x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Fortune favours superb Alonso

Fernando Alonso claims a surprise win for Renault after the first night race in Formula One history.

Fernando Alonso celebrates with his Renault mechanics in the pitlane after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at the Marine Bay Street Circuit.
Fernando Alonso celebrates with his Renault mechanics in the pitlane after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at the Marine Bay Street Circuit.

Fernando Alonso claimed a surprise win for Renault at the first night race in Formula One's history at Singapore as a disastrous Ferrari pit-stop boosted Lewis Hamilton's world championship dreams. The Spaniard won the 20th race of his career and his first for more than a year as he was fortunate to be one of the few cars that had made an early fuel stop before teammate Nelson Piquet's crash on lap 14 brought out the safety car.

But the major talking point was the dramatic pitlane incident that wrecked Felipe Massa's hopes of taking the championship lead. The Brazilian had led from pole position and had built up a four-second lead before the safety car bunched the pack up. But when he stopped for fuel and new tyres, critically, Ferrari's semi-automatic pit system gave him a green light to leave while fuel was still going into the car.

The Ferrari ripped the fuel hose out from the rig as it sped away, knocking one mechanic over as it was pulled away. Massa stopped at the end of the pitlane, where mechanics raced down to join him and forcibly pulled the hose from the car. But his race was ruined as he fell to the back of the pack, and to add salt to the wound he was later given a pitlane drive through penalty for leaving the pits and impeding the Force India car of Adrian Sutil.

He eventually finished 13th, with title rival Lewis Hamilton taking advantage as he finished third to stretch his lead to seven points with three races to go. But it was Alonso's day as he recorded Renault's first win since the Japanese Grand Prix in 2006, finishing 2.9secs ahead of the Williams of Nico Rosberg who achieved his highest finish in the sport. "I am extremely happy," Alonso said. "I cannot believe it right now, I need a couple of days to realise we won a race this year."

Alonso who had suffered mechanical problems in qualifying to leave him only 15th on the grid, admitted to luck with the timing of the safety car, but felt that was balanced out by his misfortune on Saturday. He added: "Unlucky yesterday and maybe lucky today. I was unlucky in qualifying, we started from the back and the first safety car helped me a lot and I was able to win the race." Up until lap 15 the race had looked as if it was going to be Ferrari's day. Massa had built up a four-second lead over Hamilton, while, after a tardy start, Massa's teammate Kimi Raikkonen had consistently set fastest laps as he closed the gap on the lead duo.But the safety car changed things massively.

Alonso and the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coulthard had critically pitted before the pitlane was closed under the safety car regulations. Rosberg and the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica both came in for stops before the pitlane was opened again, and both got 10-second penalties. When the race restarted Rosberg set a cracking pace as he and the Toyota of Jarno Trulli pulled away. The Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella was holding up the pack in third, with the Italian having not stopped.

But as cars began to pit again Alonso moved to the front, with his only competition being from Rosberg. Hamilton had been eighth when the racing had restarted and he spent 20 laps stuck behind Coulthard. Understandably given that Massa was out of the points, the Briton seemed reluctant to risk a collision by overtaking and he seemed content to sit in the Red Bull's slipstream. But he got past the veteran on lap 42 and went on to claim the final spot on the podium.

There was late drama as Adrian Sutil's Force India hit the barriers eleven laps from the end as he crashed avoiding Massa, who was recovering from his own spin. The field was bunched back up again, but Alonso showed great composure as he charged away at the restart, pulling out three seconds on Rosberg in the first lap. The world champion Kimi Raikkonen's title defence all but ended as he made a mistake and hit the wall with four laps remaining when running fifth, leaving the Finn now 27 points behind Hamilton.

Timo Glock's Toyota was a fine fourth, with Sebastian Vettel's Toro Rosso finishing fifth, ahead of the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld. Coulthard was a battling seventh, ahead of the second Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae