21-year-old super star crowned the youngest ever driver to win a GP
Lewis Hamilton gets caught out by the dry; sees championship lead sliced to 1 pt
Sebastian Vettel rocked Formula One in Monza with a champions drive to the top step of the podium. The Toro Rosso ace led from pole position in the wet and never looked back, clinching his maiden win ahead of established stars Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who started fifteenth after getting caught out by the rain in qualifying, ironically saw his chances of winning the Italian GP blown by a drying track, which forced the one-stopping McLaren driver to make an extra pit stop for intermediate tyres. That dropped him to seventh, one place behind his chief title rival Massa.
Prior to the stop Hamilton had been running as high as second after scything his way through the field with some audacious overtaking manoeuvres in the slippery conditions.
A euphoric Vettel wallowed after his maiden win: “Unbelievable! The whole race I had no problems, the car was fine, I had a fantastic race, a great strategy.”
“Crossing the finish line, the lap back to the pits and the whole podium ceremony was unbelievable. For sure it is the best day of my life. I will never forget these pictures, it’s so much better than you think. It’s great, I’m speechless.”
“What a weekend, a perfect weekend: pole, race win – unbelievable, I don’t know what to say. At the closing stages I saw there was still P1 on my board and I thought, how can that be? I was just trying to keep it together.”
The race started under safety car conditions due to the severity of the spray and the risk of a first corner accident at the high-speed Monza circuit.
When the Mercedes-Benz sportscar peeled off into the pits at the end of lap two, Vettel led the field safely through the first corner, before scampering off into the distance and building up a healthy cushion over McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen.
Kovalainen in the vastly more superior MP4-23 had no answer for Vettel who was revelling behind the wheel of his Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso, a reincarnation of the former F1 minnow Minardi.
The two-stopping cars behind Kovalainen of Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa, likewise were unable to make an impression on the German sensation.
There was only one man who ever came close to de-throning the Toro Rosso ace: Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver, fat with fuel at the start of the race, had a cautious getaway and spent the opening few laps tucked up behind the gearbox of Kimi Raikkonen, their controversial tangle in Belgium no doubt playing on his mind.
But as his fuel load began to lighten, and as the track became to dry, the British star, sensing that his championship lead was slipping away from him, came alive. First came a daring move up the inside of Kimi Raikkonen at the first Lesmo, job done. Passes on Nick Heidfeld, Timo Glock and Robert Kubica followed, as Hamilton used his superior confidence under braking – which escaped to such devastating effect in Saturday – to outfox his peers into the chicanes.
By lap 26 Hamilton was running second only to Vettel having sliced his way past Jarno Trulli and Nico Rosberg. But with track conditions improving and little sign of predicted rain, the Briton found himself out of sync when it came to switch to intermediate tyres having just made his only stop for fuel. The window coincided perfectly with the two-stopping drivers, including Vettel and Kovalainen who combined their second stops with a tyre change.
Hamilton’s second stop for tyres dropped him to seventh behind Felipe Massa, but was unable to make an impression on the Brazilian and even came under pressure from Mark Webber in the dying laps.
Vettel was left to take the chequered flag, claiming his first career win ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica, the latter driver having run late into the race which enabled him to switch to intermediate tyres when it counted.
Fernando Alonso also benefited from the drying track and vaulted up to fourth, ahead of Nick Heidfeld in fifth. Felipe Massa lost a lot of time after his first pit-stop after emerging behind a trail of cars scrapping for third place, but thanks to Hamilton’s extra stop the Brazilian was able to close his rival’s championship lead to a single point.
Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber, who started in third place after a stunning late dash in qualifying on Saturday, just missed the window to switch to intermediate tyres and found himself behind Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages, albeit considerably quicker. He was unable to make an impression though.