They laughed when Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso snatched pole position in qualifying – but that turned to cheers of admiration on Sunday when the 21 year-old German became Formula One’s youngest ever winner after a brilliant wet-weather victory at Monza.
Neither Vettel nor the underdog team put a wheel wrong, as superb driving, strategy and pit work brought them home comfortably clear of McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen and BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica.
In Vettel’s wake, team mate Sebastien Bourdais was left on the grid as the race started behind the safety car because of the rain that started half an hour before the kick-off. But even without his wingman, Vettel never had a problem in this one. Kovalainen’s expected challenge never materialised, leaving the Finn sorely disappointed. Kubica’s single pit stop was timed to absolute perfection, as he was able to refuel and switch from Bridgestone’s extreme wets to normal wets at the same time. Both Vettel and Kovalainen stopped twice.
A long way behind them, Fernando Alonso brought his Renault home just ahead of Nick Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren. They were covered by a handful of seconds.
Hamilton drove superbly in the wet opening stages, but was forced to make an unscheduled second stop to move to standard wet tyres and lacked crucial pace towards the end. With four laps left he and Red Bull’s Mark Webber touched wheels under braking for the first chicane, but both cars survived undamaged and the Australian took the final point for eighth place.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap but could not better ninth place ahead of Renault’s Nelson Piquet, Toyota’s Timo Glock, Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, Williams’ Nico Rosberg, Honda’s Jenson Button, Red Bull’s David Coulthard, Honda’s Rubens Barrichello and Bourdais.
The two Toyotas and Rosberg were well placed until they had to stop to switch to standard wet tyres, while Nakajima collided with Coulthard on the 51st lap in Curva Grande, forcing the Scot to pit for a new nose.
The sole retirement was Giancarlo Fisichella, who crashed his Force India after also hitting Coulthard on Lap 12.
Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz’s deserved first F1 victory thus came from the team he put up for sale earlier in the season. It means Vettel is now ninth in the driver standings, while Toro Rosso edge ahead of Red Bull Racing in sixth.
At the top of the drivers’ table Hamilton now has a single point lead over Massa, 77 to 76, pending McLaren’s Belgian appeal. Kubica has 64 and Raikkonen 57. In the constructors’ championship McLaren close still further on Ferrari, with 129 points to the Scuderia’s 134.