Vettel's triumph of youth sets new Formula 1 standards
After he had taken a surprise pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel said there had been no secret about Toro Rosso's performance.
They had just stayed out on a wet track and focused on setting fast lap times. Yesterday, after he replaced Fernando Alonso as the youngest man ever to win a grand prix, similar observations applied.
The team opted for minimal downforce to maximize speed down Monza's long straights, ran a perfect strategic plan around two pit stops, and executed them cleanly. And the way Vettel drove made you forget that he was only 21 years and 73 days old. You could have been watching a young Michael Schumacher.
It was ironic for team co-owner Dietrich Mateschitz that his first grand prix triumph should come courtesy of his junior team which he put up for sale earlier this season, rather than his main Red Bull outfit. But his success was a deserved payback for the significant investment he has made in the sport.
It helped Vettel that the race was started behind the safety car, such were the conditions, but once that went away after two laps he ran like a bandit and McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen never saw which way he went. Nor did anyone else, thanks to visibility in the spray. "It was very difficult," said third-placed Robert Kubica, who passed his BMW Sauber team-mate Nick Heidfeld without even realizing it. "I overtook him without seeing him, suddenly just realized I had passed him on the straight."
While Vettel commenced his demonstration run, Lewis Hamilton was the race's early star. Doubtless kicking himself every lap for the unfathomable decision to try intermediate tires in the second qualifying session, which left him only 15th on the grid, he clawed up to second place behind Vettel prior to what was intended to be his sole refueling stop on the 27th lap.
He regained most of the ground this lost him and was on schedule for the runner-up slot when changing conditions obliged him to stop again to switch to intermediate tires. That left him embroiled in a four-car fight for fourth place, led by Alonso from Heidfeld, and Felipe Massa.
Conditions were sufficiently treacherous that to trespass even a few centimeters off the drying line in corners was to court disaster. Hamilton survived minor brushes with Toyota's Timo Glock and Red Bull's Mark Webber to earn two points for seventh place, enough to maintain a one point lead over Massa in their increasingly tight championship battle.
"I felt I drove a good race and was moving through the field quickly when the circuit was at his wettest," Hamilton said. "If it had kept on racing, I feel pretty confident I probably could have won. But, as it dried out, my tires overcooked. Still, today was all about damage control. I kept my lead in the championship."
Vettel said: "Before the race all the guys were saying, 'OK, go out and destroy them!' You can say we had the balls today to go and do just that. It's difficult to take it all in. I had a good lead and controlled it over the last laps, but I forgot all about that the moment I crossed the finish line. To see the shape of the podium and the people down below you: I will never forget this picture all my life. And to listen to the German national anthem was fantastic and I nearly started to cry. We can all sleep tonight with the feeling that we are winners."
Youngest grand prix winners
Sebastian Vettel 21 years 73 days, Italian GP 2008
Fernando Alonso 22 years 26 days, Hungarian GP 2003
Troy Ruttman 22 years 80 days, Indianapolis 500 *
Bruce McLaren 22 years 104 days US GP 1959
Lewis Hamilton 22 years 154 days, Canadian GP 2007
Kimi Raikkonen 23 years 157 days, Malaysian GP 2003
Robert Kubica 23 years 184 days, Canadian GP 2008
Jacky Ickx 23 years 188 days, French GP 1968
Michael Schumacher 23 years 240 days, Belgian GP 1992
Emerson Fittipaldi 23 years 296 days, US GP 1970
*When Indianapolis 500 counted as a round of the F1 World Championship Belfast Telegraph