A 'black day' for Ferrari at Singapore Grand Prix

Felipe Massa speeds away from his pit stall not knowing the fueling hose is still attached. AP Photo/Oliver Multhaup

Ferrari should have left Singapore with a 1-2 finish in Formula One's first night race and leading both the drivers' and constructors'
world championships.

Instead, after what could be described as shambles in Singapore, the team left with zero points and trailing Lewis Hamilton and McLaren Mercedes in the respective title chases.

"A black day, there's little else to say," Ferrari's team principal Stefano Domenicali said. "We had the potential to finish first and second, but we didn't even pick up a point. We are very disappointed, but that doesn't mean we are downtrodden."

What exactly happened to Ferrari in the Singapore Grand Prix? And what now for the Prancing Horse team in the final three races of the 2008 season?

For a while it all looked rosy for Ferrari under the bright lights of the city's street track. Felipe Massa had qualified his Ferrari on the pole and was leading comfortably ahead of Hamilton. This is where Massa excels. All 10 of his career F1 wins came when he started on the front row and dominated the race.

Kimi Raikkonen ran alone in third place in his Ferrari.

Then on Lap 15 of 61 Nelson Piquet hit the wall in his Renault.

Out came the safety car. F1 rules require all the cars to be lined up behind the safety car before pit lane is declared open. About to run out of fuel, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica had to pit anyway and incurred stop-and-go penalties.

Piquet's teammate Fernando Alonso, on an aggressive strategy, had pitted at the end of Lap 12 and had enough fuel to ride out the safety car period. That strategy eventually won the race for him.

NASCAR style, most of the field streamed into the pit lane when it opened at the end of Lap 17.

And that is when things started to go wrong for Ferrari.

The other teams use a "lollipop" system to tell their driver when he can leave the pit box. It is a plate on the end of a stick. A crew member holds the lollipop over the nose of the car. When the tires are on and the fuel hose is removed, and if there is no car coming down pit lane at that moment, he lifts the lollipop and the driver knows he can accelerate away.

Last year Ferrari introduced a red/green light system that hangs on the gantry that holds the air hoses over the car. Initially, when the fuel hose was removed, it sent an electrical signal to the lights and turned them green.

In Singapore the system was on manual and a crew member pushed the "green" button when it was all clear for the driver to leave. But during Massa's pit stop the crew member was slightly too optimistic and pressed the button when the fuel hose was still attached to the Ferrari.

Massa took off -- fuel hose flailing behind the car -- bowled over a crew member (who was unhurt), and went to the opposite end of the pits, where he stopped and waited for Ferrari mechanics to run down and remove the hose.

Not only that, but the guy pushed the green button when another car was bearing down. So besides all the delay, Massa had to serve a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from his pit stall.

Domenicali and Massa refused to blame the individual crew member whose name was not revealed.

"In that moment you have to consider that there were so many cars coming in," Domenicali explained, "and of course, you try to be quick, you try to find the right slot in order for the car to be released, so it was a difficult moment.

"If you should wear the overall of the guy who has to manage that, I don't think a lot of people would say that they want to do it. We have to have a lot of respect for these guys, who are not really top drivers but part of us, that they are doing this job. It is very difficult and they have a lot of pressure."

Raikkonen had started the race with more fuel than either Massa or Hamilton. With his tire temperatures and pressures finally getting into the ideal range, he had been closing on Hamilton. With no safety car, Raikkonen would have come out of the first round of pit stops either in first place or in second behind Massa.

As it turned out, Raikkonen was mired back in 15th place on a track where it was almost possible to pass. Massa, his race ruined, was 18th.

Raikkonen got back up to fifth place but clipped the wall late in the race and was classed 15th. He set the fastest lap of the race and Massa set the second fastest.

"The strategy was going in the right direction," Domenicali said. "It was really a shame that we got this result … because the best car is the last on the result [sheet]. Sometimes you have to consider that the safety car is mixing up the situation of the race, but this time it was too much.

"But … the situation that may arise in the safety car condition is unpredictable. Sometimes they are going in the right direction and sometimes in the wrong direction."

As Domenicali admits, the safety car rules are the same for everybody, and this time the situation did not work in Ferrari's favor.

Had Massa won, he would have led the championship by three points over Hamilton. But now, with three races to go, Hamilton leads with 84 points to Massa's 77.

"Seven points to make up in three races?" Massa said after the race.
"That can be a lot or it can be a little. We have the potential to do well, as we saw today, and we will give it our best shot. We mustn't give up, and I'm sure we won't."

McLaren now holds a one-point lead over Ferrari in the constructors'

We have the potential to do well, as we saw today, and we will give it our best shot. We mustn't give up, and I'm sure we won't.

-- Felipe Massa

"The situation in the two championships has become more complicated,"
Domenicali said, "but there are still three races to go and a lot of points up for grabs. We know what we have to do to reach our objectives."

Raikkonen is fourth in the drivers' standings with 57 points. He is almost mathematically eliminated from winning the championship because he trails by 27 points and there are a total of 30 available should he win all three races.

Last year, Raikkonen won the last two races and overcame a 17-point deficit to win the championship by a single point over Hamilton and Alonso. But the reigning champ acknowledges that the title battle is virtually over for him this year.

"It was a pretty small chance anyhow," he said of his dwindling chances.

Raikkonen has won only twice this year, and his last victory was back in April.

"We've been close a few times, but quite often we've been a bit unlucky," he said. "… I haven't given up. We want to have some good races. We have not had the season we wanted, but we have a good spirit. We still have a good car and we should still be able to win some races this year."

Until now Ferrari has given its two drivers an equal opportunity to win races and the championship. But you can now expect Raikkonen to play a supporting role to Massa.

"I know what the team wants: They want to win the world championship,"
Raikkonen said. "We will see what happens. I'm trying to win races, too, and we will see what happens. I'm out of the championship anyhow."

Massa, who went out of his way to support the crew member who pushed the green button too early so as to keep morale and motivation high in the team, reckons he can claw back the seven-point gap on Hamilton.

"Seven points is seven points," Massa said, "but we have 30 in front of us and we have a quick car."

McLaren has a quick car, too. Furthermore, there is a good chance of rain in the last three races in Japan, China and Brazil, and the McLaren is better in the wet conditions than the Ferrari.

Also, compared to his rookie season, Hamilton and McLaren are being more conservative. In China last year their strategy of leaving Hamilton out on worn rain tires for too long ended with Hamilton in the gravel trap.

In the recent Singapore Grand Prix, Hamilton was content to settle for third place and six points.

"I had no need to take any risks as both Ferraris were out of the points," he said.

Three-time world champion Niki Lauda observed: "Lewis drove an intelligent race to finish third and make the most points. He is doing a good job."

Hamilton is geared up for the final three races of the championship battle.

"I have no doubts we have a competitive package to compete with them
[Ferrari], but without a doubt it will be a very tough battle," he said.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo believes his team will win.

"I have faith in all Ferrari's men, who have always demonstrated they're able to fight to the last meter in every circumstance," di Montezemolo told the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. "We saw that last year in the final race in Brazil.

"The car is the best, Massa is the best, and I expect Raikkonen to show in these last three races to be the world champion. Ferrari went through times much more difficult than this.

"I expect Massa and Raikkonen to always finish first and second in the three remaining races. In any case, ahead of McLaren."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.