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15 Sep 2008

Italy race analysis - Vettel sparkles as title fight intensifies

It was like old times on Sunday, as Ferrari power and a German driver won the Italian Grand Prix - yet there was no red to be seen on the Monza podium. The Tifosi seemed delighted nonetheless, as did everyone who witnessed the magnificent drive that gave Sebastian Vettel his historic maiden win.

As Toro Rosso and their 21 year-old protege celebrated, the title contenders were left to reflect on mixed fortunes. Lewis Hamilton saw Felipe Massa cut his championship lead to a single point, while Kimi Raikkonen’s hopes of retaining his crown all but evaporated, leaving Robert Kubica as the best outside bet. And in the constructors’ standings McLaren continued to close on Ferrari and now trail the Scuderia by just five points, with only four races to run…

Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 30.510s, P1
Sebastien Bourdais, 1m 29.258s, P18

Vettel did a brilliant job all afternoon, from pulling out a huge gap on Kovalainen early on when he was the one with the best visibility, to making sure both pit stops went smoothly, and he controlled the slippery closing stages perfectly too. The team backed him superbly, and while their pole position might have owed a little to the conditions, their first win was totally deserved. Bourdais was desperately unlucky when his Toro Rosso refused to select first gear as the safety car pulled away at the start, and then to have it stall. He eventually recovered, but his sole consolation on his team’s greatest day was to show what might have been by setting the second-fastest lap of the race.

McLaren
Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 30.300s, P2
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 29.721s, P7

Kovalainen admitted quite freely that Vettel just had too much pace for him, and said that he also struggled initially on his extreme-wet Bridgestone tyres, and to keep temperature in the brakes. Hamilton was the star of the really wet going as he moved from 15th to second prior to his sole planned pit stop. He believed he could have won, had it not become necessary to make a second stop to switch to standard wets as the conditions improved.

BMW Sauber
Robert Kubica, 1m 30.298s, P3
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 29.807s, P5

Conditions were so bad in the early going that Kubica did not even know he had overtaken Heidfeld on the straight! The Pole’s strategy played out perfectly when his single pit stop on lap 34 coincided with the point at which drivers could change from Bridgestone’s extreme wets to standard wets. That was a key factor in his podium finish. Heidfeld was happy enough with fifth.

Renault
Fernando Alonso, 1m 29.961s, P4
Nelson Piquet, 1m 30.918s, P10

Another fourth place for Alonso did Renault’s quest for fourth place overall no harm at all as they now share 41 points with Toyota. The Spaniard was happy with a strong personal performance in the race he admitted the team least looked forward to. Piquet ran a long first stint, but a moment in the first chicane helped Raikkonen to catch up and pass, and he finished 10th.

Ferrari
Felipe Massa, 1m 29.696s, P6
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 28.047s, P9

Massa reported a tough race, in which he had to fight all the way in a car that did not have fantastic wet-road grip. He was on a two-stop strategy, so having to change to intermediates late in the race was not ideal. Nevertheless, he was satisfied to draw within a point of Hamilton. Raikkonen had a really tough afternoon fighting a car that had very little grip until the road dried and he was able to set a string of fastest laps on the standard wets. That came far too late to make him a points contender, however.

Red Bull
Mark Webber, 1m 29.681s, P8
David Coulthard, 1m 32.459s, P16

Webber ran strongly early on behind Vettel and Kovalainen, but lost pace on his new tyres after his first stop and later had a brush with Hamilton in Turn One which compromised him further. He had to be satisfied with another point for eighth place. Coulthard had a problem with his brake balance jamming initially, then serious rear tyre wear which left him a target for Fisichella and Nakajima, both of whom collided with him.

Toyota
Timo Glock, 1m 29.948s, P11
Jarno Trulli, 1m 30.853s, P13

For a while Toyota seemed destined to grab another good haul of points, with Trulli sixth and Glock eighth as they battled Alonso initially. But then Glock spun in Turn One, and later had a brush with Hamilton as they went through the Curva Grande on the 16th lap. The German refuelled on lap 25, when he had worked back up to fifth, Trulli a lap later from fourth place, but they slumped to11th and 13th respectively, and each had to stop again to switch to standard wets, so that was that for them.

Williams
Nico Rosberg, 1m 30.019s, P14
Kazuki Nakajima, 1m 30.215s, P12

Rosberg was bitterly disappointed that what should have been a great strategy could not keep him in the strong position he was in originally to take fourth or fifth place. Tyre degradation played a part in that as he steadily lost performance early on, then there was a delay when the refuelling hose would not detach cleanly during his pit stop. Nakajima had another undistinguished race, which was compromised when he collided with Coulthard in the Parabolica after cutting in too tight after passing the Red Bull.

Honda
Jenson Button, 1m 29.827s, P15
Rubens Barrichello, 1m 33.918s, P17

Honda had high hopes in the rain, but Button could only bring his RA108 home 15th. Starting from the pit lane left him with cold tyres and brakes after two laps behind the Safety Car, and then he got stuck behind Coulthard. He was fast on very worn extreme wets later on, but by then he had lost too much time. Barrichello was the first to switch from the mandatory extremes, after 16 laps, but the gamble to switch to dry tyres on the 43rd lap did not pay off.

Force India
Adrian Sutil, 1m 33.458s, P19
Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 37.304s, Retired lap 12, accident

Sutil complained of poor grip throughout and, like Barrichello, lost out on the gamble to switch to dry tyres late in the race. Fisichella ran 11th early on but could not keep Raikkonen, Hamilton or Coulthard at bay, and crashed into retirement after running into the back of the latter’s Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates victory with Franz Tost (AUT) Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber celebrates on the podium 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2008.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Scuderia Toro Rosso in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 14, Italian Grand Prix, Race, Monza, Italy, Sunday, 14 September 2008. © Sutton