VICTORY at the next race in Singapore could confirm Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel as F1 World Champion for the second consecutive season after his dominant performance at the Italian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old hardly put a foot wrong all weekend as he claimed his eighth victory of the season ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari.
The win extends his championship lead over the chasing pack, currently headed by Alonso, to 112 points with just 125 left on offer from the remaining five races.
The German was in a league of his own in qualifying, setting a pole position time nearly half a second ahead of Lewis Hamilton and the signs were there for all to see that the Red Bull was, once again, in a class of its own around the frighteningly fast Monza circuit.
His pole position in Italy made him only the second driver to ever achieve 10 poles in two seasons – the other being Ayrton Senna.
But he didn’t get off to the best of starts, much to the delight of the Tifosi, as Alonso took the lead from third on the grid.
Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber suffered a weekend to forget though. Starting fifth on the grid, he dropped back to seventh on the opening lap before mounting a comeback through the field.
He dispatched Button and was chasing down Felipe Massa on lap five, but lost control at the first chicane and crashed into the Brazilian, damaging his front wing and spinning the Ferrari.
With the debris wedged under his car, Webber careered into the barriers at high speed as he desperately tried to return to the pits for repairs.
After the race, he admitted it was his error which forced him into retirement.
“I was lining up Felipe, breaking around the outside for turn one, trying to get the inside line for turn two,” said Webber.
“I probably wasn’t quite far enough to get completely inside, but when I tried to come out of the move the kerbing on the inside is obviously pretty high. As soon as I touched that I unfortunately made contact with Felipe and that was that.
“I then tried to get back to the pits, trying to lose the minimum time possible, the car wasn’t too bad for the first part of the lap, but at some stage the wing got caught underneath, so I couldn’t turn the car or brake. I went straight out of Parabolica and that was the end of my race.”
Meanwhile, Vettel was gaining ground on Alonso in the lead, and bravely took the outside line around Curve Grande to overtake the Ferrari. He wasn’t given much room by Alonso, and even took to the grass at nearly 200mph as he barged his way past into the lead in one of the best overtaking moves of the season.
From there, Vettel never looked back. Quickly pulling away from Alonso, he opened up a 15 second lead which he controlled throughout the race.
Button made it up through the field to second, and Alonso held off a fierce late charge from Hamilton to secure third spot.
“It was very emotional,” Vettel said in the post-race press conference. “This circuit means a lot to me, it has been very special, obviously my first win was here so when I crossed the line I remembered every single bit.
“The circuit has been tough for us to be really competitive in the past two years, but we’ve come back this year the car was really amazing in qualifying yesterday and in the race even better.
“The start wasn’t that good, with Fernando I didn’t know where he was coming from. It took me a while to understand that we were actually three alongside going into turn one, so I kept second and then after the restart I was able to pass him. He didn’t give me much room there, I was halfway on the grass but it was just enough!
“It was very enjoyable and after that, as I said, the car was fantastic.”
There were more sombre tones in the Red Bull garage though, as the team dedicated their win to Erin Pezzella – a colleague in Milton Keynes who sadly died of cancer earlier in the week.
Team boss Christian Horner said: “Earlier this week we lost a young girl who worked for the team for five years.
“She was 31 years of age and she lost a very brave fight against cancer, so as a team we would like to dedicate this to her. It puts everything into perspective.”
The result means that if Vettel wins in Singapore and Alonso does not make it onto the podium, Vettel will be crowned 2011 champion with four races still remaining.
Vettel’s domination has been 12 months in the making. Since the Italian GP last year, Vettel has been off the podium only twice, picking up 11 wins from the last 18 races. Despite Webber’s retirement, he remains fourth in the standings, just five points behind Alonso in second. And Red Bull look set to retain their constructors championship with a 126 point lead over McLaren.