This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix will hold special memories for reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel as it was there in 2008 that, aged just 21, he became the youngest winner in F1 history.
It was a feat made more special by accomplishing it from pole position in a Toro Rosso, giving the midfield-running team its first and only F1 victory to date.
It cemented the young German’s reputation and he was snapped up by Red Bull the following year. Vettel went on to give Red Bull its first world title in 2010 en route to becoming triple world champion, and he seems inexorably headed for a fourth after his dominant victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa a fortnight ago, which extended his championship lead to 46 points.
Alonso took over as the German’s closest challenger after Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus suffered a brake failure in Spa, with the Finn slipping to fourth in the standings behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso’s charge through the field to finish second in Belgium from ninth on the grid was a gritty drive by the former world champion, and the Spaniard will look to carry that momentum into Ferrari’s home race this Sunday in front of a fanatical tifosi crowd.
Last year’s Italian GP was won by Lewis Hamilton, then with McLaren, with Sauber’s Sergio Perez second and Alonso third in the Ferrari.
In 2012 the two top finishers both used one-stop strategies but it’s difficult to predict how Pirelli’s 2013 tyres will play out on the high-speed, low-downforce Monza circuit. The same compounds are being used as in Spa two weeks ago, but Monza’s long straights and fast corners affect the tyres differently and overheating and blistering could be a problem if not controlled.
A good qualifying slot is important as eight of the last ten Italian GPs have been won from pole position. Three quarters of the lap at Monza is spent on full throttle but there are also some heavy braking areas, particularly into the first chicane where the cars slow from 340km/h to 80km/h in just 150 metres.
In driver-swap news, F1’s worst-kept secret was confirmed on Monday with Red Bull’s announcement that Australian Daniel Ricciardo will replace compatriot Mark Webber at the team next year. Team principal Christian Horner said the 24-year-old Toro Rosso driver, who will partner Vettel under a multi-year agreement, was “going to be a big star of the future”.
Ricciardo, who was Red Bull reserve in 2010, is 14th in the championship after 11 races. The seat became available after 37-year-old Webber announced in June that he would be leaving Formula One to race for Porsche in their Le Mans sportscar programme next year. -Star Motoring