Monza 2008: Sebastian Vettel Takes His Maiden Pole Position

The qualifying session at Monza was held under very difficult conditions today, with rain falling throughout the three sessions. However, one driver set about explaining to the rest why he has received a promotion to Red Bull Racing next year – Sebastian Vettel. While the weather certainly played a large part in his pole position, Vettel’s pace was good, and with team mate Bourdais in fourth, one has to wonder if the German driver wouldn’t be better staying with STR for next year.

Q1

With the rain falling the first part of qualifying proved to be very interesting with all cars spending as much time on the track as possible. It was unknown when the circuit would be at its fastest so all the drivers wanted to maximise their chances. It was Heikki Kovalainen though who seemed to be having the most fun, the McLaren driver setting a very quick lap at a time when others appeared to struggling. Kovalainen’s time remained although team mate Lewis Hamilton soon caught him up by the end of the 20 minutes to be just 0.1s behind.

Kimi Raikkonen was clearly struggling with his Ferrari and by the end of the running the Finnish driver was close to the dropzone. However, a last-chance lap brought the world champion up to eleventh and relative safety. Both Hondas were relegated to the warmth of their motorhome’s for the rest of the day, as was Kazuki Nakajima and Nelson Piquet Jr. Force India enjoyed a better day, and although Adrian Sutil was knocked out, Giancarlo Fisichella finally fulfilled the squad’s ambition of getting into Q2. Fisichella just got through with a lap tim of 1m35.464s.

Q2

The track conditions worsened during the second part of qualifying, and once again most drivers went out early to set a lap when the track was at its fastest. Lewis Hamilton however waited in the garage with intermediates on his car. The Briton didn’t venture on to the track until ten minutes to go and with rain still falling, Hamilton changed to full wets and had lots of fuel pumped into the McLaren. However, he just couldn’t find any pace. The track worsened and McLaren missed their opportunity with the championship leader. Heikki Kovalainen once again popped in a quick lap and lead for most of the fifteen minutes until Sebastian Vettel went 0.006s faster to head the tables.

Kimi Raikkonen experienced a huge moment at Variente Ascari – the fast left-right-left that leads onto the back straight. Coming out of the final turn the Ferrari aquaplaned on the standing water and Raikkonen did well to keep his car out of the wall. Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica suffered a similar fate at the same corner, also saving their cars from the bite of the barrier. Although they won’t be able to prevent the bite of their bosses; Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kubica were all knocked out of Q2. David Coulthard will line up thirteenth and Giancarlo Fisichella posts Force India’s highest qualifying position in twelfth.

Q3

Sebastian Vettel - 2008 European Grand PrixEarly on in the ten-minute finale, Sebastian Vettel looked quick and the young German set a good lap from the offset. With four minutes left on the clock, Vettel was still 0.3s faster than second-placed driver Heikki Kovalainen. Mark Webber was running well but with the rain falling heavier and heavier, the times were changing quickly as some drivers were finding grip where others weren’t. It seemed though that Heikki and Sebastian had the front row fight to themselves as the rest of the runners squabbled for third and fourth.

It would appear that Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, Timo Glock and Nick Heidfeld have fuelled their cars heavy, perhaps to counter the inevitable attack from Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen from behind. But at the top of the tables, Nico Rosberg managed a quick lap towards the end to go third, but his time was soon surpassed by Sebastien Bourdais, and then Mark Webber with a storming last lap when the track was saturated.

A lot of drivers had moments in the slippery conditions, but Bourdais had the most graceful of spins at Variente Ascari. Losing the rear of the STR coming out of the final left turn, Bourdais went through 180 degress, missed the wall and slid back over the track, spinning around again before avoiding the opposite wall and finishing sideways on the track.

All eyes are on the number-15 Scuderia Toro Rosso car, who managed to be highest qualifying Ferrari-powered car today. Also, it is worth mentioning that the little team from Faenza (who were once Minardi) have beaten the primary team to pole position. Red Bull Racing have visited the podium in the past, but the pole position still eludes them. I wonder what the chances of Vettel or Bourdais beating the Red Bull team to the win are?

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