Vettel has an ability to deal with a car’s changing
Follow F1’s championship chase with
handling characteristics – even if those changes occur
mid-corner! This adaptability also enables him to look
after the delicate soft Pirelli tires (BELOW LEFT).
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front and a predictable rear, and if the rear displays any
instability, it affects their confidence in being able to carry
speed into the corner.
Vettel, like Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen before him,
seems not much to mind what the car is going to throw at him
and just rides the wave. In some cases he will even use a spike
of oversteer to hasten the direction change. He’s not quite as
audacious in this as Hamilton but can operate at a high level
over the full range of handling traits – even if that’s sometimes
within the same corner.
Like all the really top guys, Vettel has a fantastic ability to
anticipate how quickly the downforce is bleeding off as he
brakes and to modulate the pedal pressure accordingly, so he is
always close to maximizing the available braking potential.
The downforce reduces by the square of the speed – i.e.,
dramatically – so there is huge braking grip available when you
first hit the pedal at the end of a long straight. It’s pretty much
a case of initially standing on it as hard as possible, but that big
braking force ( 4.5g-plus) obviously reduces the speed at a huge
rate – and the downforce reduction is a square even of that!
So it’s a dramatic reduction and the driver has to be able to
feel at what rate he must release that force to prevent him
locking up, but still to be on the edge of the car’s capability.
Vettel does this exceptionally well and, into a slow corner,
THE ARRIVAL OF A STAR
Vettel’s first win was proof of his special talents
One of the travesties of
modern Formula 1 folklore is
that Sebastian Vettel’s victory
in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix is so
rarely talked about. In fact, it was his
Ayrton Senna/Monaco ’84-type
breakthrough on a wet weekend at
Monza that disproves the oft-repeated
theory that Vettel has never won in
anything other than the best car.
The Scuderia Toro Rosso STR3 was a
good car, no question. It was the Adrian
Newey-penned ’08 Red Bull but adapted
for the Ferrari engine and with the ex-Minardi team’s own tweaks to the brakes
and suspension. But it was by no means
the best car in the field. It required rain
in qualifying – and Vettel’s virtuosity –
to make pole position possible.
Sure, teammate Sebastien Bourdais
– a driver who Toro Rosso technical
director Giorgio Ascanelli later
described as doing “a good job…for an
average driver,” qualified fourth, but he
was 0.9sec slower.
In the race, few seriously expected
Vettel to win. McLaren’s Heikki
Kovalainen, who lined up second, was
“I went into that race expecting to
win it,” said the humble Finn, “but I
couldn’t catch Sebastian.”
A safety car start played in Vettel’s
favor, guaranteeing that he would hold
the lead. From there, running a two-stop
strategy, he was never seriously
threatened. Only Lewis Hamilton, who
had failed to make Q3 after gambling on
standard rain tires rather than extreme
wets in Q2, might have challenged him,
but the fact that it stopped raining
during the race ended his charge.
The bottom line is that Vettel won
this race fair and square, driving for a
team that only a few years earlier had
been Minardi. He’d mastered very wet
conditions and become the youngest
driver ever to win a grand prix.
Perhaps, looking back, his “mistake”
was to make it look too easy.