Magnificent Vettel finally gives F1 something to smile about

14/09/2008
NEWS STORY

We had rain during yesterday's GP2 Feature Race, we had rain overnight, and we had rain at the start of this morning's GP Spring Race. Therefore, with just over an hour to go it comes as no surprise when it starts spitting. It is also very, very cool… and we don't mean in the traditional Italian sense.

Sebastian Vettel scored a historic pole position yesterday, however, it is unlikely that we are going to see him follow that up with a win today. That said, if conditions continue, with the rain stopping and starting, anyone could win, even Fisichella or Barrichello. However, in terms of the championship(s), we know that should it rain, McLaren should have an advantage over Ferrari.

Ignoring the weather, which isn't easy, the fact is that we have an unusual grid, and with three of the fastest drivers - Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kubica - towards the back, it's fair to say that the start could be interesting, to put it mildly. At the same time, it will be worth watching how Kovalainen and Massa perform, since both, particularly the Finn, appear to be the best placed drivers to add to their respective teams tallies today.

While we don't expect to see Vettel to win, he should be up there, as should Webber, while Alonso will also be looking good for a points finish.

Even in the dry Monza has witnessed its fair share of accidents at the first chicane, while only a couple of years ago a marshal was killed in an incident at the second chicane. The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza is a superfast circuit, which though heavily emasculated over the years must still be treated with the utmost respect.

As the drivers begin making their way to the grid the rain increases in intensity, leading to questions over whether drivers will begin on inters or extreme wets. However, let's not forget that drivers are only allowed so many sets of each type of tyres, with e extreme wets, in particular, having been put to plenty of use thus far already this weekend.

As we have seen this weekend, when it rain here it really rains. Should it be raining at 14.00, it is likely that like yesterday's GP2 race, the Grand Prix will get underway behind the safety car… a dreadful prospect for the purist, but the only alternative if we are to avoid carnage.

On his parade lap, Alonso is fitted with extreme wets, as is Kovalainen. However, the tyres can be changed on the grid should conditions improve. Even on his out lap, Massa gets out of shape on the approach to the second chicane. Earlier this morning, Ferrari announced that it had changed the engine in the Brazilian's car, taking advantage of the new 'joker' rule. On Friday, Red Bull revealed that it had changed the engine on Mark Webber's car, again without penalty.

Max Mosley inspect the grid, the FIA President being warmly greeted by Dietrich Mateschitz and Gerhard Berger, amongst others.

With ten minutes to go, Jenson Button is in the pitlane, from where he will be starting, though we are not sure why. Then again, he was due to start from nineteenth anyway. Nakajima is also starting from the pitlane.

Meanwhile, Race Control confirms that the race will get underway behind the safety car. With five minutes to go, the air temperature is 14 degrees C, while the track temperature is 15 degrees. Unseasonably cool.

Because the field will start the race behind the safety car, all cars are fitted with extreme wets. The rain has stopped, but it is very, very wet, and there is no doubt that there will be further rainfall over the next couple of hours.

As the field moves away, behind the safety car, Bourdais is left stranded on the grid.

As the Toro Rosso crew works on Bourdais' car, the field files past, he is already one lap behind his rivals. Race Control announces that the safety car will pull off at the end of the second lap.

The race is on, and as Vettel leads the field into the first chicane, everyone takes it very cautiously, and rightly so, visibility is minimal. That said, Glock passes Alonso for seventh.

At the end of the first flying lap, Vettel, in clear air, leads Kovalainen by 2s. Glock misses the second chicane, having been re-passed by Alonso. Behind Vettel, it's Kovalainen, Webber, Rosberg, Massa and Trulli.

Shades of Spa as Hamilton passes Raikkonen then misses the second chicane, he immediately slows and allows the Finn to claim back the position.

Raikkonen attempts to pass Fisichella on the main straight, but is unable to make it, the Italian holding the Ferrari off through the first chicane. Out front, Vettel posts fastest lap (35.151) extending his lead to 5.8s. Glock spins at the first chicane, losing a couple of positions.

Replay shows Vettel making an unforced error at the second chicane, the Toro Rosso really clouting the kerb.

Raikkonen gets alongside Fisi in the Grande Curve, but the Force India driver will have none of it. All of which allows Hamilton to close in. Elsewhere, Massa is all over Rosberg.

Raikkonen takes Fisichella under braking at the first chicane at the start of lap 9. Hamilton, however, remains behind the Force India.

Unable to make it stick on Fisichella in the Parabolica, Hamilton overhauls the Italian on the main straight.

Leading by 6.6s, Vettel is asked about the balance of his car as his crew wonder if it might soon be time to switch to inters. With visibility much improves, and a slight dry line beginning to appear, it cannot be long before someone witches from the extreme wets.

Hamilton passes Raikkonen with relative ease on the approach to the second chicane, the Ferrari driver unable to do anything about it. Elsewhere, Kubica is up to eighth.

Rosberg complains of 'degradation', the German needing to seek out the wet patches on his extreme wets. Massa is all over him. They go into the first chicane side-by-side, Massa draws ahead but as they exit the German has the line. Heading through the Ascari however, the Ferrari sweeps past the Williams.

Hamilton makes short work of Heidfeld, who almost appears to be asleep, as Fisichella runs into the back of Coulthard. His front wing damaged, it subsequently falls off sending the hapless Italian into the gravel. The replay of the Hamilton pass on Heidfeld suggests the McLaren driver might have cut the chicane.

Massa and Rosberg continue their fight, with the German passing the Ferrari in the first chicane.

Hamilton and Glock fight through the first chicane, the German trying to hold position. Hamilton moves wide and gains the position, Glock having to take to the grass. The Englishman sets off after Kubica who is less than a second up the road.

As Massa re-takes fourth, setting a new fastest lap in the process, Hamilton takes Kubica.

Alonso is told that rain is expected in five minutes and that it will last for a long time.

At the end of lap 18, Vettel is the first to pit, fitting another set of extreme wets. Elsewhere, Hamilton passes Alonso on the main straight heading into the first chicane. Barrichello also pits.

As Massa posts another fastest lap (34.789), Glock passes Kubica, as BMW continues to disappoint here. That said, Raikkonen is twelfth.

After 20 laps, it's Kovalainen, Webber, Massa, Vettel, Rosberg, Trulli, Hamilton, Alonso, Glock and Kubica.

Glock, who is having the Englishman passes the Toyota, but cuts the first chicane, he therefore slows and allows the Toyota to re-pass.

At the end of lap 22, the leading three - Kovalainen, Webber and Massa - all pit, handing the lead back to Vettel. Meanwhile, Hamilton finally gets past Trulli.

Raikkonen attempts to pass Heidfeld, but the Finn is really struggling with his Ferrari. Hamilton passes Rosberg with ease on the main straight, the McLaren driver moving up to second.

Again, Raikkonen makes a move on Heidfeld, but this time it works.

Following their pit stops, Kovalainen is now running in sixth, with Webber ninth and Massa twelfth.

"Everybody is stopping in 3 laps," Vettel is told. The Toro Rosso driver currently leading Hamilton by 1.7s. Elsewhere, Glock pits.

Massa, who lost out during his stop, as did Webber, closes in on Heidfeld. Fastest man on track is Hamilton, who posts a new fastest lap (34.324).

Raikkonen, Sutil and Trulli all pit at the end of lap 26, as Hamilton shadows the race leader.

At the end of lap 27, Hamilton pits, rejoining in tenth. A lap later, it is Rosberg who pits, as does Coulthard. The Scot is the first driver to fit inters, a move which his rivals will watch with interest. The replay shows the Williams crew struggling to remove the refuelling hose.

As Heidfeld pits, Coulthard is clearly struggling on his inters. A lap later, Alonso pits and he too fits inters.

After 31 laps, Kubica, currently third, and Piquet (seventh), are the only drivers yet to stop. Vettel still leads Kovalainen, the gap now up to 11.8s. Webber is back up to third, as Massa makes his second stop, switching to inters. Glock and Rosberg also pit.

With the rain not appearing, inters appear to be the way to go. However, it's a massive gamble, as the forecasters claim that there will be a further downpour.

At the end of lap 34, Kovalainen, Kubica and Webber all pit, moving Hamilton up to second again.

Massa passes Webber, who spins at the second chicane but is able to continue. Elsewhere, Raikkonen and Trulli pit.

At the end of lap 36, Vettel makes his second stop. The German youngster rejoins still leading. Hamilton dives into the pits, rejoining in eighth, behind Massa and Webber. The McLaren driver makes short work of the Australian, passing him in the second chicane. Elsewhere, Piquet and Button enjoy some argy-bargy at the first chicane.

With 16 laps remaining, it's; Vettel, Kovalainen, Kubica, Alonso, Heidfeld, Massa, Hamilton, Webber, Barrichello and Coulthard.

"You're in P4," Alonso is told, "keep it up and watch out for those guys behind!" Those guys being Heidfeld and Massa. Elsewhere, a new fastest lap from Hamilton (32.869).

Massa and Heidfeld are side-by-side on the main straight, the Ferrari has the edge but he cuts the first chicane. The Brazilian hands the place back to the BMW driver which allows Hamilton to close in.

Their strategies have really paid off for both Kubica and Alonso, who are running third and fourth. Vettel still leads Kovalainen by 10.8s, a magnificent performance from the German. Elsewhere, Raikkonen has slipped down to fourteenth, the Finn having a miserable race and facing further misery as he comes under pressure from Glock and Trulli.

"Very light rain is coming," Vettel is warned. Elsewhere, Barrichello pits and Coulthard goes off on to the grass. The Brazilian Honda driver reverting to extreme wets.

Button is all over Coulthard as they scrap for tenth, meanwhile Raikkonen, in twelfth, posts a new fastest lap (32.733).

As Piquet gets it all wrong at the first chicane, Heidfeld, Massa and Hamilton continue to run together as though joined by a length of string.

As Raikkonen posts another fastest lap, quickly beaten by Kubica (32.366), Hamilton is losing ground to Massa.

Raikkonen passes Coulthard for tenth, as if the Finn has only just woken up. Very odd.

The Finn passes Piquet to take ninth, as Webber, who briefly held fastest lap, closes in on Hamilton. The Australian gets alongside the McLaren, but Hamilton goes wide, leaving the Red Bull driver with no option but to miss the first chicane.

In ninth, Raikkonen is lapping almost 2s faster than anyone else. Where has this pace come from and why now.

As Nakajima attempts to pass Coulthard, the Japanese driver has the obligatory 'moment', clouting the Red Bull.

"A few drops possible," the Toro Rosso crew tell Vettel, the Faenza outfit appearing to have hired Michael Fish. A former British weatherman of legendary repute.

Vettel begins his final lap, the youngster just a few corners from making Formula One history.

The German youngster takes a magnificent, thoroughly deserved win, ahead of Kovalainen, Kubica, Alonso, Heidfeld, Massa, Hamilton and Webber.

Raikkonen finishes ninth, having posted the fastest lap of the race, ahead of Piquet, Glock, Nakajima, Trulli, Rosberg, Button, Coulthard, Barrichello, Bourdais and Sutil. Fisichella was the only non-finisher.

When we predicted in our into that Sebastian would not win, it was in no way intended as disrespectful to the youngster. It's just that we couldn't even our wildest dreams see him achieving such a result, not yet in his career, and certainly not in a Toro Rosso. The fact is that it was a stupendous, mature drive by the German, who is clearly destined to take over where Michael Schumacher left off, but without the controversy. Indeed, one id reminded of the seven-time champion as the German and Italian national anthems are played back to back.

We have never made any secret of the fact that, along with Robert Kubica, Vettel is a driver Pitpass has a soft spot for, having first come to out attention during his Formula BMW days.

Though Kovalainen will be delighted with his eight points for second, having driven a steady race, it should not be forgotten that he was driving a McLaren, therefore should he have tried a little harder.

A great result for BMW with Robert and Kubica taking another double finish, the Pole, in particular, doing exactly what he had to.

A decent performance from Alonso, who will be eyeing Heidfeld's seat at BMW, while for Massa and Hamilton it was a question of damage limitation, the Englishman ruing his qualifying performance.

The final point goes to Mark Webber, who will no doubt have some strong words following that move by Hamilton at the first chicane.

Finally, what on earth was Kimi Raikkonen up to, slipping down to fourteenth, and then posting in a s string of fastest laps which saw him lapping 2s quicker than anyone else.

After the furore of the last week, F1 fans once again have something to feel good about. Let's hope that those fans who vowed to walk away from the sport hqave had second thoughts, and looked in this afternoon, for if the did they will surely have seen the good side of the sport.

Let's all say a big thank you to Sebastian for putting the smile back on F1's face. Forget the spying, forget Max and Bernie, forget the Race Stewards, today is what F1 should really be about, high-speed fairy tales.

Thanks Sebastian.

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    Published: 14/09/2008
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