Saturday, 13 September 2008

Italian Grand Prix: Vettel shines in the wet as Hamilton drowns

Incredible scenes in Monza today as one Italy's home teams secured a fabulous pole position, and a fourth position to boot. But it wasn't the giant of Italian motorsport Ferrari that took the headlines, it was the perennial minnows, Toro Rosso (neƩ Minardi). 21 year old Sebastien Vettel was the man who stunned the motorsport world with a fantastic performance to take his first ever pole, surely the first of many in the young boy's career, and team mate Sebastien Bourdais also put in an excellent performance in dire conditions to secure fourth place. While the unrestrained joy for Toro Rosso will rightfully take the headlines, the other big story of the day will be the huge disappointment for the main title contenders, particularly Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen who sensationally both failed to make it through the final session.

Rain always seems to cause great drama in motorsport. You only have to look at Monaco, Silverstone and Spa this year for evidence of that, and today's torrential weather in northern Italy didn't disappoint. The first session held no real surprises, as the tricky conditions made it a slippery but level playing field for the drivers. All of the major players made it through safely, and few would be surprised to see Sutil, the two Hondas, Nakajima and Piquet dropping out. All the drama was to kick off in Q2...

At the start of the session the conditions were fairly poor, and everyone knew that the weather was only due to get worse and worse as the session progressed. It was clear that the best times of the session were going to be set early on. It seemed as though there was an ever-so-slightly drying line on the track after the first session, and crucially some drivers took the massive gamble of trying to squeeze in a lap on intermediate wet tyres. Most notably Lewis Hamilton was out on inters, and it was to cost him massively. Almost as soon as he went out the rain started to fall heavily, and his plans went out of the window. All the drivers out on full wet tyres were able to set decent lap times while Hamilton floundered. The Ferraris also got caught out as they both failed to set a lap time early in the session.

The rain only got worse and worse throughout the session, and really there was little chance for those out of the top 10 to improve. Hamilton especially was having a torrid time. He was fuelled heavily and didn't want to come in, but clearly he wasn't at all happy with the set up of the car and with hindsight should perhaps have come in to change something about his car, whether it was wing angle or tyre pressures. Raikkonen too was struggling, and at one point it looked as though all three title contenders would fail to make it through. However, Felipe Massa somehow managed to find some grip from somewhere and squeezed into the final session by the skin of his teeth. That could potentially be the biggest lap of his entire career, as it gives him a massive advantage over his title rivals, and will be favourite to now leave Monza with the lead in the driver's championship.

So with the fans still in shock from the failure of Hamilton and Raikkonen to make it through, the final session got under way with the rain still falling heavily. Sebastien Vettel had looked strong all day, and he and his team mate Bourdais were the early pace setters. Massa didn't look as though he was wanting to have a crack at the pole position; he must be fuelled very heavy for the race knowing that Hamilton and Kimi will be too. This meant that the opportunity was there for someone to cause a real surprise. As the clocked ticked down Vettel's early time still stood, and as the rain worsened nobody was able to match it. The scenes were incredible in the Toro Rosso pit as the mechanics first watched Massa fail to make the time, and then the other big threat Kovalainen missed out by a fraction of a second. Mark Webber put in a stellar lap to take third place, bumping Bourdais down to fourth at the death.

With the weather due to be no where near as treacherous tomorrow it sets up what could be one sensational race tomorrow. Vettel will be starting from pole with the chance to make history for the minnows from Faenza. His first challenge will be to hold off Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren. He will surely be the favourite for the race tomorrow, and McLaren will be desperate for him to at least stay ahead of Massa and take some points off the Ferrari man. The other big story will of course be watching Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen trying to fight their way through the field from their lowly grid slots. It could well be a classic...

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Vettel
2. Kovalainen
3. Webber
4. Bourdais
5. Rosberg
6. Massa
7. Trulli
8. Alonso
9. Glock
10. Heidfeld
11. Kubica
12. Fisichella
13. Coulthard
14. Raikkonen
15. Hamilton
16. Barrichello
17. Piquet
18. Nakajima
19. Button
20. Sutil

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