Sebastian Vettel on the race that gave him his final breakthrough – and the road to victory leading up to it.
Every athlete may have the desire to come first tattooed in their genes. But there are only a few who carry it out as systematically as Sebastian Vettel. With his victory at the Italian GP, the young German not only won his first ever Formula 1 race; he also garnered the first victory to date for the Toro Rosso team. At the same time he posted two historical records. At the age of 21 years and 74 days, Vettel is the youngest Formula 1 winner of all time – and, all in one go, he picked up the world record for the youngest ever qualifying winner along the way. And with that, Vettel made it into the Guinness books for the third time – having held the record for youngest Formula 1 driver ever to win WC points since 2007.
AT 300 KM/H OVER THE SLIPPERY WET CIRCUIT
Vettel dominated the Monza regatta borderline conditions with his driving ability alone, even if at the finish line he modestly threw the limelight on his team: ‘It was extremely difficult with all that water,’ he admitted, but immediately gave his team the credit for its tactics. ‘Changing to intermediates so late was the deciding factor,’ he said. And he pushed it right up to the end, Vettel said, ‘… without worrying about the engine or the tires.’ The German got his feeling for pushing the limits as a kart driver, just like his idol Michael Schumacher, with whom Vettel will probably be compared to now more often than ever before. And Michael Schumacher himself will have to take a bit of the blame for that. ‘The guy is the world champion of the future,’ Schumi predicted a long time ago.
VICTORY IN MONZA – LIKE BERGER 20 YEARS AGO
Vettel’s supporter Gerhard Berger is of the same opinion. Almost to the day, on September 11, 1988, 20 years before his protégé, Toro Rosso’s current team manager Berger celebrated a similar emotional triumph in Monza - in a Ferrari, following a season pitted with disappointments in which his McLaren-Honda rivals won 15 of 16 races. Vettel has also had to overcome dogged dry spells this year. ‘I’d do well not dealing with all these problems,’ Vettel commented mid summer. ‘But I just do what I always do: analyze each race very objectively, regardless of what happened. And I always look ahead. Never backwards.’ It is this combination of professionalism and brazen talent that Berger particularly appreciates in Vettel. ‘The way he approaches things will also win him world championships. He’s already wide awake.’
SITTING IN A FORMULA 1 CAR AT 19
And he’s still got enough time to collect the necessary racing experience. When Berger celebrated his Monza victory, Vettel had just seen in his first birthday. At three-and-a-half he received his first kart from his father, himself a racing driver. At seven the little Vettel participated in his first kart race; at 16 he changed to formula sport with the Red Bull Junior team. At 19 the boy from Heppenheim had pocketed his first Formula 1 test driver contract, a fact resented by teachers and customs officials alike. ‘They always shook me down extra well because they didn’t believe that the expensive BMW X3 really belonged to me. And then they always asked why the car was registered to BMW-Sauber. And I replied: “Because I work there ...”’
ON TOP IN THE COCKPIT; ON THE GROUND PERSONALLY
These days when Vettel is stopped in his company car the authorities ask him other questions. They mainly start with ‘Please, may I …’ and end with ‘have an autograph,’ a question which in the meantime he’s asked by sports colleagues and politicians, actors and models alike. The 174-centimeter, 64 kilo billboard athlete resists all the glory that’s currently erupting around him in an uncomprehending phlegmatic way. ‘I concentrate on the driving,’ he says, and modestly mentions the most expensive thing he’s invested his Toro Rosso salary in, ‘home training equipment.’ Since the ‘greatest day of my life’ Sebastian dares to express the following with more assertion than before: ‘I’ve dreamed of the Formula 1 since I was seven. Of course it’s my goal to compete for the WC title one day.’ And the likelihood that this dream will come true has given Vettel’s rivals food for thought since the modest driving star’s victory in Monza.