Background and opening exchanges
The 2008 Formula 1 season is remembered by most for the rivalry between McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, and it was the latter that claimed pole position as Singapore made its debut on the F1 calendar. Hamilton was six-tenths of a second behind Massa and found himself in a Ferrari sandwich as Kimi Raikkonen was starting third.
For the start of the race, the weather was typically Singaporean, hot, humid and with very little wind, which ensured the drivers would have an extreme physical challenge ahead of them. Even without any sunlight shining down on them, two hours of navigating the tight and twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit for the first time would prove to be a real test.
The front three got away in formation, with Massa leading Hamilton who was ahead of Raikkonen, and surprisingly all 20 cars got round the first lap without incident. The leading pair soon dropped Kimi and appeared to be in a class of their own at over a second a lap faster than the rest of the field.
Further back, Jarno Trulli had a queue forming behind his Toyota. The Italian veteran had a lot more fuel on board than most drivers and it was showing, as he was heading what had been coined as a 'Trulli Train' around the track. Soon enough though, the Williams cars of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima made it through before proceeding to lap 3 seconds faster in clean air. Fernando Alonso was next up, passing Trulli with ease at the end of Raffles Boulevard.
Alonso was up to 11th after starting 15th due to a fuel issue in qualifying and was beginning to show his true speed. Renault had started him on the faster 'option' tyres and fuelled him lightly, which meant he was the first car into the pits after just 12 laps. A couple of laps later though, Alonso's team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr. spun and slammed into the barriers, bringing out the safety car as a result. It didn't appear to be a strange crash at the time, but this 'accident' would send shockwaves through the sport almost a year down the line.
The Pack Gets Shuffled
The leaders came in for their first stops but this would prove disastrous for Ferrari. Massa's fuel hose didn't come out when it was meant to and the Brazilian flew off with it still attached, knocking one of his mechanics over in the process. Both he and Raikkonen, who was queueing behind, were severely held up as a result, Massa especially, as he was now last due to it taking an excruciatingly long time to get him going again. Lewis Hamilton lost out too, emerging from the pits in eighth, such was the chaos caused by Piquet's crash.
At the restart, Nico Rosberg now led the race, Jarno Trulli was in second, Giancarlo Fisichella was up to third despite starting at the back and Robert Kubica somehow remained in fourth. That wouldn't last too long though, because both Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica made their earlier stops when the pit-lane was closed as they were running on fumes, which would later see both given a ten second stop/go penalty.
Despite there being no question they had broken the rules, the stewards took their time handing out the penalties, which allowed Rosberg to bolt and create such a large gap to the rest of the pack that he re-emerged in fourth place. Kubica wasn't so lucky though, as he was held up behind Fisichella's Force India and was down at the back after his penalty. Felipe Massa had to endure more punishment, also being given a drive-through penalty for one of the most obvious unsafe releases in history, and joined Kubica at the tail of the field.
At the halfway stage of the 61 lap race, Trulli was leading but still hadn't made his one and only stop. When he did go into the pits on Lap 34, Fernando Alonso inherited the lead and had a battle with Rosberg for the win. Alonso though was showing exactly why he is a double world champion, incredible consistency. Fernando relentlessly pulled away from Rosberg, despite his uncompetitive Renault.
The Frantic Finish
The leading pair pitted for their final swigs of fuel, and Alonso emerged just ahead of David Coulthard and a recovering Lewis Hamilton. Coulthard was perhaps disorientated by Alonso's sudden appearance and Hamilton needed no second invitation to take advantage. Coulthard positioned his Red Bull well but Lewis sent his McLaren down the inside in a terrific diving move.
On Lap 40, the two-stoppers were making their final treks down pit-lane and Coulthard performed his best Felipe Massa impression by driving away with the fuel hose still attached. The Scot relatively got away with it, losing only a handful of seconds while his mechanics leant a hand.
With just 11 laps remaining, Adrian Sutil, possibly put off by Massa's spin, slammed into the barriers at Turn 18. This triggered the safety car once more and erased Alonso's impressive lead. When racing resumed, Hamilton was desperately trying to get by Rosberg for second place and the pair renewed their rivalry from the junior formulae.
Kimi Raikkonen had quietly been going about his business since his own slow stop, running as high as third place. The Finn was in fifth place at the restart but crashed into the barriers at the controversial Singapore Sling chicane with just a few laps to go. Surprisingly, the safety car didn't make another appearance and there were no further changes of position.
Nico Rosberg achieved his best finish in Formula 1 with second place while Lewis Hamilton scored a solid podium in third. A German trio of Timo Glock, Sebastian Vettel and Nick Heidfeld came from relatively nowhere to finish 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively. David Coulthard and Kzauki Nakajima scored their final F1 points by finishing in 7th and 8th.
Through it all, it was Fernando Alonso who took his first win for over a year with a sensational drive. In the driver's championship, Hamilton opened up his advantage over Massa from 2 to 8 points at the top of the drivers' standings. This was far from the last we heard about this race though.
Nelson Piquet Jr.'s impact with the barriers re-emerged in the papers in August 2009, as the Brazilian revealed he had been instructed by his team to deliberately crash to create an opportunity for his teammate to win. The FIA investigated and handed a lifetime ban to Flavio Briatore and a five-year ban to Pat Symonds.
'Crashgate' was the beginning of the end for Renault as a constructor in Formula 1. They lost some of their most senior officials, main sponsors and star driver Alonso as a result. Fernando Alonso was acquitted of any wrongdoing, but the investigation took some of the shine off of his win. However, his win in Singapore is arguably one of his best, as the Renault had no right to be on the top step of the podium.
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