After the controversy of Spa, which I described at the time as being among the darkest days of F1, the Italian Grand Prix has provided the sport with its best day for a very long time. It’s the good news story F1 craved.
Sebastian Vettel has become the youngest ever Grand Prix winner at a scandalously young 21 years and 74 days. He is so young, he is the first person younger than me to ever win a grand prix. He becomes the sixth race winner of the season, and the third new winner. It’s a rich year for new talent.
What’s more, unlike the other first-time winners this year, Vettel did it on sheer skill. There was not a hint of a fluke about this. The normal front-runners were out of contention after they messed up in qualifying while Vettel sat his Toro Rosso on pole.
Heikki Kovalainen should have been able to challenge from second place in the vastly superior McLaren. As it was, the Finn never came close to challenging for the lead. On the podium, Kovalainen had a face like he was chewing a wasp, and quite rightly. He’s got a lot to be ashamed about. He was trounced today on merit.
But it wasn’t other people’s mistakes that allowed Vettel to win. The young German was simply mesmerising on the challenging Monza circuit, the fastest circuit on the calendar. In treacherously wet conditions where most other drivers slipped up, Vettel only deviated from the circuit once as far as I could tell, and it was just a harmless little trip across the chicane.
Vettel was absolutely in the groove. His composure just astounds me. When you think about his age, so many other people would have chucked it in the wall. But Vettel maintained a laser-like focus on the racing line and never looked in danger of losing this race.
Without a doubt, this has been one of the most impressive drives I have ever seen since I started watching Formula 1 almost a decade and a half ago. The magnitude of what we have seen at Monza can scarcely be described. It is a true giant-killing in every sense.
Toro Rosso are not supposed to win races. They are supposed to be the second string team. They are subsidised by the Red Bull team that is supposed to be further up the grid. They get Ferrari engines that are supposed to win races when they are placed in red cars.
Today Toro Rosso leapfrogged Red Bull in the Constructors Championship. And Sebastian Vettel comprehensively outperformed the Ferrari team whose cars could only finish 6th and 9th.
I am actually struggling to comprehend quite how Toro Rosso have pulled this off. Red Bull driver Mark Webber has talked about how they have the “new big red engine”. But Force India have a big red engine too. Heck, Ferrari have a big red engine. And Sebastian Vettel and his Toro Rosso team were the only people able to do anything with it in Monza.
The Toro Rosso team has been steadily improving as the season has continued. It has been slow but steady progress. Vettel’s team mate Sébastien Bourdais has also been performing well. He finished 1st in Q2 in Belgium and was on for a podium finish there until a disastrous final lap when he fell back through the field as conditions worsened while he was on the dry tyres. I felt very sorry for the Frenchman who struggled to hold back the tears when he was being interviewed about it.
I felt sorry for him today too as he stalled it on the grid having qualified 4th. He could only sit back and watch as Sebastian Vettel gave the world a demonstration of what the future of Formula 1 looks like. This man — who only has 22 grand prix starts to his name — has today shown the old hats and the young pretenders how it’s done.
The combination of national anthems that were played out on the podium today were familiar. The German national anthem followed by the Italian national anthem. That is the combination that greeted dozens of Schumacher victories for Ferrari. What an omen.
What is great, though, is the fact that Vettel is not a Schumacher. On the face of it, Sebastian Vettel is an unlikely grand prix hero. He’s not a bulky Webber or a square-jawed Coulthard or a 16-hours-per-day-in-the-gym Schumacher. Nor can I remember him playing one single dirty trick in his F1 career.
He is a lanky, gangly, goofy-looking kid. And despite his obvious raw talent, he doesn’t display a hint of arrogance. Of course he believes in himself. But he is polite and funny when being interviewed. Apparently he is very friendly in person. Unlike your Kubicas or your Räikkönens, charisma drips off this star. These people are not supposed to be so talented, they’re not supposed to have that drive to win.
In a lot of ways, it’s zero to hero in less than a year. In one of his first races he impressively ran in 3rd place before infamously crashing into his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, prompting the Australian to launch into a foul-mouthed tirade on live British breakfast television.
Today, Webber and Vettel appear to get on very well. They will be team mates next year as Vettel is all set to move to the proper Red Bull team (whether this is the right choice for his career just now is debatable). And now Vettel is a race winner. An incredible rate of maturity.
Let us not forget the role of Mario Theissen in Sebastian Vettel’s career. The BMW boss gave the then-19-year-old his first shot in an F1 race in Indianapolis last year. Vettel ran across the chicane at the first corner, but otherwise stayed out of trouble and scored a point in his début.
Following today’s performance though, that other BMW protégé Robert Kubica now feels like old news. This even puts anything Hamilton has done over the past two years firmly in the shade. To win a race for a tiny team as Vettel has done is very different to winning a race in the fastest car as Hamilton has done.
Let us not forget that the Toro Rosso team is essentially the old Minardi team. They may be bankrolled by big Red Bull cash these days. But most of the team is still the same and it is still based at the same Faenza location. Every fan of F1 has a soft spot for these guys. They are an Italian F1 team that you can actually like.
You would dream of a Minardi win, but you would never believe it would happen. But today it has happened. Moreover, they did it in their home grand prix, the Italian Grand Prix, at that most historic of circuits, Monza. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Faenza tonight.
There is a lesson in there. Minardi were the bravest of the backmarkers. They have lasted for decades without winning a race. They could go for years on end without ever scoring a point. Yet they stuck at it and survived as a thousand and one other backmarkers came and went. And today, the years of hardship have paid off.
This is why we watch motor racing. These people do it for the love of the sport. Instead of dreaming of working for Ferrari, these guys dreamt of becoming Ferrari. And they were never deterred.
Thank you Giancarlo Minardi. Thank you Paul Stoddart. Thank you Dietrich Mateschitz. Thank you Gerhard Berger. And most of all, thank you Sebastian Vettel! Thanks for reminding us why we watch grand prix motor racing. Forza Minardi!