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GP Week : Issue 28
>>F1monza A FTER the bitter taste left by the flat champagne in Belgium, the Italian Grand Prix was the good news story Formula 1 needed: a win, against the odds, for one of the most talented and likeable youngsters in the paddock. At 21 years of age, Sebastian Vettel became Formula 1’s youngest Grand Prix winner with a perfect drive in difficult conditions which belied his tender years. He simply didn’t put a foot wrong, and converted his fantastic first ever pole position into a richly deserved win. The rain might not have been deluging the circuit in the nigh-on apocalyptic nature with which it had battered the Royal Park at Monza during Friday morning’s practice session, but with the FIA erring on the side of caution, extreme weather tyres were made compulsory eight minutes before the race began behind the safety car. Sebastien Bourdais had a nightmare start … well it wasn’t really even a start, as the luckless Frenchman was left stranded on the grid as he watched his brilliant fourth place on the grid sink without trace as he lost a lap and rejoined in 20th. The race itself began in earnest on lap 3. As the Safety Car pulled into the pits Vettel led perfectly, with the rest of the field trailing in his spray. What followed was one of the most exciting and fascinating races of recent times. Vettel led almost the entire race, pulling away from second placed Heikki Kovalainen at a rate of knots. A few sideways moments through the chicanes showed just how hard he was pushing until his first pit-stop on lap 19. He exited in fourth position with a new set of extreme wets, but after those in front of him had made their stops he was never headed again. With the rain falling to mere spitting and the track starting to dry, he was one of the last to change onto intermediate tyres with 16 laps remaining and held a steady lead around the 13 second mark until chequered flag fell. Kovalainen drove well to finish second, and like Vettel had a race relatively on his own to contend with. Suffering tyre and brake issues throughout, he admitted he could never have hoped to challenge Vettel, but even without such issues the German really was in a class of his own. Third place went to Robert Kubica to complete what was the youngest podium in F1 history, after the Pole had driven a great race. From 11th on the grid he ran the race on a one-stop strategy pitting on lap 35 from the fourth position to which his strategy had allowed him to climb. Strapping on a set of inters, at a point in the race when his rivals were either making their scheduled second stops for inters or were called in for an extra stop to take on the dryer rubber, he emerged in third and never looked back. Aside from Vettel’s superb drive, special mention has to go to Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver spent the first few laps in tentative mood, but as his confidence in the McLaren increased he started to fly, dispatching everyone in his path with a brace of simply remarkable moves. He took his one scheduled stop as he was just about to attach himself onto Vettel’s rear wing, but McLaren opted to send him out on extreme wets on lap 28. He was back in again nine laps later for inters, ruining what could have been the most incredible drive to the edge of the podium. As it was he finished a spirited seventh, following in the slipstream of a gargantuan battle for fourth between Fernando Alonso, Nick Heidfeld and Felipe Massa who had battled together for the majority of the contest. Mark Webber finished eighth after getting caught out through strategy and tyre choice, and could, and maybe should, have taken Hamilton for seventh in the closing laps. Only a very bold squeeze by the Briton allowed him to keep his position, sending Webber up the escape road. But the day belonged to Vettel and Toro Rosso. For the former Minardi F1 Team, which has seen so many trying days, there could be no finer or sweeter track on which to take their first Grand Prix win, against far richer, far larger, far more experienced teams than they. 27