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GP Week : Issue 102
28 Before you go into a conclusive analysis of how Fernando’s Triple Crown Grand Slam (pole, the win, fastest lap and every lap led) in Singapore gave him the sort of domination factor we haven’t seen since that feat was last performed (in Hungary, 2004, by another Ferrari driver named Michael Schumacher), understand for the record that for the most part it was unbearably close. So close, indeed, that by the time race night had dissolved into the humid dawn of the Monday morning afterwards, as team personnel were queuing in the security lanes of Changi airport, it was clear that the race had been defined by two ultra-fast incidents that took place not on Sunday but on the two nights that preceded it. The first of those came late on Friday evening, in Free Practice 2, when Fernando Alonso was already indulging in a bit of a race with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. The opening session, FP1, had been too wet off- line for serious work to be accomplished; it was the Singapore ‘rookies’ – a list that included such names as Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Hulkenberg and the afore-mentioned Schumacher – who kept the massive crowd entertained at dusk with some back- whincing kerb-strikes and a few edgy- looking power-slides. The rain stayed away for FP2 but the track took an age to dry, thanks to the humid, windless air. They all needed their ‘data’, though. The Bridgestone compounds needed to be compared; brakes needed to be pushed, particularly on the heaviest fuel loads that any teams have ever run in Singapore. Sebastian Vettel quickly showed his all- round pace, dominating the lap on all three sectors. Fernando responded with a quicker lap, one that was purple in sectors one and three. Then Sebastian replied – and now it is Fernando out there again, on Bridgestone super-softs, quickest again in sector one and looking beautifully relaxed and fluid as he runs through sector two, missing the damp patch on the left here, perfectly meeting his apex there. He exits Turn 17 with a tad too much power, however, and lets the Ferrari F10 run right up on the soft exit kerb, holding the throttle with half-a-turn of opposite lock before allowing the car to straighten again for the run down to the sharp Turn 18 left-hander. It is straight, but it isn’t ‘flat’. The load is still centred over that right rear. Fernando jabs the Brembo brakes hard ... and the Ferrari jack-knifes for a millisecond, flicking him to the right, locking the inside front. He aborts the corner entry and takes to the escape road. Another small ‘event’ in the life of Fernando Alonso. Except that it doesn’t end there. He selects neutral, then first – but he has no drive. Nothing. He radios back to base. “Okay, Fernando. We obviously have a problem. Leave the car.” Fernando’s FP2 is over. He waves to the crowds, talks to the journalists. Sebastian Vettel sails calmly to the top of the overnight charts. Fernando did not make another mistake for the remainder of the weekend – not a mistake of this size, at any rate. It was gone – out of his system when really it didn’t matter. Throughout FP3, qualifying and the grand prix itself, Fernando’s Ferrari was as flat as a flounder in the braking areas – and it is in the braking areas, of course, that all good street circuit dramas will always begin. He bobbled the rear on exit on occasion, as you do when you’re Ferrnando Alonso in a Ferrari on a circuit as photogenic as Singapore; and he nuzzled a few high kerbs. These moments were nothing, though, in the overall picture. The Mistake had been made – and it had been made when it had had no consequence. From then on, street circuit master that he is, Fernando found his rhythm: be fast on sector one but keep the car straight and narrow, leaving margin where necessary; think of the kerbs in sector two; and go for it, knowing the pole is there, in sector three. This worked well with Bridgestone, too, for the super- soft took some time to find their optimum