Saturday, 27 September 2008

Singapore Grand Prix Qualifying: Massa lights up first ever night time qualifying

Felipe Massa gave his world title chances a massive boost with a superb lap in the dying minutes of qualifying to take pole position ahead of his main rival Lewis Hamilton. On a track which looks exceptionally tight and narrow, subsequently meaning passing opportunities will be very limited, pole position could prove to be all important.

Formula One's first ever night time qualifying session got underway with perfect weather conditions. None of the rain that has been predicted for the weekend has thus far fallen while the cars are out on track, meaning that if it happens in the race it could well be something of a lottery with all the drivers out on full dry set-ups. The first section of qualifying saw its first incident when veteran Giancarlo Fisichella understeered wide into the crash barriers, removing his front wing in the process. This effectively ended his session as he was unable to even register a time. Sutil and Barrichello both unsurprisingly dropped out. Sebastien Bourdais was the next to drop out, and he was clearly struggling with the set-up of his STR car as at times it looked more like he was tarmac rallying rather than driving a grand prix car. Nelson Piquet was unable to build on his excellent showing this morning as he too bit the dust early on.

Barely a couple of minutes into the second section there was heartbreak for Renault and Fernando Alonso, as his car ground to a halt out on the circuit with a mechanical failure before he was even able to set a lap time. It was a cruel blow to Alonso as he had looked exceptionally quick all weekend long. A weekend that had looked so promising for Renault now looks likely to be a real struggle with Alonso and Piquet starting alongside each other in 15th and 16th place.

The rest of the drama of the session revolved around the trials and tribulations of Lewis Hamilton. After missing out on final qualifying in Monza after a tactical blunder, it looked as though history may have been about to repeat itself. McLaren took things pretty casual and came out late to set their first flying lap. This was almost their downfall, as Hamilton made a mistake in turn 1 and had to abort the lap. He then had to come out and throw caution to the wind for the final three minutes of the session with 2 laps worth of fuel in his tank. He again looked scrappy and failed to impress on his way to P8 on the time sheet. There were plenty of other drivers out there on hot laps though, so he was by no means safe. Glock and Nakajima both jumped ahead of Hamilton, pushing him right down to the brink of elimination. Webber, Trulli, Coulthard and Button were all out too, and seemed to have the potential pace to ruin McLaren's afternoon. However, they all seemed to have poor laps and Hamilton was luckily able to survive the cut.

The final session saw Hamilton back to his usual self, and after the first round of hot laps the usual suspects were up near the top of the time sheet. Heikki Kovalainen was out on the super-soft option tyre, and he was struggling badly down in 10th. The option tyre appears to be overheating and graining badly in the heat and humidity here, the harder tyre definitely looks the preferred choice. Vettel was again looking excellent up in fourth place, with Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa ahead of him.

The final laps saw Raikkonen out first ahead of Hamilton, then Massa. Raikkonen was going quicker than he had earlier on, but he was still struggling to match his team mate's first flying lap. He crossed the line in second place. Just seconds later Hamilton crossed the line to go into provisional pole position. He didn't have a great first couple of sectors, but put in a blistering final sector to heap the pressure on Massa. The Brazilian though was not fazed in the slightest, and he set fastest split times in all three sectors to comfortably take pole by over half a second. It was an absolutely stunning lap from Massa, which seemed to come out of nowhere. It is very unusual for pole position to be clinched by such a large margin; is Massa on a lighter, more aggresive fuel strategy, or was it just the perfect lap? We'll have to wait until the first stints of tomorrow's race to find out...

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Massa
2. Hamilton
3. Raikkonen
4. Kubica
5. Kovalainen
6. Heidfeld
7. Vettel
8. Glock
9. Rosberg
10. Nakajima
11. Trulli
12. Button
13. Webber
14. Coulthard
15. Alonso
16. Piquet
17. Bourdais
18. Barrichello
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella
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Singapore Grand Prix: Saturday Practice

A bit of deja-vu on the timesheets after Saturday's final practice session before qualifying, as Fernando Alonso again pipped former nemesis Lewis Hamilton to P1, with Felipe Massa in third spot. Below them things were somewhat different though, as Nelson Piquet Jr proved that Alonso's pace in the Renault is no fluke by coming in P4.

Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button both continued their good weekends so far by coming in 5th and 6th respectively. The normally flying Finns both looked less than impressive though, with Heikki Kovalainen down in 13th and Kimi Raikkonen way down in 17th after a scrappy session including a spin.

Saturday Practice Times

01 F. Alonso Renault 1:44.506 19 laps
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.119 12 laps
03 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.246 16 laps
04 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:45.249 17 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:45.386 16 laps
06 J. Button Honda 1:45.409 20 laps
07 R. Kubica BMW 1:45.425 17 laps
08 M. Webber Red Bull 1:45.450 21 laps
09 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:45.477 18 laps
10 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:45.599 17 laps
11 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:45.689 19 laps
12 K. Nakajima Williams 1:45.982 18 laps
13 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:45.982 12 laps
14 R. Barrichello Honda 1:46.073 21 laps
15 T. Glock Toyota 1:46.180 22 laps
16 J. Trulli Toyota 1:46.221 18 laps
17 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:46.482 10 laps
18 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:46.794 6 laps
19 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:47.166 14 laps
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:47.727 19 laps
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Friday, 26 September 2008

2008 Singapore Grand Prix: Friday Practice Sessions

This weekend sees the inaugural running of the Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore, and also sees the very first night race in F1 history. With heavy rain also predicted at some point over the weekend the race on the all new street circuit may well be one of the most challenging races of the season for the drivers and teams. The track is unfamiliar, the rain could make the roads of Singapore treacherous, and none of the drivers have experience of driving a Grand Prix car through floodlit heavy spray. Throw an incredibly close title race building up to its climax into the mix, and we may have a truly memorable race on our hands.

Whilst the whys and wherefores of Bernie Ecclestone's desire to hold a race under floodlights for the benefits of TV scheduling are still being debated, the fact remains that it is going to happen come what may. Using hundreds of high powered floodlights to light up the track does seem to fly in the face of F1's supposed commitment to promoting improved energy efficiency, but so far it seems to work well enough. The main concern has to of course be driver safety, and no drivers seem to have complained about poor visibility.

The one thing that did immediately cause some consternation amongst drivers are the newly nicknamed "tortoise-shell" bumps lining the kerbs at turn 10. They are there to prevent drivers cutting chicanes, a very hot topic in F1 today since Hamilton's misadventures in Belgium, but they are so high that a slight mistake would result in the car being trashed on the bumps and put out of the race. Charlie Whiting took heed of the team's and driver's concerns and ordered that the bumps be greatly reduced in size.

In first practice Lewis Hamilton set the early benchmark by finishing at the top of the timesheets, a fraction of a second ahead of title rival Felipe Massa. Raikkonen was third and Kovalainen fourth, but almost a full second behind team mate Hamilton. There were few surprises throughout the rest of the field, perhaps with the exception of Jenson Button who dragged his dog of a Honda into their first half-respectable position in months.

The brand new circuit did provide a fair few early thrills and spills. Mark Webber took the dubious honour of Christening the armco safety barriers after running wide and removing the right front corner of his car on the wall. A terrible start for the Aussie's weekend. It looks as though the very fast final corner could the one that grabs the headlines at this track. Heikki Kovalainen had a huge spin on the exit of the corner. Rubens Barrichello had an even bigger spin mid-corner and ended up going backwards into the safety barriers.

However, the biggest talking point of the session was provided by Jarno Trulli. He spun out on the final corner and was left stationary, facing backwards on the racing line. Naturally he got himself out of the way as soon as possible, but chose to do this by driving for about 20-30 metres IN THE WRONG DIRECTION down the pit straight, then turning around back into the pit lane. In doing so he broke one of the golden rules of race driving - NEVER drive the wrong way on the circuit. Trulli landed himself a $10,000 fine for his misdemeanour; not very dignified for one of the veteran members of the GPDA.

Practice One Times

01 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.518 20 laps
02 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.598 23 laps
03 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:45.961 24 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:46.463 20 laps
05 R. Kubica BMW 1:46.618 23 laps
06 N. Rosberg Williams 1:46.710 25 laps
07 F. Alonso Renault 1:46.725 29 laps
08 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:46.964 24 laps
09 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:47.175 30 laps
10 J. Button Honda 1:47.277 30 laps
11 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:47.570 28 laps
12 K. Nakajima Williams 1:47.662 23 laps
13 T. Glock Toyota 1:47.706 27 laps
14 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:48.097 16 laps
15 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:48.517 23 laps
16 R. Barrichello Honda 1:48.725 19 laps
17 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:48.839 24 laps
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:48.906 25 laps
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:49.064 29 laps
20 M. Webber Red Bull 1:53.703 4 laps

The second practice session saw much of the same kind of action as the first, with McLaren and Ferrari drivers trading blows at the top of the timesheets. It looked for the majority of the session that Hamilton would again be pipping Felipe Massa to the P1 spot. That was until Fernando Alonso sprung a major surprise by taking the Friday honours with a fine lap in the dying seconds of the session.

Kovalainen was third this time out, with compatriot Raikkonen down in seventh. Not a great day for the World Champion, as he continues to look second best to Massa in the Ferrari team. Kimi was fractionally ahead of Button who again impressed in eighth place. Jenson in due a good drive, as he has seemed pretty lacklustre in recent months. Motivation must be pretty tricky when the team has so clearly just given up on this season, but he still needs to show he's out their fighting regardless. The only other talking point of the session was Timo Glock spinning and taking the nose off his Toyota.

Practice Two Times

01 F. Alonso Renault 1:45.654 30 laps
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:45.752 28 laps
03 F. Massa Ferrari 1:45.793 31 laps
04 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:45.797 31 laps
05 N. Rosberg Williams 1:46.164 34 laps
06 R. Kubica BMW 1:46.384 36 laps
07 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:46.580 25 laps
08 J. Button Honda 1:46.901 32 laps
09 K. Nakajima Williams 1:47.013 32 laps
10 T. Glock Toyota 1:47.046 22 laps
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:47.137 15 laps
12 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:47.145 35 laps
13 S. Vettel Toro Rosso 1:47.300 33 laps
14 S. Bourdais Toro Rosso 1:47.487 24 laps
15 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:47.640 31 laps
16 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:47.760 36 laps
17 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:47.965 12 laps
18 R. Barrichello Honda 1:48.009 25 laps
19 J. Trulli Toyota 1:48.059 28 laps
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:48.311 36 laps
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