Coming of age for Vettel

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He was born in 1987. Startling when you see it in print, isn’t it? But at 21 years, two months and 11 days old, and with just 22 GP starts to his name, there was very little that could be described as immature about Sebastian Vettel. The fact he won the Italian Grand Prix at all is startling enough, and in Formula 1 it is unarguably the biggest (welcome) shock of modern times. But the manner in which he took his victory is even more remarkable. He won from the front, on merit, beating all of the established stars with a measured, calm performance reminiscent of Alain Prost. Wonderful stuff.

Vettel has been tipped as a future star since his days on motor racing’s nursery slopes, and there have been nuggets along the way to suggest as much. As for the future, he’s under contract to Red Bull, but how long, I wonder, before he finds himself sitting in a Ferrari or a McLaren?

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton is making hard work of winning a title ripe for the plucking. At Spa and Monza we saw the best and worst of a driver who can’t seem to avoid controversy.

First, the Spa penalty. My first instinct, shared with most of you judging from the letters we have received, is that Lewis did enough to avoid censure by allowing Kimi Räikkönen back past after cutting the chicane. His fellow drivers took the view that Hamilton had gained an advantage and therefore a penalty was warranted, but the consensus was that the scale of punishment – a 25-second post-race addition dropping him from first to third – was too much. Now, whatever view we take on the offence, surely we can all agree that changing the result of any race hours after the finish should be the very last option.

The problem is an inflexible FIA system. Never mind three faceless stewards handing out a judgement they may or may not be qualified to make; they must do so with rules that leave little room for common sense. A driver commits an offence worthy of a stop-go penalty, but there is not enough time for it to be served, therefore 25sec must be added to his race time. That’s the letter of the law. But here’s another option: why not dock the driver a World Championship point? It’s a punishment that will hurt him, but avoids the farce of changing the result because of a minor indiscretion.

So to Monza. Hamilton’s recovery from a disastrous qualifying to rise from 15th to second in the first stint was thrilling, but too many times he stepped over the line of what should be deemed acceptable driving standards. The stewards didn’t punish him this time, but perhaps for once they should have. His chop in front of Fernando Alonso on the start/finish straight and blatant move to the left putting Mark Webber on the grass went beyond what can be termed hard racing. Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher got away with it; now it seems Hamilton might too. He’s a tough racer, and that’s part of his appeal, but he’s also good enough not to need the physical intimidation tactics. Someone on his team needs to have a quiet word – and Hamilton should be sensible enough to listen.

Motor Sport reaches a very special milestone with its next magazine. The December 2008 edition will be our 1000th issue – and we’re planning to celebrate. Yes, we’ve already had the party (you might have noticed we popped the champagne corks a little early with our new-office shindig in June!), but now the issue is nearly upon us. As I write, work is underway on an even fatter magazine than usual – and it’s going to be packed with some great stories. Yes, I know I’d say that… Find out for yourself when it goes on sale from October 31.

Damien Smith, editor

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