
Nico Rosberg had a generally quiet run to fifth in the Mercedes GP, although he was closely followed by Robert Kubica for much of the race, but was able to keep the Renault driver at bay.
Kubica’s hard work looked set to come undone when he had to pit after suffering a late race puncture. Rejoining out of the points, he staged a highly entertaining recovery drive on fresher tyres, and proved that overtaking is certainly possible at Singapore with a succession of passing moves on Jaime Alguersuari, Vitaly Petrov, Felipe Massa, Nico Hülkenberg and Adrian Sutil to climb to seventh, with the last of these proving the most impressive, as he swept around the Force India at Turn 7, the scene of several accidents throughout the race.
Rubens Barrichello earned another solid points haul in finishing sixth after starting in the same position, but it was a slightly sour note on the other side of the Williams garage, when Nico Hülkenberg was awarded a 20-second time penalty for missing a corner trying to defend his position, which dropped him to tenth overall.
Another driver to be slapped with a penalty was Adrian Sutil, who was hit with a 20-second drop after the race, despite the corner-cutting incident occurring on the opening lap. Quite why it took the race stewards until after the race to hand out the penalty is an issue that has not been successfully answered as yet, although he could certainly attribute his high finishing result (having started 15th) to this little moment on the first lap.
As for Vitantonio Liuzzi, the less said, the better. The Italian had another wretched weekend in the sister Force India, suffering damage after an opening-lap skirmish with Nick Heidfeld. He attempted to limp his car back to the pits, and then ludicrously elected to park his car just beyond the exit of the tight ‘Singapore Sling’ chicane – an act that brought out the Safety Car – when perhaps parking it on the inside run-off for the chicane itself would have proven more sensible.
Felipe Massa drove almost the entire race on the harder-compound tyres, after taking a leaf from Fernando Alonso’s book at Monaco when he pitted at the end of the second lap to get rid of his softer tyres. Having qualified at the back of the grid, he drove a patient race to finish in 10th place, which later became eighth after Hulkenberg’s and Sutil’s penalties.
Vitaly Petrov was another driver to stage an impressive drive, and was a certain points’ contender until a late-race brush with the rather wide Nico Hülkenberg under braking into the infamous Turn 7. He ceded his position to team-mate Kubica when the Pole was making his own late surge through the field, and finished just outside the points in eleventh place.
Toro Rosso could perhaps count themselves unlucky not to pick up a few points after their most competitive showing of the season. But it went pear-shaped before the race even began for Jaime Alguersuari – who was considerably quicker than team-mate Sébastien Buemi all weekend – with the Spaniard being forced to start from the pit lane instead of his actual eleventh place. The 20-year-old also climbed up the order, but found himself stuck behind Buemi until the latter stages of the race when he got past. He finished 12th, with Buemi two places behind.
The pair sandwiched Michael Schumacher, who finished a lap adrift after an event-filled race where he succeeded in tangling with both Sauber drivers during the race. He ran ninth in the opening phase of the race and fended off Kamui Kobayashi’s advances, but both looked to fall prey to their decision not to pit during the first Safety Car interruption, being steadily caught by the chasing pack that had pitted in the early laps.
A rather rash move by Kobayashi pitched Schumacher into a spin as they braked at Turn 14, forcing the German into the pits for repairs. Perhaps suffering damage from the event, Kobayashi ploughed into the tyre barriers just a lap later, with an unsighted Bruno Senna collecting the Sauber and bringing out the Safety Car for the second time.
Schumacher’s lengthy pit stop dropped him to 16th, and the Safety Car interruption allowed Nick Heidfeld – who in turn had pitted twice for repairs in the opening laps after his collision with Liuzzi on the opening lap – to close up to his compatriot. The two enjoyed a lively scrap until Heidfeld attempted to pass Schumacher on the outside into Turn 5, squeezing Schumacher on the apex, and sending the Sauber slewing into the tyre barriers and instant retirement.
Timo Glock caused smiles in the Virgin Racing squad by momentarily running in the points when he stayed out during the first Safety Car period, and for several laps he held up a train of faster cars unable to find a way through. Eventually, some rather rough-house driving from those behind him pushed him down the order, and he retired mid-race with technical gremlins.
It was Lucas di Grassi who – aside from doing himself no favours with his poor track manners being lapped – actually finished best of the rookie-team runners in 15th place, being gifted the spot when Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus spectacularly caught fire on the penultimate lap after he was clobbered by Buemi. The accident broke a fuel line in the Lotus, resulting in the hot fumes igniting on the exhausts and creating quite the sight when the Finn elected to stop on the main straight, rather than risk driving down the pit lane where many mechanics were milling to greet their respective drivers home.
Kovalainen’s team-mate Jarno Trulli joined the rather long list of retirements rather early, pitting early in the race and retiring shortly after with yet another gearbox / hydraulics issue.
Both Hispania’s were not unexpected additions to the retirement list, with Christian Klien and Bruno Senna, with the latter rather clumsily crashing into Kobayashi’s stricken Sauber. Despite the comprehensive flogging he received from his stand-in team-mate in qualifying, Senna ran closer to Klien’s pace during the race, but the Austrian still always looked more likely to finish ahead on the road. That outcome would prove to be rather academic when both cars went out.