The 2008 Singapore Grand Prix ‘Crashgate‘ scandal remains one of the darkest days in sports history, a Formula 1 team boss, his right-hand man and a number-two driver conspired to change the outcome, in favour of their number-one driver, by crashing out of the race.
Of course, this was the infamous cast led by Flavio Briatore led Renault team, of the time, with sidekick Pat Symmonds, his closest lieutenant, in cahoots with submissive crash-test-dummy Nelson Piquet Junior, namely the three baddies with, of course, the innocent bystander Fernando Alonso who happened to win the race on that dark night.
So much has been written about the Crashgate saga, so go here>>> for more or the summary below should suffice for the purpose of this report:
2008 Singapore Grand Prix
Alonso started race from 15th on the grid
Lap 12 Alonso pits earlier than anyone expected
Lap 14 Piquet is ordered to crash his car in Turn 17 as prearranged with his bosses
Safety Car is deployed
Alonso inherits the lead as rivals make pitstop
Alonso wins the race ending a two-year win drought for Renault
A year later Nelson Piquet and his father spill the beans
Briatore and Symonds banned and then unbanned etc etc
Despite the obvious shenanigans that transpired that evening at Marina Bay Circuit and how it eventually exploded into the huge scandal it became, Alonso still counts his triumph on the night as a legitimate victory on his CV.
The Spaniard told BBC, “I think that is interpretation. There are many interpretations of how you can win the race. [The crash] was in the early stage of the race and the car was performing well, I made no mistakes and so I still count it.”
Many believe Alonso was part of the plot that in the end benefitted him the most, but he denies knowledge and Piquet has never implicated him directly, had he proof of the Spaniard’s involvement we would know, after all the Brazilian’s testimony sunk Briatore and Symmonds.
Furthermore, Alonso’s name was cleared at the time by FIA chief Max Mosley who revealed that the double F1 World Champion was extensively questioned by “an experienced former detective chief superintendent from Scotland Yard and a very experienced barrister” before being exonerated.
During the press conference after the race on that night – 28 September 2008 – Alonso took the middle chair, on either side of him were Nico Rosberg, enjoying his best ever F1 result with second place for Williams, and third-placed McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton.
Interestingly, during the Q&A with journos, Alonso was not taken to task with regards to the Piquet incident, suggesting that at that point – immediately after the race – the cheat by Renault was undetected.
Some in the paddock had their suspicions but at the time Briatore was a heavy hitter you did not mess with in Formula 1. It took the Piquet revelation bombshell, almost a year later, to stun the world, reveal the truth and give birth to ‘Crashgate’.
Here is what Alonso had to say after the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix:
Fernando, bad luck with mechanical trouble on Saturday but you made up for it today with a fantastic drive. FA: Yeah, fantastic. A first podium of the season and first victory as well and I am extremely happy. I cannot believe it right now, I think I need a couple of days to realise we won a race this year. It seems impossible all through the season to be close to the top guys and here suddenly we have been competitive from Friday. As you said yesterday we were unlucky in qualifying and today very lucky in the race. Obviously, we started at the back and the first safety car helped me a lot and I was able to win the race.
The first safety car was caused by your team-mate Nelson Piquet. You came in on lap 12, three laps before the safety car, which really gave you a strong position when everybody else had to pit. FA: Yeah, as I said unlucky yesterday but very, very lucky today. We chose to do a very aggressive first stint as we knew starting 15 you cannot overtake anyone here. We thought about a one-stop strategy but we had some concerns with the brakes, so we said one stop is not possible, so we tried something very different. We tried a very short first stint and tried to make up as many places as possible at the start and on the first lap and then see from there. The start was good but obviously not good enough and then as I said very lucky but the pace was there as afterwards all through the race we were able to pull some distance, some gap, to the guys behind us and this was thanks to the car which was super today.
And the pace was there at the second restart on the Bridgestone primes when you pulled out two or three seconds a lap. FA: I think I had a little bit of an advantage compared to Nico because of the tyres. I think the prime were a little bit better, so I was with the better tyre in the last stint of the race. I was running with low revs when I was alone and then at the restart I put maximum engine and thanks to the tyres as well I was able to pull away from Nico.
Fernando, your thoughts on this amazing night in Singapore and how you enjoyed racing at night. Lots of new things at this circuit and you winning again. FA: Yeah, it was a great weekend for all of us. A great weekend for everyone in Formula One, the first night race. We all had a new challenge in front of us and we will be part of history, the first night race in Formula One. There will be many more to come as I think the experience was great. We had no problems and I think the people will enjoy more this type of races. It will not all be night races but some of them can be at night as the spirit was good. For us, ING Renault, we have had a tough, tough 2008 championship but now we are fighting for fourth place in the Constructors’. This victory is well deserved as the guys worked extremely hard all through the season. We start far behind, maybe one second behind BMW, now we are the same pace as them or even better and this is thanks to a great job. We will keep on pushing. Three more races to go and next year more.
Fernando, what do you think this means to yourself and the team after such a tough season? FA: Well, it means a lot obviously. We always prepare the races for victories but on Friday already we realise that we cannot fight for victory. This time was maybe a bit different. We were competitive straight away. We had no simulator, nothing to prepare the race and already from P1 we were quick. It means that the car here for whatever reason was competitive. We were hoping to take the benefit of this good car here but after qualifying maybe our hopes were gone already as we started 15 and 16 and you know that it is nearly over. Again, today shows that Formula One is unpredictable on a Sunday.
As you said after the drivers’ parade, anything can happen. FA: Anything can happen. I was hoping more for rain and maybe you can win if you make the right tyre choice and get an advantage and you can make a lot of places. In normal dry conditions with a normal race you finish more or less two or three places in front or behind you from where you started. There is not much more room to improve.
The strategy was correct as when the safety car came you were right in there. FA: I don’t know. Without the safety car maybe I was finishing in the same position, 15 or 14. But we knew that one stop was a little bit better for us. Our simulations said one stop could maybe work a little bit better. But we had no brakes to do one stop as the brakes were running too hot all weekend as there are not long enough straights to cool the brakes. It is corner after corner and we did not have the brakes for a one-stop strategy.
Did you have any problems with the car during the race? FA: The drinks bottle didn’t work. On lap two I tried and I said 58 laps with no water. If I tried on lap 20 it was better but on lap two it was a little bit hard.
You and Nico were the only two to start the race on the supersoft tyres. FA: For me, the super soft tyre was not working all weekend. Any time we put on the hard tyre the car had much more grip and the lap time was nearly seven tenths a second quicker with the hard tyre. We wanted to do a very short first stint with a good start and good first lap we said we will put on the super soft and then we will have the good tyre all through the long stints. As I said it worked for me and it worked for Nico but obviously we were lucky.
Fernando, was this weekend the turning point for Renault in its progress towards the front again on a consistent basis and does this result and the weekend change your thinking about next year? FA: I don’t know but we will find out very quickly in Fuji because we cannot forget that this is a very special track, a street circuit like Monaco, corner after corner, second gear, third gear, so very slow, slippery asphalt and I think on a normal circuit we can realise the potential of the car a little bit better than on a street circuit, where it’s more about the set-up than how lucky and risky the laps are. We keep improving the car, as I said before. We started the season quite far away from pole position and from the top teams and now we are much closer, so we are definitely one of the teams who have most improved their car but maybe it was not difficult because at the beginning of the season we were not at the right level.
Fernando, what were you thinking during the last lap when you seemed to pass two good meters away from the kerbs? FA: I had my fingers crossed all the last lap because you never know what can happen. Yesterday we had a very strange problem in our fuel system which never happened (before) and we didn’t know if it was because of the bumpy track, because maybe I hit a kerb. We are still not sure about what happened yesterday, so the last lap was obviously quite a worry for me, but it was all OK.
Fernando, you had a short conversation with Lewis on the podium. Can you explain what you talked about? FA: It’s a secret. No, we were talking about how physical the race was, nothing more.
Fernando, you said earlier that you and Renault have been pushing all year and will continue to push next year. Can we take from that that you are going to stay at Renault next year? FA: No, I didn’t say that. No, I just want to say thanks to the team because, as I said, they keep working with this car. We had a new front wing here, at this race, and if you think how the championship is, and that they are already working on next year’s car. They didn’t forget the performance of this year. They brought a new front wing with four races to go. This victory is also thanks to the massive effort they are making with this year’s car and next year’s car but it’s not changing the decision for next year. As I’ve always said, Renault will be my first priority because I feel I’m at home in this team.
Fernando, when you pit early, did you think it was already over or were you still hoping for something to happen during the race? FA: No, when I pit, obviously I was last behind the Force India cars, I was still looking in the sky for some drops of rain or something because I was last. Obviously, I had pitted already, so I would overtake some people when they did their pit stop but our main target in the race was P12 or P11 and maybe a little bit better with some rain. The race changed completely after the safety cars and you then never know because it was the same thing when I was leading. I was leading comfortably because we had already one safety car at that point, maybe I would be P5 or P6 because there were people who had stopped already, fuelled to the end, like the Ferraris, so it was a worry, all through the race.