Ferrari nightmare but great day for Lewis
Mr Consistency in the driving seat for first world title as fuel makes fools of red-faced Scuderia
Sunday 05 October 2008
Ferrari's team principal, Stefano Domenicali, described it as "a black day, there's little else to say", and he was not referring to the fact that the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix last weekend was Formula One's first night race. It proved such a nightmare for the Scuderia, with polesitter Felipe Massa finishing a humbled 13th and Kimi Raikkonen 15th, that they have been forced to target three one-two finishes in the remaining three races in their bid to stop Lewis Hamilton and McLaren from stealing the Finn's World Championship crown.
The race, of course, provided Fernando Alonso with a surprise win for Renault, and it was a sign that some people had clearly had too little sleep that a rumour went round the paddock afterwards that his hapless Brazilian team-mate Nelson Piquet Jnr had been told to plant his sister car in the wall on the 14th lap to bring out the safety car that the Spaniard needed with his aggressive, early-stopping refuelling strategy.
Where would we be without the conspiracy theorists?
The sleepless of Singapore could not come up with an answer either to explain how Massa's first pit stop made Raikkonen's similarly botched effort in Valencia look as smooth as silk. The little Brazilian had this one in his pocket and duly pulled out of the pit lane when his Ferrari's onboard lights system showed him green. The only problem was that the refuelling hose was still attached – oh, and he pulled right into the path of... Adrian Sutil. Yep, the same guy into whose track he was unsafely released in Valencia.
It would have been almost comic if it was not so tragic to see his Championship chances hurt in such a manner – not to mention the danger as fuel spewed all over several mechanics when the hose was torn from the Intertechnique refuelling machine.
Massa lost time waiting at the end of the pit lane for his mechanics to come and detach the hose; was subsequently hit with a drive-through penalty (though some wondered why he did not get the same 10-second stop-and-go penalties levied on second-placed Nico Rosberg and fading title contender Robert Kubica, who pitted before the pit lane was officially open); and the farcical incident held up Raikkonen, who was stacked up behind as all the early leaders came in as soon as they were legally entitled to when Piquet's accident triggered the safety car deployment.
"It's hard to deal with losing in this fashion a race that was within our grasp, with a car that was just the way I wanted it," said Massa, who also lost in Hungary when his engine broke with two laps left to run. "We had a good strategy and all the signs were there that we could get a one-two finish. But things can change in a moment and that's what happened. One of the guys made a mistake. We are only human. Each one of us always tries to do our best and these things can happen." As for Raikkonen, the mistake that launched him across the kerbs in Turn 10 on the 58th lap and into an unforgiving wall has done little to endear him to the Scuderia. Despite confirmation recently at Monza that he will stay until 2010, there were mutters in Singapore that his position may yet prove tenuous.
While Ferrari's corporate face went the colour of their handsome race cars, Alonso was laughing himself silly after a brilliant, opportunistic drive to a totally unexpected triumph.
"This is a fantastic result," he chuckled. "My first podium of the season; my first victory and I'm very happy, although I think it will take several days for me to realise what we have achieved. Winning a Grand Prix here just seemed to be impossible because we missed our chance in qualifying, but we were very fortunate [in the race] and it's a superb result for the team. We chose a very aggressive strategy and we had a bit of luck, but we had the pace and the car was fantastic throughout the weekend."
The success may throw the 2009 driver market open again, if he decides after all to stay rather than head for BMW Sauber or Honda.
"Seven points to make up in three races?" Massa mused afterwards. "That can be a lot or it can be a little. We have the potential to do well, and we'll give it our best shot. We mustn't give up and I'm sure we won't."
Certainly, the game is not yet over, but despite the dismissal of McLaren's Belgian GP appeal in Paris on the Tuesday before the race, Hamilton is looking good right now.
With a little better fortune, Hamilton might have won last Sunday night, but ultimately third place behind Alonso and Rosberg earned him six crucial points to boost his lead over Massa to seven as they head for Japan next week. Kubica, who might also have won but for that pit-stop penalty, is now 20 behind, and Raikkonen is fading fast, 27 adrift.
Overall, the historic night race was adjudged a huge success, even if the drivers barely noticed the difference. "My family was telling me about some onboard footage from my car where you could see my eyes through the visor," Hamilton said. "They said it was pretty cool, but it shows you that we're just focusing on the track and the corners, and not much else. I didn't really notice the lights, but I did think the whole idea of racing at night was awesome.
"This team has always been rock solid. We started the year feeling really strong and we just kept developing that. I'd say now that the team is the most positive and together that it's ever been. Since the middle of the season, we've got the car in such a sweet-spot that it's been competitive at every race.
"We're ahead now in both World Championships and have to keep focused during these next three races. I've said before that consistency is what will win this World Championship and I feel really pleased with what we did in Singapore."
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