As the Formula One circus headed toward its only night race of the season in Singapore, several compelling storylines were developing. The championship-leading Brawn GP team seemed to be righting themselves from their mid-season struggles with teammates Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello solidifying their one-two position in the Championship standings; the consistently quick Red Bull team looked to be keeping the pressure on when they weren't crashing or breaking down; former champions McLaren Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari appeared to have finally made up some of their early season lethargy with recent wins for both Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton that put them in fifth and sixth place respectively, and the resurgent Renault team suddenly facing the possibility of being excluded from the results altogether in the wake of the Nelson Piquet, Jr. Crashgate scandal. Throw in the fact that everyone from BMW Sauber to Force India to Toyota were showing signs of incredible pace and the spotlights of Singapore couldn't have been shown on a more compelling race.
So, how would the drivers and cars handle the street circuit in Singapore? The bumps, the dust, the artificial lights? Follow the jump to read how the race unfolded.
Sunday night's starting grid once again featured defending champion Hamilton on the pole, but the rest of the lineup was a little different from the qualifying order, with Barrichello and Heidfeld dropping back for various reasons and everybody behind them moving up. Qualifying itself had held a few surprises. Q1 was exciting until the end, with several top drivers almost missing out until the closing moments. As it was, the two Force India cars (Liuzi and Sutil) couldn't match the pace they had found at Monza and didn't advance. Neither did Romain Grosjean (Renault), Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) nor Giancarlo Fisichella, who later said he is still a bit uncomfortable in the Ferrari F60.
Q2 was even more surprising with both Brawn cars struggling to advance, along with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. In the end only Barrichello made it through of that trio. Joining Button and Kimi on the sidelines for Q3 were Jarno Trulli (Toyota), Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), and Kaz Nakajima (Williams). The real excitement came in Q3 however.
Hamilton claimed the top spot on his first hot lap, but several of the others looked to be catching him at the end of the session. Lewis himself seemed set to better his own time until Rubens stuffed it into the wall, ending the session a bit earlier than planned. The session closed under the red flag with everyone's final lap doing little more than burning up fuel allocation for the race. The Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, in particular, were hurt by the incident, as each was setting a great pace in their final hot lap. They settled for second and fourth on the grid respectively, with Nico Rosberg putting in a tremendous effort to get his BMW Sauber on the second row in third.
Qualifying fifth was Rubens, but a grid penalty pushed him down to tenth. Taking his spot in fifth was Fernando Alonso, who didn't seem to let the controversy surrounding his team deter him. He was followed on the grid by Timo Glock (Toyota), Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber), Hamilton's team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen, then Barrichello, Nakajima, Button, Kimi, Buemi, Trulli, Sutil, Alguersuari, Fisi, Grosjean, Liuzi and Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld actually started from the pits, penalized when his car was found to be slightly underweight. The team blamed it on a lack of ballast. Whatever the reason it negated his eighth place run, putting him at the back of the grid and pushing everyone else up a spot, including Barrichello.
And so the stage was set. The championship-leading Brawns were a couple of rows behind the Red Bulls on the grid, with enough variables between them to keep things interesting. Vettel and Webber needed to capitalize to close the gap and strengthen their hopes of catching Barrichello and Button in the points race. When the green light flashed, Hamilton made a great start but Vettel once again lagged, this time just enough to let Rosberg slip by at the first complex of turns. Behind them Alonso outdragged Mark Webber and even took a shot at going around Vettel, but it basically just slowed his momentum onto the back straight. Webber and Glock both got past, but Webber cut the apron too much and was told he had to let Alonso and Glock back through.
Despite a fairly heavy fuel load, Hamilton opened a two-second gap over Rosberg, with Vettel another two seconds back. As they diced with each other, Glock and Alonso were slowly falling back from the front three. Besides thinking he might be losing his KERS, Hamilton kept the field marching smoothly until the first round of stops.
Actually it was Rosberg who had a small problem, having to serve a drive-through penalty for momentarily crossing the blend line on pit out. Before he could serve it, however, Adrian Sutil took out Nick Heidfeld, bringing out the safety car and ending Heidfeld's record continuous finishing streak at 34. Sutil was later fined for the incident, wherein he spun trying to pass Alguersuari and crashed into Heidfeld trying to get back into the action. Alguersuari pitted and started to take off before everyone was clear, knocking over some crew members and taking the fuel hose with him. Video replay shows the lollipop was still down so we're not sure why Jaime thought it was safe to leave. Thankfully nobody was hurt.
Hamilton, Alonso and Barrichello were all fortunate enough to get into the pits before everyone lined up behind the safety car, but Button wasn't as lucky. He had planned a long first stint to get past some of the cars ahead of him, but now he was pitting right along with them. When the race restarted on lap 25 it was Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Glock, Alonso, Barrichello, Kovalainen and Button.
Rosberg still had to serve his penalty, however, and when he did so a few laps later, he came out in 14th position. As bad as that was for Nico, it gave Vettel a chance to latch onto Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes. He pushed Lewis until lap 39 when he had to make his second stop. Just like Rosberg, unfortunately, Sebastien pushed a bit too hard leaving the pits and exceeded the pit lane speed limit. He had to serve a drive-through as well, but as if if that wasn't bad enough he also damaged his rear diffuser on some curbing, robbing the car of some of its downforce.
Glock and Alonso moved into second and third respectively as Hamilton just cruised to victory. That didn't mean there wasn't plenty of action back in the pack. When Mark Webber had a brake failure that sent him into the wall with 15 laps remaining, several cars that had been waiting to make their second stops dove into the pits expecting a safety car period. The safety car didn't come out, however, and Button ended up gaining a few spots as a result, coming out ahead of his team-mate and right on Vettel's tail when the second round of stops was over. Button had his own brake problems a short time later. That forced him to back off Vettel at the end, allowing Barrichello to close in before he too had a similar problem. Brake problems had already claimed Webber and Alguersuari, so Brawn GP made the smart call in having their drivers ease off.
Points go to Hamilton, Glock, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Barrichello, Kovalainen, and Kubica, who might have done even better had the safety car period not conflicted with his pit strategy so badly. Hamilton gets his second win of the season on the heels of a last lap crash at Monza, Button moves another point ahead of his Brawn buddy and a step closer to the title, Vettel remains a mathematical possiibilty for the crown, Glock gets another second place for Toyota, and Alonso scores another podium for the team under the magnifying glass. The lights are out in Singapore and the show now packs up for the short hop over to Suzuka for next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. Just three races left before the 2009 Formula 1 Champion is crowned.