Italy Flashback 2008 - Vettel comes of age at rainy Monza 08 Sep 2009
Arriving at Monza last year Ferrari had one aim - avenge McLarens 2007 victory at the Italian teams home track. As well as appeasing the Tifosi, a win would also be vital to their championship hopes. Following his triumph in Belgium, Felipe Massa was just two points adrift of standings leader Lewis Hamilton, while Ferrari headed McLaren 131 to 119 in the constructors table.
With its high speeds, heavy braking requirements and tyre-wearing nature, Monza is a tough proposition, but both Ferrari and McLaren were feeling confident. BMW Sauber were out to repeat their recent maiden win, and the increasingly tough fight for fourth in the championship between Toyota (41 points), Renault (36) and Red Bull (25) was also set to come into play.
On Friday morning, however, the pre-race formbook was thrown out of the window as an unseasonably heavy shower hit the track mid-practice, bringing out the red flags. Tunnels and garages were flooded, and there were power cuts in some areas of the circuit. As a result, the timesheets were as unpredictable as the weather, with Force Indias Adrian Sutil fastest, ahead of team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, and the Honda of Rubens Barrichello sandwiched in between.
After some serious mopping up, the weather - and the timesheets - settled down in the afternoon. Kimi Raikkonen celebrated his new two-year Ferrari deal with the quickest time, leading the BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld. Then came Hamilton, Williams Nico Rosberg, Massa, McLarens Heikki Kovalainen, Red Bulls Mark Webber, Sutil and Toro Rossos Sebastian Vettel. The times, however, were close.
The rain returned for Saturdays final practice and Toyotas Timo Glock led the way, having fortuitously clocked his best time before the light shower swiftly turned torrential. With so much wet set-up work under their belts, many were actually praying for rain in qualifying. And they got their wish, as the heavens opened once more, 15 minutes before the session. In Q1 the McLarens set the pace, but in Q2 the fastest runner was 21-year-old Vettel. A poor tyre choice left Hamilton down in 15th, with Raikkonen 16th, struggling in the Ferrari.
With two of the major players missing from Q3, it fell to Toro Rosso to take the spoils in the top-ten shootout, with Vettel scoring his and the teams maiden pole, the German becoming the youngest-ever pole sitter into the bargain. With team mate Sebastien Bourdais fourth it was a great day for the Red Bull junior team. Kovalainen spared McLarens blushes with second, while Webber took third. Rosberg was fifth, ahead of Massa, Trulli, Glock Alonso and Heidfeld. With such an unusual grid, a fantastic race was in prospect.
Sunday, just 30 minutes from the off, and the rain was back, prompting the stewards to start the race behind the safety car. When the AMG Mercedes peeled off into the pits it was Vettel, with the best visibility, who was able to quickly pull away from Kovalainen and the chasing pack. Never putting a foot wrong, his superb wet-weather driving was matched by Toro Rossos brilliant strategy and speedy pit work, and he took a magnificent victory, 12 seconds clear of Kovalainen. It may not have been a Ferrari win, but it was a Ferrari-powered win for an Italian team - and the Tifosi were delighted.
A one-stopping Kubica, who switched from the extreme rubber to standard wets at the perfect time, finished third and led Alonso, Heidfeld and Massa over the line. Hamilton was a frustrated seventh after an unscheduled tyre stop forced him to fight his way through the field. The result meant his lead over Massa in the driver standings was cut to a solitary point.
Webber took the final point, ahead of Raikkonen (who clocked the fastest lap of the race), Renaults Nelson Piquet, Glock, Nakajima, Trulli, Rosberg, Hondas Jenson Button, Red Bulls David Coulthard, and Barrichello. Bourdais, whose Toro Rosso refused to select first gear at the start, finished a disappointed 18th with only Sutil behind. Fisichella was the sole retiree after crashing on Lap 12.
So McLaren closed on Ferraris lead in the constructors championship, with 129 points to 134, but the weekend belonged to Toro Rosso and Vettel.
This is the best day of my life, exclaimed Formula One racings youngest-ever winner. I will never forget these feelings. It is so unbelievable. It is better than I had ever expected. A big thank you to everyone in the team for their great work. After a poor start to the season, we got better and better. I am speechless. I couldnt believe it when it kept saying P1 on my board. A perfect weekend!