It could prove to be one of the defining moments of this year’s championship: Sebastian Vettel spinning helplessly down the order amid a cloud of tyre smoke after contact with title rival Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver went on to take victory and with it extend his points advantage, while the Ferrari man could only salvage fourth and think of what could have been...
The stewards in Italy saw fit to apportion no blame for Sunday's electrifying first-lap incident, which occurred as the duo went toe-to-toe for second place, but speaking after the race Vettel said circumstances had left him in an impossible position.
“I tried to pass Kimi (Raikkonen) down the inside [into Turn 2], but then he opened the brakes, which is fair enough,” explained the German. “Then I couldn’t really go any deeper without taking some silly risk, so I avoided that and tried to stay behind and attack him in the next corner.
“Obviously I guess Lewis saw his chance [at Turn 4], but he didn’t leave me any room so I got spun around and couldn’t avoid what happened. It could have been the other way, which would have been nicer for us, but wasn’t and I was facing the wrong way.”
Forced to wait for the entire field to pass before continuing, Vettel then had to pit for a new nose and when he re-joined he was dead last.
However, with the field bunched up behind the Safety Car - deployed as marshals cleared Brendon Hartley’s stricken Toro Rosso - the German was soon charging up the order, despite complaining of significant damage to his car.
“We did well to come back given the damage that we had,” reasoned Vettel, who ultimately crossed the line in fifth before being promoted to fourth following Max Verstappen’s penalty.
“I was quite surprised when I got out of the car how bad it was. It didn’t feel right but I tried to just focus. Given how bad it was I think the pace was quite good. So it could have been a different race.
“For sure the car wasn’t very nice to drive, but I sort of figured it out. What was the option? To park the car? I think you always run until the thing stops."
With fourth place, Vettel limited his standings losses to race-winner Hamilton to 13 points, leaving the German 30 points behind his British rival with seven rounds of the championship remaining.
“Obviously fourth is a good result with the penalty for Max,” added Vettel. “I don’t know why he got a penalty but it helped us in the end. It could have been a lot worse given how things were looking when everyone was coming towards me after four corners...”