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Alonso and Singapore - a match made in heaven? 23 Sep 2010

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 26 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28 crosses the line to win
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Singapore, Sunday, 28 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R28 celebrates in parc ferme 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Singapore, Sunday, 28 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Practice Day, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Friday, 25 September 2009 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault celebrates his third position on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 27 September 2009

Occasionally the rapport between a driver and a particular circuit can take on a special significance - be it good or bad. Ayrton Senna, for instance, had Monaco - a race he won six times and described as being ‘a special place for me’ - whilst one of Rubens Barrichello’s bugbears from his 300 plus-race career is that he is yet to win his home Grand Prix at Interlagos in Brazil.

Like all his competitors, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has enjoyed many high and lows at different tracks over his years in Formula One racing, but one which seems to hold special resonance for the Spaniard is Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit. It may only be hosting its third Grand Prix this weekend, but Alonso has already experienced enough drama at this venue to last a career.

From his controversial win in 2008 through to his unexpected podium last year, Alonso has enjoyed both success and tribulation at the floodlit venue, and this year in Singapore he must finish in the top-three for a third successive time if he is to realistically stay in title contention.

Rewind to 2008 and Alonso declared himself ‘curious’ about the calendar’s first night race, and after Friday practice it appeared to be love at first sight, with the Spaniard heading the timesheets for Renault after pipping McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton at the death. Alonso took the honours again in Saturday’s final practice, but in qualifying was left languishing 15th after fuel-supply problems.

For the French team, fighting to defend fourth in the constructors’ table after a tough season, it was a bitter blow. Despite the R28’s obvious pace, everyone believed overtaking would be difficult and Alonso’s hopes of boosting Renault’s points haul looked slim. In post-qualifying interviews the former champion was gloomy, stating he’d need a ‘miracle’ to make progress in the race.

In the end, however, it was a plot hatched by men desperate for results (and a driver desperate to keep his seat) that would dictate the outcome. Then team boss Flavio Briatore and executive director of engineering Pat Symonds conspired with the struggling Nelson Piquet to cause a deliberate crash in the second Renault, with the ultimate goal of benefitting Alonso’s strategy.

Alonso knew nothing of the plan, but was unwittingly granted his ‘miracle’ when, on Lap 14, Piquet threw his car into a spin and slammed into a wall. A safety car and chaos in the pit lane followed, and it was the surviving Renault that eventually emerged in the lead. Even a second safety car couldn’t dent Alonso’s advantage. Of course the revelations of the FIA’s investigation would later paint a very different picture of his success, but it remains a memorable victory.

Last year, Alonso arrived back in Singapore understandably feeling that he had a point to prove. And prove it he did, in spite of the Renault R29’s flaws and the French team’s troubles - they had only just emerged from the FIA’s ‘crashgate’ hearing into the 2008 race, which had seen them receive a two-year suspended ban and lose Briatore and Symonds from their managerial line-up.

So Alonso’s third-place finish - from fifth on the grid - was a welcome relief from their off-track woes and a fitting Renault swansong for their star driver, who just days later announced he would move to Ferrari for 2010. It would be Renault’s first - and only - podium of the season.

Fast forward to this season, and Alonso returns to Marina Bay in quite different circumstances, fresh from a commanding victory in Italy. Although his Monza win pushed him up to third in the driver standings, he knows he must maintain his masterly control of the Singapore streets this weekend if he is to stay in contention for a third world title - and his first with Ferrari.

A legion of Scuderia fans will be expecting their hero to win, but when it comes to Alonso and Singapore, history has taught us to expect only the unexpected…

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