Sebastian Vettel’s astonishing victory for Scuderia Toro Rosso in the Italian Grand Prix has rewritten the history books – and marked the young German as an obvious future target for top Formula 1 teams. He remains firmly under contract to Red Bull Racing, however, for the next three seasons.
Having turned 21 on July 3, Vettel first became the youngest F1 poleman at Monza, and then the youngest race winner, taking both records from Fernando Alonso. His maiden win was also his first ever podium, a feat last achieved by Jean-Pierre Jabouille at the 1979 French GP.
Monza was the first victory and podium for the team that entered the sport as Minardi in 1985, and it came on the 20th anniversary of team boss Gerhard Berger’s famous 1988 Monza triumph – when his race engineer was current STR technical director Giorgio Ascanelli.
Berger has no doubts about the ability of his young star. “His intelligence and the way he works is great,” he said. “I have to say I really underestimated the potential of this boy.”
Although Vettel’s domination of the wet Monza weekend came as a surprise, STR had been showing increasingly impressive form since introducing its delayed 2008 model at Monaco. Vettel finished fifth on the car’s debut, later adding eighth in Canada (from the back of the grid), eighth in Germany, sixth in Valencia, and fifth in Belgium. At Valencia he was actually fastest in Friday morning practice, a feat matched by team-mate Sébastien Bourdais in Q1 at Spa.
Recently STR has often outperformed sister team Red Bull Racing, and key personnel from the latter outfit have emphasised an estimated 30bhp discrepancy between its Renault engine and the Ferrari used by Toro Rosso. As of Hockenheim STR was upgraded to works spec, having previously used the slightly inferior customer engine that Ferrari had also homologated.
The ongoing customer car controversy was put aside as Vettel was universally praised within the paddock for his brilliant effort in the tricky conditions.
“I’m delighted for him,” said Ron Dennis. “Whatever the circumstances, and they weren’t easy in practice or the race, he got the job done. It’s easy to create reasons why, but at the end of the day he did a fantastic job, and he deserved to win. I’m pleased for him and Gerhard.”
However, the man himself played down his assault on the record books.
“For me it’s not that important, rewriting history or statistics,” he said. “It may be nice to look at when you are older, but the most important thing is to have won this race, and it feels just great. The last lap, the lap after the chequered flag, the whole podium ceremony, it was all great.
“Obviously I had a bit of an advantage in the beginning when I was probably the only one with trouble-free vision. But it was never easy. I knew that I would stop earlier than the others. I didn’t know how much earlier, so I was pushing very hard. Sometimes I nearly lost the car – I was always trying to drive on the edge.”
Supremely confident and yet modest with it, Vettel is keeping his feet on the ground: “I will approach the rest of the season as I approached this race. Obviously I have won a race now, and that is quite incredible and difficult to understand. But the way I grew up and where I come from I think I’m down to earth enough to realise and to understand that it will not continue automatically like that.”
Sebastian Vettel CV
Date of Birth: July 3 1987
Grands Prix entered: 22
F1 Points: 29
1994 Joined the Mini Klasse Kart League
1998 Joined Red Bull Junior Team
2001 Winner of ICA Junior European Karting Championship; winner of German Junior Kart Championship
2002 6th in ICA Senior European Championship
2003 2nd in German Formula BMW Championship
2004 Winner of German Formula BMW Championship, 18 victories in 20 races
2005 5th in F3 Euroseries with Mücke Motorsport; 3rd in Macau F3 Grand Prix; first F1 test with Williams-BMW
2006 2nd in F3 Euroseries with ASM Formule 3, four victories; test driver for BMW Sauber F1 team
2007 F1 debut in US GP with BMW Sauber, finishing 8th aged just 19 and becoming the youngest F1 driver in history and the youngest ever points scorer; joins Toro Rosso, replacing Scott Speed at the Hungarian GP; 5th in the World Series by Renault with Carlin Motorsport (only drove until round seven); winner of the Race of Champions Nation’s Cup for Germany
2008 Pole position and race win at Italian GP; signed for Red Bull Racing for 2009