Brilliant Vettel takes gr-eight Monza victory

By on Monday, September 12, 2011

Christian Horner must have headed into F1’s summer break with a sense of nervous anticipation. His young charger had failed to win the three most recent races, McLaren had made strong strides in the pace of its car and the next two circuits were Red Bull’s weakest. Two dominant wins later and Sebastian Vettel is almost there with six races to spare, such has been the brilliance of the 24 year old German this season.

Despite Vettel’s 112 point lead, there are some who seek every opportunity to discredit the German’s achievements. In 2010, that was perhaps easier as it was clear that the RB6 was a dominant car and Vettel made mistakes on his way to a narrow championship win. This season, he is by far the best driver. To say the RB7 is a dominant car would be foolish; just look at Mark Webber’s championship position compared to Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. We’d be having a mighty title scrap in what we’d believe to be three very close cars.

Vettel took the lead on Lap 5

But in contrast to Michael Schumacher’s dominant seasons, Vettel has had to contend with rivals in almost every race and it is this bravery and ruthlessness that has seen him amass such a daunting lead in the championship, an aspect of his driving that was missing before this season.

With so much action in the 2011 season, it’s easy to forget how Vettel has earned so many of his victories, rather than just taking pole position and driving away. In this first aspect, he has an extraordinary ability to soak up the pressure, drive on the limit and set the fastest time. Then the Lap One and Lap two aims: make sure the lead is one second before the DRS is activated. Another aspect dealt with ruthlessly.

Then there’s the actual racing. For a man who was criticised for his inability to overtake in 2010, taking out title rivals in the process, he has been exceptional this season. Think back to Australia, when he overtook Jenson Button around the outside of Turn 4, leading to victory number one. Or in Spain, where he took three cars on a single lap and then perfected his exit from the chicane every lap for the last fifteen laps in order to combat the threat posed by Lewis Hamilton. In Monaco, for example, gambling on a one stop strategy and then dealing with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button tailing you like hungry predators for the final segment of the race. However, Vettel saved his bravest moment of the season until Lap 5 of the Italian Grand Prix…


Carnage in 3, 2, 1...

At the start, Fernando Alonso sent the tifosi into hysterics as for the second time this season he took the lead from 4th on the grid. Alonso judged the position of his opponents perfectly as he jinked to the right of Lewis Hamilton, who in turn was alongside Sebastian Vettel. Alonso took to the grass, Hamilton backed off and all three emerged from the first corner safely. The same couldn’t be said for what seemed to be almost half of the grid.

HRT’s day started very badly. Daniel Ricciardo stalled on the grid but the main culprit was Tonio Liuzzi, trying to give the Italian fans something to cheer about (even though they don’t care about drivers, just a certain team). Approaching Turn 1, Liuzzi lost control and took to the grass, sliding towards the circuit and eventually swiping into Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg. The melee caused chaos, although for a spilt-second, it was the highest ever position ever recorded by an HRT during a race. Several other drivers were also disadvantaged, as they had to take avoiding action around the outside of the crash scene, whilst those behind them took to the chicane run-off.

The safety car was deployed to clear up the sizeable mess and when the race restarted, Hamilton was caught napping, resulting in Michael Schumacher – who had made an excellent start from 8th – overtaking him into Turn 1, a move that would leave Hamilton reeling for the next stint of the race.

Up front, Vettel’s superior traction exiting the first complex saw him side by side with Alonso at Curva Grande. Alonso gave Vettel just enough room, as the German took to the grass to complete the move down into the chicane. It was a stunning move that emphasised Vettel’s ability and his refusal to accept second best, even when it would have sufficed.

As Vettel pulled away from Alonso, behind them Schumacher was holding up Hamilton. The Mercedes was too fast for the McLaren, meaning that Hamilton was unable to overtake his rival. Schumacher became increasingly defensive, leading to Ross Brawn taking to the radio to tell his driver not to block at Ascari. Eventually, Schumacher crossed the line and forced Hamilton on the grass, which allowed Button through.

Hamilton was stuck behind Schumacher

Button had started 3rd, but a poor start dropped him to 6th and he sat around three seconds behind his team mate for the opening stint. Button overtook Schumacher around the outside of the Ascari chicane, with Hamilton undertaking a similar move after the first round of pit stops. Schumacher knew the fight was over and soon dropped back.

Alonso, now struggling on the harder tyres, was slipping back into the clutches of Button and the Briton overtook his rival into the Curva Grande when the Ferrari made a poor exit from the first chicane. Alonso slipped further behind, with Hamilton finishing just half a second behind him after 53 laps. Had the race been one lap longer, it could have been a very different story.

Up front, Vettel was unchallenged as he took his 8th win of the season – the most in a single year since Schumacher’s thirteen in 2004 – three years after his maiden win in the Toro Rosso. It was evident that the circumstances of his win got to him, as he struggled to hold back the tears on the podium. What’s more worrying for his rivals is that at this stage last season, Vettel had just the two victories. The next 6 races are fairly happy hunting grounds for Vettel. He has dominated in Japan and Abu Dhabi for the last two seasons and claimed the win in Brazil last year. Furthermore, the win in Korea was lost due to a broken engine and India is new territory for everyone. Singapore could be the only race he can’t win due to the brilliance of Alonso there, but would you really bet against Sebastian? He could, in theory, end the season on 14 wins…

It was a good day for Toro Rosso as Alguersuari took a brilliant seventh from eighteenth on the grid and Buemi finished in tenth. Paul di Resta fended off Bruno Senna towards the chequered flag, enabling Senna to claim the first points of his career in 9th.

A high attrition rate saw Team Lotus take a strong 13th and 14th to consolidate 10th in the constructors championship, whilst Timo Glock was last of the classified runners in 15th. Daniel Ricciardo did emerge from the HRT garage, but only completed forty laps.

Mark Webber became the first Red Bull retirement of the season as a clumsy attempt to overtake Felipe Massa left the Ferrari facing backwards and the Australian without a front wing. Webber attempted to return to the pits but crashed at Parabolica. Both Sauber’s failed to make the finish, a shame for Sergio Perez as he was on course for points.

Ten poles, eight wins, twelve podiums, 284 points. Not bad.

Italian Grand Prix race results:
Pos  Driver        Team                       Time
1.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           1h20:46.172
2.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +     9.590
3.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +    16.909
4.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           +    17.471
5.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +    32.677
6.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    42.993
7.  Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
8.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
9.  Senna         Renault                    +     1 lap
10.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +     1 lap
11.  Maldonado     Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
12.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
13.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Renault              +     1 lap
14.  Trulli        Lotus-Renault              +    2 laps
15.  Glock         Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps

Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:26.187

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                         On lap/reason
Ricciardo     HRT-Cosworth                 40 - Not classified
Perez         Sauber-Ferrari               34 - Gearbox
Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari               23 - Gearbox
Sutil         Force India-Mercedes         11 - Gearbox
Webber        Red Bull-Renault             6 - Accident
D'Ambrosio    Virgin-Cosworth              3 - No 2nd gear
Petrov        Renault                      1 - Liuzzi
Rosberg       Mercedes                     1 - Liuzzi
Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth                 1 - Himself


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