Inspiring Formula One fans everywhere that the sport has life beyond Ferrari and McLaren, Sebastian Vettel on Sunday scored his first series victory in a rainy Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Race winner Sebastian Vettel...
Inspiring Formula One fans everywhere that the sport has life beyond Ferrari and McLaren, Sebastian Vettel on Sunday scored his first series victory in a rainy Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Vettel led runner-up Heikki Kovalainen across the finish line by 12.5 seconds. Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber was third to complete a podium, representing the sport's three newest winners, each of whom has claimed top honors this season, Kubica in Canada and Kovalainen in Hungary.
First to congratulate the 21-year-old German who earns Scuderia Toro Rosso's first victory was Renault's fourth-placed Fernando Alonso, last year's winner who previously held the sport's title to youngest pole sitter and youngest race winner, designations nabbed by Vettel this weekend. Nick Heidfeld for BMW Sauber, Felipe Massa for Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton for McLaren Mercedes and Mark Webber for Red Bull rounded out the points placers.
Rounding out the field were Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari, Nelsinho Piquet for Renault, Timo Glock for Toyota, Kazuki Nakajima for Williams, Jarno Trulli for Toyota, Nico Rosberg for Williams, Jenson Button for Honda, David Coulthard for Red Bull, Rubens Barrichello for Honda, Sebastien Bourdais for Toro Rosso, Adrian Sutil for Force India. Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella failed to finish.
Significant was that Vettel and the Toro Rosso team won in a square-up competition, not by attrition or because, as happened in Canada, the top McLaren contender crashed into and took out the top Ferrari contender.
Toro Rosso, which began F1 life in Faenza, Italy, in 1985 as Minardi, also went square up for pole position Saturday and compounded that benchmark Sunday with spot-on race strategy.
Toro Rosso victory marks the first in the Italian Grand Prix by a non-Ferrari Italian team since 1956 when Stirling Moss won in a Maserati. (Note to purists: Benetton, owned by the Italian clothing company of the same name and based in Enstone, England, was licensed as an English team when Johnny Herbert won the Italian Grand Prix in 1995.) The victory comes on the 20th anniversary of team co-owner Gerhard Berger's victory in the race for Ferrari.
"What a weekend. Perfect weekend.," Vettel said "Sometimes I was thinking, 'There is still P1 on my (pit) board. How can it be? I am fueled to finish. There's no trouble anymore, no pits stops, nothing. So just keep it together.' But then I have to say I was extremely focused, focused every lap. I didn't lift and try to save the engine or save the tires or anything. I was trying to keep attention."
Vettel, who turned 21 on July 3, has shown this promise since stepping into a car at 19, standing in for Kubica at the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix after the Pole's heavy crash a week before in Canada. Vettel started seventh and scored a point for BMW Sauber.
"All the people, they might be used to hear the Italian national anthem for Scuderia Ferrari so I think it's very, very special, very unique, for all the team," Vettel said. "I think they will never forget this day, as well as I won't. Incredible. You know, it has been so much fun working together with them. Last year I did my debut for BMW Sauber and then, thanks to Franz Tost, Gerhard Berger and all the team at Red Bull, they gave me the chance and said, 'OK, we have a seat for you. Take it.' And, obviously, when I started, I've seen quite possibly every angle of the grid now and, you know, it's difficult when you always start on the back and you fight your way. You might finish a race in P15 without anyone noticing, but you still might have done a very good job so you can still be happy, walk out of the paddock and be proud of yourself and your team. And, obviously, now we can be proud of ourselves celebrating a victory. To put these words together, it sounds unbelievable. Where we started last year, the mentality has changed so much. The atmosphere is fantastic. Everybody's extremely motivated. When I jumped in the car before the race, everybody said, 'Now, destroy them' or 'Push like hell.' "
Push Vettel did. He took a straightforward run from the start, made behind a safety car with every car running full-wet tires as rain drenched the 3.599-mile course. By taking advantage of the best visibility available, Vettel lengthened a lead from pole at the opening rate of a second per lap as his peers picked their way around, taking care to stay on track to await drier times. Those times came by Lap 30 of 53, when Red Bull's David Coulthard fitted intermediate tires -- and straightlined a chicane. Alonso tried the less-grooved compound three laps later and led a rush for all runners to change. On Lap 37, leader Vettel and Hamilton were among the last to make the tire change, Hamilton having to interrupt a one-stop strategy that had him fueled to the finish.
As second-starter Kovalainen could not catch Vettel, a pattern set in that saw lots of passing if little place-changing. Except by Hamilton and Kubica. Each moved up eight places from his starting spot, Hamilton from 15th, Kubica from 11th. The Englishman tore through the field, relatively speaking. By the end he was challenging his driving title rival Massa, whose F2008 took an engine change before race start, and looking ready to overtake. Instead, Webber presented a challenge, which left Hamilton to hip check the Australian off course but let Massa stay ahead. The Brazilian, who finished in the same spot he started, sixth, closes to within two points of the drivers' chase lead, Hamilton staying ahead, 78-77.
"I felt like I drove a really good race and was moving through the field very quickly when the circuit was at its wettest," Hamilton said. "If it had kept raining, I feel pretty confident I probably could have won from 15th grid position, but as the circuit dried out, my tires overcooked. I had to defend my position from Mark Webber. Still, today was all about damage control. I came away with some points and kept my lead in the world drivers' championship. Finally, I'd like to offer my congratulations to Sebastian on winning his first grand prix. I know what a sweet feeling that is."
"I had a little bit of a problem earlier on in the race, in the first couple of stints, especially with the extreme-wet tires, and some problems also to warm up my brakes," Kovalainen said. "So I was just struggling to find anymore time. But we kept pushing. I think it was the maximum we could do today."
Kubica's teammate Heidfeld moved up five spots, losing team bragging rights when Kubica went round him without knowing it.
"We were a bit lucky that conditions allowed us to put intermediate tires, so I made up quite good pace, closing gap to Heikki, but he was too far away," Kubica said. "Last laps were just cruising, bring car home. Start of the race was very difficult. I overtook Nick without seeing him. Suddenly, I realize I'm ahead of him on the straight line, but I didn't saw at all. It's not easy starting in the middle of the pack, especially in these conditions, but I keep car on the track."
Keeping the car on the track was Job One on a day when rain was expected to be augmented by more rain. Slippery grip, whether induced by tires or slow-to-work brakes, seemed to affect Ferrari's newly renewed Raikkonen, whose contract has been extended through 2010. Although he followed form to kick up the pace near the end and set fast lap (1 minute 28.047 seconds), his ninth of the season, the world champion Finn started a place ahead of Hamilton and finished two behind, in ninth, just out of the points. At one moment, Raikkonen was racing first-year Williams driver Nakajima, who started from pit lane, for position. The points result is Kubica gaps Raikkonen, 64-57, in drivers standings.
Webber had to be chagrined to go from third at the start to eighth at the end, but Williams's Rosberg, who battled Massa early on, lost from fifth to 14th, and the Toyotas of Trulli and Glock from seventh and ninth, respectively, to 11th and 13th, with Glock in the 11th spot.
No question one team bore the best and the worst of it. As Vettel pulled away to glory, Toro Rosso's other runner, Bourdais, about to make his best rookie season start from fourth, stalled and sat as the team struggled to get him going. He was a lap down from the off and finished that way as the next-to-last runner, in 18th ahead of Sutil, who suffered tire problems through on wet and dry compounds.
Fisichella, who made a tremendous effort to qualify 12th and had hoped for points in a wet race, retired on Lap 42 after he was passed by Coulthard, a move that ended with Fisichella clipping the VJM01's front wing and winding up in the gravel. Fisichella had battled with Hamilton and Raikkonen in midpack.
In the drivers' scramble for points that pay bonuses and determine contracts, Heidfeld edged ahead of Kovalainen, 53-51, to fith in the table; Alonso supplants Trulli, 28-26, for seventh, and Vettel moves ahead of his Red Bull teammate next year Webber, 23-20. for ninth. Glock has 15 points, Piquet 13 and Barrichello 11 as the only other drivers in double figures.
Ferrari leads McLaren, 131-129, in the constructors' division. BMW Sauber follows on 117 points. Renault drew level with Toyota for fourth on 41 points. Toro Rosso edged Red Bull for sixth, 27-26, and Williams stays ahead of Honda, 17-14. Force India has yet to score.
The circus moves to Asia for the next three races, starting at the end of the month with f1's first night race, in Singapore.