Monday, September 15, 2008

The Typical Guy's 2008 Italian GP Review...

An Italian team powered by an Italian engine wins the Italian GP! And it wasn't Ferrari!

After the brouhaha over the FIA stripping Lewis Hamilton of his win in last week's Belgian GP two hours after the end of the race for allegedly cutting through a chicane to gain an advantage over Kimi Räikkönen comes a win in yesterday's Italian GP that seems straight out of a fairy tale.

In a rain-soaked Italian GP weekend, Toro Rosso, the re-incarnation of the once small-but-proud Minardi team, through the staunch effort of their driver, Sebastian Vettel, not only secured the team - and Vettel's - first ever pole position, he also scored for the team - and himself - their first ever GP win. In the process, Vettel also added three "youngest ever" records to his youngest ever driver to score points in a race (2008 United States GP) record, like the youngest pole position winner ever, youngest driver to score a podium position ever, and youngest grand prix winner ever, all achieved with the Toro Rosso squad that's mostly still manned by holdovers from Minardi, making the win much, much sweeter.

Driving in a race that belied his age and inexperience, Vettel managed to hold on to the lead until his first pit stop, where McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen inherited his position with Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber and Ferrari's Felipe Massa following close behind as Vettel rejoined them at fourth. However, the change in lead was only good for four laps as all three took their first pit stop afterwards, letting Vettel take the lead once more which no was able to challenge any longer until the end of the race.

The closest challenge Vetell had came in Lap 27 from a determined Hamilton who was only a second behind. But then again, Hamilton's car was already running light as he made his way into the pit afterwards, proof that McLaren was
running him on a one-stop strategy. Hamilton, however, once more displayed his superior pace in the rain as, starting at 15th on the grid, he made his way up to 7th at the end of the race whereas Räikkönen could only manage to climb up from 14th to 9th, the recent announcement of his contract extension with Ferrari until 2010 seemingly not inspiring him enough.

It has to be noted, also, that Hamilton has really taken to heart the punishment he received in last weekend 's Belgian GP by readily giving back the places he got by cutting through chicanes, first against (well, whaddya know?!)
Räikkönen in Lap 3, and then later again in Lap 22 against Toyota's Jarno Trulli.

Unfortunately, as much as the F1 gods favored Vettel to win the race, his teammate, Sebastien Bourdais, seemed to have earned the ire of the said gods on Sunday because after earning P4 in Saturday's Qualifying, on the race's start behind the safety car, his STR3 stalled on the grid. That meant his car had to be pushed into the pitlane where he would have to start the race a lap behind of everyone else, his hope of a points finish gone. But that didn't dampen his spirit as Bourdais managed to set the race's second fastest lap, an impressive feat when race winner Vettel could only come up with the 14th fastest lap. With a display like that coupled with his impressive drive in last week's Belgian GP, I hope - if Bourdais is still up to it - he'd stay in F1 instead of moving back to the now-unified IRL/Champ Car series called, well, IndyCar Series in America.

Somehow, I can't help but wonder if Red Bull Racing's owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, is kicking himself hard for dumping the team's powerplant contract with Ferrari to their "junior team," Toro Rosso, at the end of the 2006 season in favor of using Renault's engines. And I'm sure what makes this really sting is that they're practically using the same chassis which means, other than the drivers, the difference really boils down to the choice of engines.

"I may be smiling on the outside but inside, I'm really crying."

Ferrari might also be wondering how they could be so badly beaten by one of their customer teams, a team whose largest source of funding just so happens to be the team owner who's looking to sell them off in the near future. And with Massa only being able to finish at fourth and with Räikkönen not being able to score any points at all, disappointment in Ferrari's camp right now is an understatement.

Other than Vettel, if there's one man who's on cloud nine right now, it could only be Adrian Newey as three of his four cars were in the top four, with only David Coulthard missing out as his run during Qualifying was hampered by the worsening weather condition.

Could Vettel do a repeat performance before the season ends? Highly unlikely unless the same factors he had in the Italian GP appear again in another one of the four races left, and that's lots of rain with some fortunate timing on his part coupled with a lot less mistakes than most and a pretty forgiving car in the wet. Starting the race in the rain while being on pole, he was the only driver who could see where he was going as everyone else had to contend with the spray from the driver in front of him. Add to that the fact that the track was drying up needing a change from wet tires to intermediates coincided with his second pit stop meant he practically had the race in the bag.

One thing's for sure, though. Unless Vettel jumps to Ferrari after 2010, we won't be hearing the German and Italian nation anthems played in succession anytime soon.

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