Right, so there have only been two Singapore Grand Prix. What to do? Simply not bother doing a retrospective piece? Of course not! The two races held on the streets have provided plenty of intrigue.
Okay, one of them did. One of them provided more intruige than the sight of Flavio Briatore quietly slipping in to the women’s’ locker rooms at his local gym. Yes, it was that intriguing.
So let’s delve deep in to the past – well, the last two years – and look at the Singapore Grand Prix of 2008 and 2009.
The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Nothing out of the ordinary there, aye? Alonso got lucky to take the win – good call from Renault there – whilst teammate Nelson Piquet Jr stuck it in the wall at turn 17. But then he was always doing that, so it wasn’t suspicious. Not suspicious at all.
Wait a minute…
Yes the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix will forever be remembered as the scene of one of the most devious plots in F1 history. The Renault team – ostensibly Pat Symonds and Flavio Braitore – told young Piquet to crash so as to bring out a safety car, thus allowing Alonso’s bold strategy to put him at the front.
And they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that pesky kid…
By whom we mean young Piquet, who went from race thrower to whistle blower when he revealed the whole sordid story to the FIA – once the Renault team had decided to dispense of his sub-par services.
The race happened like this: Massa led away from Hamilton, and by lap 12 had a lead in excess of three seconds. That was the same lap Fernando Alonso (who’d started 15th) stopped, took on the soft tyres and a whole lot of fuel, and rejoined last. At the time no one thought anything of it.
Then Piquet crashed, prompting the safety car to be deployed. Running seriously low on fuel a few cars, including Nico Rosberg, were forced to stop whilst the pit lane was offically closed.
When Massa stopped the Ferrari crew – or rather their wacky traffic light system – released him with the fuel hose still attached to the car. Massa drove down the pit lane being chased by his mechanics, who pulled the hose off when the Brazilian stopped near the pit exit. He rejoined last.
Rosberg now led, and began pull away from the heavily fuelled Jarno Trulli and Fisichella in the Force India who – crucially – held up the cars behind him.
Massa, Rosberg and co. then received penalties, Felipe for his pitlane antics and the others for stopping when the pits were closed. The Ferrari driver served his penalty and rejoined the track in last place.
Rosberg remained on track as long as possible, and built a big lead over Trulli and the rest of the field, who were being backed up by Fischella. Nico served his penalty and lost just three positions, rejoining behind Alonso, Fisichlla and Trulli. When the two Italians stopped a few laps later Fernando led from Rosberg.
Alonso quickly dropped Nico, who made his second and last stop on lap 41. The Spaniard stopped a lap later and rejoined in the lead. From there he was able to bring the Renault home for a win- the team’s first since 2006 – with Rosberg eventually taking a career-best second and title chaser Lewis Hamilton a very important third.
In a way the fact that Alonso won was part of the problem: had he taken a solid but less spectacular third people would have been less suspicious of Renault that day. Their plot worked too well.
And then the whole thing turned in to a total mess.
When the truth came out a year later Renault were hit with two-year suspended sentence, Briatore with a lifetime ban from the sport and Symonds with a five-year suspension. Add to that a barrage of negative publicity for the company and you’d be quite fair to call ‘Crash-gate’ a bit of a nasty experience for the team.
So much so that Renault were forced to reinvent themselves: the team was sold to Genii Capital, they got a new (and improved) paint scheme and hired the brilliant Robert Kubica to drive and Vitaly Petrov to plug some financial holes.
Which, you’d have to say, has worked out pretty well.
Far more dull this one. No Dick Dastardly-esque plots, no subsequent legal dramas and no sponsors on the Renault – many jumped ship following the revelations of 2008’s race.
The team was in a sorry state: the car was slow, the senior management (Flav and Symonds) were gone and the team was leaking cash.
Things got even worse on Friday morning, when everyone enjoyed a cruel chuckle upon seeing Romain Grosjean- Piquet’s replacement at Renault- crash at exactly the same corner as the Brazilian had in the previous year’s race. Oh the irony!
But enough about the repercussions from 2008. The 2009 Singapore race was part of Jenson Button’s great limp to the world championship. Qualifying saw one of the limpest moments of Jenson’s title year, as he qualified a lowly 12th – behind the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima. Hamilton took pole, four-tenths quicker than Vettel, with Rosberg a superb third in the Williams.
At the lights Lewis got a good launch, whilst Rosberg outdid Vettel to take second in to turn one. Meanwhile the Brawns were having a poor day, with Barrichello seventh and Button down in tenth (albeit now running ahead of Nakajima). This meant Vettel – who was still very much in the title hunt – needed to make the most of the British team’s bad day.
Rosberg stopped on lap 18, but crossed the white line as he exited the pits and thus received a penalty.
Then a safety car was then deployed, not for a dutiful Brazilian who’d intentionally crashed in to a wall, but because Adrian Sutil’s clumsy move on a Toro Rosso had seen him spin in to Nick Heidfeld’s BMW, ending both men’s races.
Most of those who hadn’t yet stopped did so under safety car conditions, including the title chasing Brawn cars. Rosberg’s day had been utterly ruined: he couldn’t take his drive through whilst the safety car was out and so had to wait whilst the field was bunched up before serving the penalty. After running so well early on his hope of points had been dashed.
Vettel was now second, with Timo Glock third in a fuel-heavy Toyota. Seb took his second stop on lap 39, and was clearly in a rush to get out again – so much so that he broke the pitlane speed limit, landing himself a drive-through penalty. He wouldn’t suffer as much as Rosberg, but his shot at the win was now gone.
Hamilton now had an advantage of close to ten seconds over Glock, with 2008 winner Alonso up to third. Meanwhile Mark Webber exited the race in dramatic fashion, suffering brake failure at turn one.
McLaren brought Lewis in and he rejoined in a comfortable lead, ahead of Glock and Alonso. Teammate Heikki Kovalainen also stopped, and Jenson Button, who’d been chasing the Finn, stopped limping and began a relaxed sprint. A series of quick laps saw Jenson leapfrog Heikki, and after Rubens suffered a problem at his stop Jense passed him too. He was now fifth, behind the recovering Vettel. It was truly damage limitation at its best from Jenson.
So Hamilton won with Glock a career-best-equaling second and Alonso third. This time the Spaniard had earned his podium
Button’s fifth place finish edged him closer to the title, losing just the one point to Vettel and gaining one over Barrichello.
Overall though you’d have to say that this race has been dominated by Renault. In 2008 they won it, and in 2009 we’d all recently learnt that they’d cheated their way to the aforementioned win. How can they possibly get near that this year? Simple: Kubica’s going to have to win and Petrov would be wise to stay out of the barriers.