Flashback to Monza 2008: A masterclass by Vettel in wet for Toro Rosso
Sebastian Vettel today epitomizes a heady concoction of grit, raw pace and arguably, the most important trait a Formula 1 driver needs, without which he cannot compete in the sport.
A never say die attitude.
Using his skills and fighting instincts to good measure, Sebastian Vettel has claimed 4 world championships, clinched 52 Grand Prix wins, and managed to stand on the podium for an impressive 107 times.
The Vettel one sees today might be a successful driver. He might come across as a bloke eternally and someone who can give the best drivers on the grid a run for their money.
One saw a recent example of that in the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix where what it took from Sebastian Vettel to win the contest at Spa, in the end, was similar to a stroll in the park.
Few other things would suffice the imperious race-pace with which Ferrari downed their archrivals at Mercedes.
But that is the Sebastian Vettel of today, a man who stands second in the driver’s standings of the 2018 season, trailing Lewis Hamilton, his antithesis of 2017 by 17 points.
So what about the yesteryears?
How was Sebastian Vettel as a driver back in time, when like many other Formula 1 hopefuls, he wasn’t yet a world champion?
Well, before he became a four-time world champion before he forged intense rivalries with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel was once a blue-eyed boy at Toro Rosso.
Way back in time, about a decade from today, driving the Adrian Newey-designed Toro Rosso STR 3, Sebastian Vettel ruled the Italian Grand Prix of 2008.
Let’s rewind to an important date in history. It was on 14 September 2008 that Sebastian Vettel first tasted the feeling called victory. Playing an impressive hand in only his second season in Formula 1, the boyish-looking bloke from Heppenheim drove his way to gather a sensational triumph at a track where among the few things that were certain was perhaps an ordinary finish for Toro Rosso, who hadn’t yet won a single Grand Prix in their F1 journey.
But wishful thinking and predictions be damned, Sebastian Vettel, then a 21-year-old driver competing against the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, Robert Kubica, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and the likes trumped all formidable men on the grid as he blasted past the checkered flag at Monza to take his maiden victory.
It was back in 2008 that the team regarded as the sister concern of Red Bull eclipsed such distinguished names on the track as Mercedes, Ferrari among others.
But how did all of this happen?
Back in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel, an inexperienced driver whose rookie season was the year before, when he first drove a Formula 1 car in a contest at the US Grand Prix of 2007, began a wet-weather duel from the pole position.
To drive at Monza, the home track of Ferrari, the only thing that favoured Sebastian Vettel vis-à-vis the comprehensive experience of guys like Alonso, Massa, and Raikkonen was the fact that Ferrari were the suppliers Toro Rosso’s engine.
The weather, the imposing challenge of going wheel-to-wheel in a track favourably suiting handier machines, such as Ferrari, Renault and, Red Bull was overwhelming.
Yet, one man pursued unbent.
To that extent, on a wet-qualifying, marred by rains leading to a near loss of traction, it helped Vettel a great deal to begin his Monza challenge from track position.
The start of the 2008 Italian Grand Prix was defined by a slippery track, the challenge of driving on which was made onerous thanks to a barrage of heavy rain prior to the start of the race.
An exciting Grand Prix made only formidable, the 2008 Italian Grand Prix was thrilling from the very start as Vettel, the pole-sitter at Monza, began from behind the safety car.
There was no dearth of action, however, right at the start itself. As the Safety Car pulled out, descending from the track, Vettel regained the lead, defending well from Kovalainen, catching the Toro Rosso fast in his McLaren-Mercedes.
As the opening grid entered the first corner, the trio of Webber, Rosberg and Massa, in their Red Bull, Williams, and Ferrari, was catching Kovalainen in that order.
Meanwhile, the track continued to test the drivers, challenging their cars with a near loss of traction. With high oversteer, most cars struggled to keep the four wheels inside the track limits.
Vettel however, continued with his head down and focused at extracting the best from a Toro Rosso, then driving his fourteenth race of the season.
There may surely have been questions in his head, especially after having begun the 2008 season lowly, his woes exacerbated by four DNFs on the trot, beginning from Australia, Malaysia, Bahrain, and Spain.
But, soon, none of that would matter.
While a lot daunting overtaking took place inside the initial laps of the Italian Grand Prix with Massa passing Rosberg first only to skid, leaving the German to reclaim his position.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton, who began his Monza run from fifteenth, in his McLaren-Mercedes was demolishing the mid-field.
He would first Heidfeld, Glock, Kubica, and Alonso and made his P15 start look a loose wheel nut given his dominant run under slippery conditions.
Vettel, meanwhile, holding the lead for several few laps pitted on Lap 18. The trio of Kovalainen, Webber, and Massa, in imposing trio finding a rare combination of speed and traction followed four laps later.
Vettel would somehow hold on and began competing right at the front. Then, on Lap 36, Lewis Hamilton began running a racing blitz of sorts. He’d first enter the top ten on the grid and would begin lapping nearly a second faster than Sebastian Vettel on a wet Monza that just didn’t seem to dry.
For the next two laps, Vettel continued unmoved at first, despite finding his Toro Rosso barely evading what could’ve been mishaps thanks to a slippery track.
Then on Lap 38, all of a sudden, it seemed as if, the other drivers contesting for honours at Monza awoke all of a sudden.
While Kimi would set the fastest lap in his Ferrari on Lap 45, there being only 8 more laps to go, the likes of Webber and Kubica, both of whom were driving on imposing pace took notice.
At all these times, Vettel found a way to hold on to the lead. However, the looming threat of a faster Lewis Hamilton and now, the troika led by Webber, including Kubica and Raikkonen began impacting the Grand Prix.
But thankfully, aided by driving conditions that were about as helpful for an overtake as is to maintain one’s balance on an ice-skating rink; controlling the race at the front was any day easier for Vettel.
Had Vettel been in close sights of a Raikkonen and Hamilton, instead of being at the front, given the kind of moves the duo were pulling off, the narrative of the Italian contest might have spanned differently.
While Raikkonen passed Coulthard and Nelson Piquet for ninth and Hamilton, after ceding his place to Webber who made contact with Lewis’ McLaren, regained his position, Vettel kept chipping away at the front, keeping the tail of his Toro Rosso from the McLaren of Hamilton’s teammate, Kovalainen.
More drama on Lap 49
As Webber tried to pass Hamilton, the two would touch. This may surely have been a nightmare for Lewis who found to his dismay his McLaren making contact for the second time in the same race.While there was clear air ahead for Kovalainen, who held on bravely to his second, there was no way that he would catch arguably the faster car on wet-weather. That would be the Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel.Meanwhile, as Raikkonen and Hamilton continued to make swift recoveries, having begun fourteenth and fifteenth, respectively, there was heartbreak for Coulthard, who found Nakajima, then in Williams-Toyota, making contact with his Red Bull. As a result, ‘DC’ would pit for a new front-wing and would drop down to seventeenth.
The German crossed the finish line, at least 12 seconds ahead of the Finn.
In so doing, Vettel not only clinched a vital first for Toro Rosso, he would also pop open the champagne from the very top step at Monza, the home of the Tifosi, importantly winning at a track considered legendary and unputdownable for its standing in the annals of Ferrari and motorsport racing.