Singapore GP - Sunday - Race Report
Alonso closes in
Fernando Alonso won his second consecutive Grand Prix with an inch perfect performance around the streets of Singapore to beat Sebastian Vettel into second place. Alonso is now just 11 points behind Mark Webber's championship lead, with the Australian finishing third.
The foundation of Alonso's win was his pole position, which he converted despite a strong challenge from Vettel off the line. The pair then had too much pace for the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who headed Mark Webber across the line on lap 1 as the championship contenders ran in grid order.
The scenario was complicated by a lap two Safety Car for Tonio Liuzzi's stranded Force India. Webber was among those who piled into the pits to go onto the prime tyre, which he then ran for the rest of the race.
"It was tough and long race," Alonso said. "Obviously when Mark stopped we knew we had to open up a half minute gap to clear him before the tyre stop." At one stage, with that margin in hand, Alonso radioed Ferrari about stopping because he knew he was vulnerable to a second Safety Car before he pitted, but at the time the option tyre was still quicker than the prime and so Ferrari told him to stay out in case Red Bull ran Vettel longer and jumped him.
Vettel, after dropping back a little to cool the brakes and run in clean air, increased the pressure on Alonso as the pit stops approached but as the Spaniard responded, the German found it harder to run with the Ferrari. They then pitted together after 29 of the 61 laps.
It was perhaps a surprise that Reds Bull chose to pit Vettel on the same lap, but the German explained: "By that stage we were sliding around a lot and I don't know if it would have been quicker to stay out versus a new set of primes. The team always does strong pit stops and we decided that it would be better to put pressure on Ferrari in the pits."
As in Monza, however, the Maranello team was faultless and the order remained the same after the stops.
Lewis Hamilton, now going slower on the option Bridgestones than Webber was on the primes, had stopped a lap earlier and pitted out behind the Red Bull. Shortly afterwards, however, a second Safety car for a collision between Kamui Kobayashi and Bruno Senna closed up the field once more and when Webber was delayed by Di Grassi's Virgin at the restart, Hamilton got a run on him. Into Turn 7 the McLaren was marginally ahead but Webber did not concede and his right front made contact with Hamilton's left rear, putting the Briton out and dealing a heavy blow to his title hopes.
"He had to have a go," Webber said. "He got a good run on me but that is the only corner on the track where something can happen. Fernando and I had contact there. It's unfortunate but these things happen and I had a fairly serious vibration from the front for the rest of the race and I was concerned about whether I would make it to the end.
"I'm certainly happy with third place today. Fernando and Seb drove superbly all weekend and I was never as comfortable. At Monaco I was but it never quite felt the same here."
Button was told to push in the closing stages but didn't have enough to challenge Webber and came home fourth, which keeps his championship challenge alive.
Nico Rosberg brought the first Mercedes home fifth, scoring strong points in the battle to stay ahead of Renault, for whom Robert Kubica was tremendous. After a late stop for a puncture, the Pole passed Petrov, Massa, Hulkenberg and Sutil to finish seventh, behind Rubens Barrichello who, having achieved his best qualifying performance of 2010 to start sixth, was similarly impressive in finishing there.
Sutil finished eighth, but was later given a 20s penalty for cutting the chicane on lap 1, dropping him to 10th, which turned into ninth when Hulkenberg was given a similar penalty and he was dropped to 10th - elevating Massa up to eighth, after starting from the last place on the grid.
Alonso, equalling Webber in winning a fourth race of the season, said: "At the end we were lapping five cars, there was yellow flag on the straight because a Lotus problem and so we couldn't overtake there. I had just controlled the gap with Seb as much as I could but I had to be careful with the traffic. It was a hard race physically, maybe the toughest of the season with the humidity and no time to breathe on the lap."
Heading to Japan in a fortnight, Webber leads the title chase with 202 points to Alonso's 191, with Hamilton on 182, Vettel 181 and Button 177. It's still all to play for...