Monday, September 29, 2008

The Typical Guy's 2008 Singapore GP Review...

Much like how the previous Italian Grand Prix was won by Sebastian Vettel on a very, very lucky break, the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix was likewise won by Fernando Alonso with an even more insane amount of than Vettel had then. Alonso, from P15 on the grid to race winner. From chump to champ. A twist of fate, then, no thanks to an unlucky run in the Qualifying session.

The night was practically electric from the start, both figuratively and literally, in the very first F1 night race to be run under electric lights instead of the familiar mid-day sun it has always run under since the series began. And with the huge success the Singapore GP has shown to be, I wouldn't be surprised if Bernie Ecclestone pushed for more night races in the years to follow.

On pole in a street circuit, the race should've been in the bag already for Felipe Massa. All he had to do was to protect his lead, hope that luck was on his side and he would be on top of the drivers' championship tally board right now. But no thanks to a botched pit stop from Ferrari, he lost a race that could've been his. Did Felipe anticipate the green light too eagerly? Was the man handling the rig too eager to push the light switch even when the fuel rig was still attached? Will we ever find out? I guess not.

As for Kimi Räikkönen, for the nth time, he managed to hammer down the fastest lap in a grand prix race but still came home points-less after crashing his car into the barriers with just 3 more laps to go. All signs point to race fatigue but again, we'll probably never know the truth. And if the Ferrari/Alonso rumor proves to be true, Ferrari only has to endure one more season of Kimi's underwhelming achievements before they can get their hands on Alonso' services.

Still, all I know is, the race debriefing today with Luca di Montezemolo isn't going to be a pretty one. Because after the Swiss-clockwork-like machinery Ferrari had run like during the Michael Schumacher/Jean Todt/Ross Brawn-era, today's Ferrari under Stefano Domenicalli is just downright atrocious!

In a tight, brightly-lit street race,
Toyota's Jarno Trulli was both entertaining yet frustrating to watch as he and his fuel-laden TF108 made like a moving chicane to the utter frustration of those trailing him, with the first overtaking moves taken in Lap 7 courtesy of Williams' Nico Rosberg.

All this time, Alonso was running 11th, his race seemingly over as he wasn't able to mount a serious challenge even if he was running with a light fuel load since he was only able to move up four places. So as early as Lap 12, Alonso dove into the pits to get refueled and found himself at the back of the grid when he came back on track. But on Lap 15, his teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr., crashed out, thus starting the mad scramble that would catapult Alonso to eventually win the race and further ensuring that Nelsinho's chances of retaining a seat in F1, much more with Renault, are slowly slipping away. And frankly, I'd be surprised if he still stays in F1 next season.

With the crash on a tight street circuit, it was inevitable that the Safety Car would come out, thus prompting
Red Bull to have their cars pit in before the Safety Car was deployed on track which instantly meant the pit lane was off-limits. But seemingly unable to wait for the pit lane to reopen, both Rosberg and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica dove in, automatically incurring stop/go penalties. And once it was reopened, almost the entire field went in for their pit stops, including both Ferrari's and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.

And this is when Massa's botched pit stop happened as he was given the green light to rejoin the race despite having the fuel rig still attached to his F2008. Of course, given the signal, instinct had him barreling down the pit lane, inadvertently ripping the hose off from the rig and knocking down a couple of hapless mechanics with it, as Massa dragged the hose all the way down to the pit lane exit where he waited for the mechanics to detach it. Unfortunately,
Räikkönen was also getting refueled, leaving the mechanics to finish refueling him first before they were able to run and help Massa out. So in a single pit stop, Felipe went from first to last on the grid, thus costing him the race.

What was surprising though was that all three incidents took over half an hour for the stewards to decide that they should be investigated for the violations, which was sometime on Lap 23, with the stop-go penalties handed down starting at Lap 25 with Massa, with Kubica serving his on Lap 27 while Rosberg got his on Lap 28. Another classic fumble by slow-acting, dimwitted race stewards. And to think that earlier in the race, BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld and Renault's Alonso and Nelsinho cut across the opening chicane with neither of the them being meted any corresponding punishment. All the more reason permanent race stewards are need instead of the current system's amateurs making important decisions that can greatly affect an entire championship season.

So while the race stewards were busy scratching their heads on what to do next, Rosberg was able to secure the lead and pad it further by putting in some quick laps ahead of the second-place Trulli who was yet to pit so that when he came in for his penalty, he was still able to come out of the pit on fourth. So for a brief amount of time, Toyota led the pack thanks to Trulli who was running on a one-stop strategy. But with the race halfway over at that point, it was inevitable that Trulli would have to pit in soon, and that came in on Lap 33 which led to Alonso inheriting the lead - a lead he never relinquished until he crossed the chequered flag.

But where was Hamilton in all this? He was dicing it out with F1's elder statesman, David Coulthard, in the battle for fourth place. And though McLaren had the more superior package, the combination of Coulthard's experience in race tactics coupled with the tight track meant Hamilton had a tough task ahead of him - a task that he was only able to get ahead of when he muscled his way past Coulthard in Lap 42. Still, the Hamilton vs. Coulthard battle slowed down both drivers so much, Alonso was able to dive into the pit to refuel and came out still in possession of the lead.

The action didn't stop there as Massa once again replicated his patented 'spin dryer' move on Lap 51 when he came upon Trulli's broken down Toyota, victim of a bogged down transmission. Luckily enough, Massa was able to continue on but apparently, Force India's Adrian Sutil was distracted by Massa's move enough for him to hit the barrier, sending out he Safety Car for the second time, thus nullifying Alonso's massive 18.5-second lead over Rosberg. But when the green flag, or in this case, 'light', was activated on Lap 53, Alonso opened up a 3.7-second lead in a single lap alone which he built up to 6.1 seconds another lap later. With just three more laps to go 'til the end of the race, it was Kimi's turn to crash out of the race as he clipped the kerbs and smashed into the barriers, thus robbing him of a podium finish for the fourth race in a row.

So for the first time this season, Renault - and Alonso - managed to get the top step of the podium as the historic AND lucky winners of the first-ever Singapore Grand Prix in the first-ever F1 night race. Both parties should also be lucky that the race stewards overlooked how Alonso and the other drivers cut across a chicane earlier in the race. But then again, considering the flack the FIA went through after the Belgian GP incident, to tarnish what has been the best debut race in F1's modern history (Yes, the European GP in Valencia was a snoozefest with a capital 'Zzzzz..') by stripping Alonso of his win is not something they're looking for so soon.

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