Date: 28 September 2008
Place: Marina Bay Circuit
Winner: Fernando Alonso
After a 35-year absence, the Singapore Grand Prix returned to the mainstream motorsport scene in emphatic fashion.
A night event in the classy surroundings of Marina Bay could not have provided a better backdrop for the inaugural F1 race at the circuit, and the drama which unfolded would set the standard for years to come. Many pundits argue that it was a race which changed the course of the title fight.
Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton, with the latter in only his second Formula One season, had gone blow for blow throughout the calendar this year. However, the psychological momentum was firmly with Massa, who had won at Spa after ousting Hamilton from pole position.
Hamilton led Massa by just a single point ahead of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix, but Massa was the firm favourite by virtue of his greater experience at the top level. Almost inevitably, the qualifying round in Singapore was practically a carbon copy of the standings.
As widely expected, Felipe Massa claimed pole position, improving with every round of qualifying and outstripping his rival Lewis Hamilton by almost a whole second in Q3. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-deposed champion Kimi Räikkönen managed to gain third place on the grid.
The 2005 and 2006 champion, Fernando Alonso, was a lowly fifteenth. A winless driver at this point, Alonso was seemingly bereft of hope, and set to once again ‘make up the numbers’.
Under the floodlights, the top three qualifiers were composed and unmovable in their respective positions, negotiating the track with ease. Despite the close running of the front trio, Massa honoured the formbook and built a solid three-second lead over Hamilton, with Räikkönen a further four seconds behind.
Further back, With nothing to lose, the fallen giant Fernando Alonso made the decision to pit. He switched from super-soft to soft compound tyres and resumed racing at the very back of the field.
It seemed that the situation could not get worse for Renault, but it did almost immediately after the pit, with Alonso’s teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. hitting the wall at Turn 17 and becoming the first retirement of the race – a development which changed the course of the race.
With the safety car out, every driver in the field opted to pit, but leader Massa’s crew made a serious error, releasing Massa with the fuel hose still attached. Massa was able to brake just before the exit, but would be forced to rejoin the race in last place, having led by a comfortable margin just minutes previously.
In a huge shakeup, Nico Rosberg now led the field with Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella in hot pursuit. However, they were still heavily fuelled and soon fell out of contention, while Rosberg (along with Robert Kubica) acquired a ten-second penalty for refuelling when the pit lane was close.
Rosberg fell to fourth as a result of this development, handing the lead to Trulli. The Italian’s lead would last only four laps, before a scheduled pit stop conceded the lead to Alonso, who had made stellar progress after switching tyres before the safety car.
Alonso’s lead was augmented to such an extent, just over six seconds, that it even survived a further pit stop. Veteran driver David Coulthard was now second but short of the required momentum to take the lead, while Trulli was forced to retire after a mechanical failure.
The remainder of the field continually shifted, but Alonso’s lead was not threatened after Trulli’s retirement, and the Spaniard claimed his first win of the season after starting a lowly fifteenth – it was, arguably, the most unlikely win of his entire career.
Fernando Alonso also won the next race, at the Suzuka Circuit, to claw back a degree of respectability after a drab season.
The main contenders had long since been established, and it was eventually Lewis Hamilton who triumphed after a dramatic fifth placed finish, claimed just moments before the final turn at Interlagos, won the Brit his first title by a single point.
By Tamhas Woods
For live updates of the Singapore Grand Prix visit Motorsport24.com – race begins at 12.00pm UTC on Saturday, September 20.