Things that go bump in the night

Things that go bump in the night
Oct 2, 2008, 4:17 PM

After Valencia's less than inspiring debut on the F1 calendar, Singapore's inaugural event, likewise on the streets, was a much more lively state of affairs. Although there was a lot of tedious hype about the sport's first night race -- which was ...

After Valencia's less than inspiring debut on the F1 calendar, Singapore's inaugural event, likewise on the streets, was a much more lively state of affairs. Although there was a lot of tedious hype about the sport's first night race -- which was barely a factor in a car due to the floodlights -- it was the bumpiness of the track that caused the initial concerns and some went on to have a very bumpy weekend indeed.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India F1 Team, VJM-01.
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One or two drivers could benefit from being introduced to a shaver but it was the laughably high kerbs at turn 10 that got the barber's treatment early on. Giancarlo Fisichella's Force India was launched skywards off the peculiar lumps stuck there during practice and promptly went nose first into the barrier, so by race day the carbuncles had been shaved down to an acceptable level.

Qualifying at the front of the grid raised no surprises, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa claiming the first Singapore pole, but it was a disaster for Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard's Renault, which had been notably competitive in practices, ground to a halt in Q2, leaving a frustrated Alonso to rue what appeared to be the loss of his best chance of the season. Isn't it funny how things turn out…

The general consensus of opinion was that overtaking would be impossible on the Singapore streets but not everyone was about accept that. Turn seven proved a popular location for chancing one's luck, although it was considerably bumpy off the racing line. Nico Rosberg described his overtake of Jarno Trulli there, where the Williams outbraked the Toyota, as 'hairy'. Presumably not the kind of hairy that required a shaver.

Nelson A. Piquet, Renault F1 Team, crashes.
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The biggest physical bump of the evening was Nelson A. Piquet reversing his Renault into the barrier and bringing out the safety car, which kicked off the mayhem that turned the race upside down. Until then Massa had looked in control, keeping Lewis Hamilton at bay, and teammate Kimi Raikkonen was rapidly reeling the McLaren in from third. A Ferrari one-two could have been looming but then the excrement hit the cooling device.

Red Bull had been on its toes in the hope of a safety car period and as soon as Piquet bopped the wall David Coulthard and Mark Webber were into the pits. Others weren't so quick; low on fuel, Rosberg and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica were forced to pit once the safety car was out but before the pit lane was open and both incurred the stop-and-go penalty as a result. Elsewhere, though, Ferrari was having a nightmare.

Once the pits were open Massa dived in, along with Hamilton and Raikkonen followed shortly afterwards. Massa did nothing wrong -- he was clearly given the green light to go but it was a 'human error' that gave him the all clear when the fuel hose was still attached. The sight of the Ferrari heading up the pit lane with the hose flapping randomly alongside was as alarming as it was mind boggling.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari .
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Massa at least got the car out of the way before he got into untouchable territory and the mechanics duly went to retrieve the errant hose, but you couldn't exactly say it was done in a prompt manner. Back in the pit box Raikkonen was inevitably delayed by the double-stop and it appeared that the team also fumbled getting the fuel rig off his car. He escaped without further problems but Hamilton was away in front of the reds by then.

That was Massa's race pretty much over and to compound his misery he was given a drive through penalty for an unsafe release from his stop, which was in relation to being released into the path of Force India's Adrian Sutil (again) rather than taking the fuel hose for walkies. So even if the hose drama hadn't happened it seems that Massa's race would have been scuppered by another Ferrari premature release anyway.

I don't think any of us would want to be the guy that has his finger on the button in the pits but mistakes like that will lose this championship. Yes it was very busy in the pits at the time, yes it's a hard call to make when to let a car go in such circumstances, but it's not the first time that kind of error has been made recently. Massa is driving his socks off at the moment but his efforts are being wasted.

Race winner Fernando Alonso.
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As Massa trailed disconsolately around near the back, it was Alonso who suddenly appeared to have luck on his side. A very short first stint, in the hope of escaping the clutches of the midfield in the opening stages, had not worked out for the Spaniard and it seemed his race was doomed until Piquet obligingly crashed out. After the pit peculiarities and penalties had shaken out, the former double champion was in the lead and he sure as hell wasn't about to let go of it.

A second safety car period, involving yet again the hapless Massa and Sutil, negated the lead that Alonso had built but it wasn't enough to deter him. Hamilton had moved up to third but had Rosberg to negotiate before he could attempt to challenge the leader, but caution got the better of him and he settled for six points and the final podium place. After all, his main rival Massa was not in contention and Raikkonen stuck his Ferrari in the wall with just a few laps to go.

Alonso believed that a win this season was out of the question and seemed more bemused than anything else in the post race press conference. Certainly the first safety car period played in to his hands but at the end of it all he still had to cross the line in front -- which he did in convincing style. Too little to be talking of a Renault resurgence, and too late for it to really matter, but, like Sebastian Vettel's maiden victory with Toro Rosso at Monza, it was one of the season's genuinely heart-warming moments.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-23.
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Unsurprisingly, Stefano Domenicali described it as a 'black day' for Ferrari. Nobody can say with absolute certainty that Massa would have won but until the pit stop fiasco it was highly likely. Instead the Scuderia left Singapore with nothing and handed the lead in the constructors' to McLaren, albeit by only one point. Massa now trails Hamilton by seven points in the title fight but let's not give Lewis the trophy just yet.

This time last year, with three races left to go, Hamilton was also leading the way and he still managed to lose it. Raikkonen, who eventually claimed the title, was 13 points behind at the time so Massa's current seven is by no means an unbridgeable gap. There's been talk that the last three circuits will be more suited to McLaren than Ferrari and while that may be so, it's not a given. Anything can happen.

Singapore, as an event, was a resounding success but you'd have to think that once again random events were the influencing factors, not the racing itself. We had a few good overtaking moves but until the appearance of the safety car it was shaping up to be a fairly predictable race. But still, we'll take our excitement where we find it -- the title fight is not over yet and hopefully it won't be until the final chequered flag of the year.

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