• Singapore Grand Prix

Alonso victory spices up title race

Laurence Edmondson September 26, 2010

Fernando Alonso completed an impressive start-to-finish victory at the Singapore Grand Prix, his second win in as many races and one that saw him close to within 11 points of Mark Webber at the top of the drivers' championship with four grands prix remaining. Only 25 points now separate the top five and the season looks set to go down to the wire.

Sebastian Vettel, who finished only 0.2 seconds behind Alonso after a late yellow flag, took second from Webber, with Jenson Button in fourth. But Lewis Hamilton's title ambitions suffered a major setback when he collided with Webber on the 35th lap and was forced to retire.

Vettel was the quickest off the line but was squeezed towards the pit wall by Alonso, which forced him to back off and settle for second. The pair were in a league of their own and traded fastest laps throughout while an intense strategic battle for third developed behind them.

The race got its first injection of excitement on lap three when a safety car was deployed to allow marshals to clear Tonio Liuzzi's stricken Force India from the track. Liuzzi had been hit from behind by Nick Heidfeld and the resulting caution period presented a crucial strategic challenge for the teams.

Red Bull opted to pit Webber, while the top four drivers - each one of them a title rival for Webber - decided to stay out on track on the soft tyres. For the supremely fast Alonso and Vettel it was an obvious choice and paid dividends as they mastered the option tyre to pull out a huge lead over the rest of the pack.

But the McLarens were not as quick and harder on their tyres and Hamilton and Button soon started to fall into a race with Webber, despite being 20 seconds up the road. As their times dropped off and Webber's improved, it became obvious that they needed to pit but the McLaren pit wall stubbornly refused to issue the call. Eventually they succumbed to the decision, but it was too late and the lead McLaren of Hamilton emerged back onto the track eight seconds behind Webber.

Kamui Kobayashi crashed at turn 18 © Sutton Images
But the race was far from over, and as a battle raged in every sector of every lap between Alonso and Vettel, a second safety car was deployed. This time Kamui Kobayashi was to blame as he started to look increasingly ragged and eventually slammed his car into the barrier on the exit of turn 18.

The field was bunched up again during the caution period and on the restart two lapped Virgins separated Vettel and Webber in second and third. By this time Webber was on very old hard tyres and Hamilton was keen to seize the initiative and take back third place. The opportunity came when the Red Bull was baulked by Lucas di Grassi out of turn five and Hamilton got a run on Webber into turn seven. The McLaren moved to the outside and appeared to have the corner, but as he cut back across to take the apex he left no space for Webber to brake and the pair came together.

Hamilton was out on the spot while Webber struggled on despite his tyre coming a long way off the rim. The stewards immediately investigated the incident but decided not to take any action.

Moments later a copycat accident between Nick Heidfeld and Michael Schumacher accounted for the retirement of the Sauber while the Mercedes struggled back to the pits with sparks flying from a broken front wing. Again the stewards investigated but took no action.

The focus was then on Button to pass Webber but the McLaren was not quick enough and Webber held out. Vettel kept the pressure on Alonso but the Ferrari driver turned up the engine to maximum revs and held onto a slim one-second lead.

Heikki Kovalainen fights the falmes coming out of his Lotus © Sutton Images

One last drama came with two laps remaining when Sebastien Buemi clipped the back of Heikki Kovalainen and forced the Lotus into a spin. The unexpected strain on the Cosworth engine clearly took its toll and as Kovalainen came through the final sector of the lap his Lotus burst into flames. Remarkably he stayed in the car to cross the line and complete another lap, but soon realised the extent of the problem and jumped out. He grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher and bravely dealt with the problem while marshals clambered over the pit wall.

During the excitement Vettel had closed right onto the back of Alonso and spent the whole of the final lap on the Ferrari's gearbox. However, he never got a clear opportunity to pass and Alonso kept his head to cross the line just 0.2 seconds ahead of Vettel.

The result is a major boost for Alonso's championship chances and sets up a thrilling battle heading to Japan in two week's time.