Fernando Alonso won the Singapore Grand Prix by a margin of just 0.2 seconds after a race long battle with Sebastian Vettel on a day when the gloves well and truly came off between championship rivals Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.
The pair, who were one and two in the championship going into the race, were fighting for third place when they collided following a restart from a safety car period.
It was Alonso’s 25th career victory, putting him level with the great Jim Clark and only two behind Jackie Stewart. More significantly it was his third win in five races and the momentum is definitely with him now in the championship. He lies just 11 points behind Mark Webber, who finished third today.
Further back Liuzzi and Heidfeld made contact and that damaged Liuzzi’s car. He stopped out on track causing the race director to send out the safety car. This brought in most of the cars from 12th place downwards, but it also brought in championship leader Mark Webber. This was a brave gamble by Red Bull, where arguably there was no need to gamble.
It put Webber into another race like Hungary, where he was on a different strategy to the rest of the field. The difference was that in Hungary the Red Bull had a big performance advantage, here it did not.
The aim was to try to jump both McLarens, but it required Webber to pass the slower cars in front of him, like Glock, Kobayashi, Schumacher and Barrichello to stay close enough to the leaders to make it work. He also had to do 57 laps on a set of tyres. He admitted afterwards that he questioned the team about the decision and wondered at times whether it would come off.
The safety car came in on lap 7 and by lap 10 Webber was past Glock and Kobayashi but already 14 seconds behind the leader, lapping two seconds slower. He passed Schumacher on lap 10 for eighth place.
At the front Alonso opened up a lead over Vettel, at a consistent 3/10ths of a second per lap. Vettel didn’t seem able to respond, apart from one lap where he took a tenth out of Alonso. But the gap continued to grow to the McLarens who were a second a lap slower in the opening stint. After a promising qualifying session, where Hamilton had been just a tenth off the Red Bull, this was a disappointing showing on full tanks.
Webber got caught behind Barrichello and this stopped his progress. As the McLarens toiled on the tyres, Hamilton was in range for Webber once the stops kicked in. Hamilton blinked on lap 29 and when he rejoined he was behind Webber.
Lap 30 saw the two leaders in, Vettel had closed up on Alonso, but there was nothing to be done in the stops, Vettel had a poor getaway, but it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.
Button pitted on the same lap and duly fell behind Webber as well.
On lap 32 Kobayashi crashed at Turn 18 and Senna hit him, forcing another safety car. Kubica and Barrichello pitted and that took Webber up to the third place his early strategy gamble was aimed to achieve. Even better, the safety car meant he was right on his team mate’s gearbox.
At the restart Hamilton attacked Webber, as they came up to one of the Virgin cars. Webber lost momentum getting past and this allowed Hamilton alongside on the outer line.
Webber defended the inside line into Turn 8 and as Hamilton turned across him, they collided, putting Hamilton out of the race. It was his fourth retirement of the season and the second in a row due to contact with another car when trying to pass, something he has usually been sure footed on.
The stewards, guided by driver steward Danny Sullivan, decided that no further action should be taken. Part of the reason for that is because the aggrieved party, Hamilton, was on the outside of the corner, which is always harder to judge blame on than an inside pass.
“He had to have a go. Lewis was a bit ahead, but it was similar to the last race with Felipe,” said Webber. “This can happen sometimes, we brake on the limit, it was incredibly tight and we hit hard, possibly enough to put both of us out of the race.”
Hamilton was understandably gutted by his second accident in as many races, “I saw Mark made a mistake and got caught by a backmarker so I knew I could slipstream him into Turn Seven and I thought I was enough past him, ” he said. “I couldn’t see him and turned in and left enough room and the next thing I know I got hit. I don’t know what happened. I’ll have to watch it on TV and see what really happened. Twenty points is massive and with four races to go that is a big gap, I have to get my head down and hope for something.”
In the second phase of the race, on the hard tyres, Vettel was faster than Alonso and closed to just a second. Button was also faster than Webber, but didn’t try an attack.
Kubica pitted for a second time due to a suspected puncture. On new tyres, he scythed past the cars who were struggling on old tyres, passing Petrov and Massa.
Sullivan and the stewards were also called into action to judge a collision between Schumacher and Heidfeld – again they decided that no further action was needed.
Towards the end there was a spectacular fire for Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, which robbed him of a 13th place which could have secured their position ahead of Virgin in the new teams’ championship battle.
Alonso is now second in the championship, he has scored the most points of any driver in the last five races,
“Anything can happen” he said. “One of us can win two or three consecutive races or you can retire and it puts you out of the championship. We can say that now I am in my peak, 100% of my motivation and concentration. It feels like the championship starts now and I’m very happy to go to Japan.”
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, 61 Laps
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h57:53.579
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 0.293
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 29.141
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 30.384
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 49.394
6. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 56.101
7. Kubica Renault + 1:26.559
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:52.416
9. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1:52.791
10. Massa Ferrari + 1:53.297
11. Petrov Renault + 1 lap
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
13. Schumacher Mercedes + 1 lap
14. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
15. Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth + 2 laps
16. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 3 laps