Is eight enough for Red Bull's Vettel?

September, 14, 2011
Monza fans were desperate to see a Ferrari driver on the top step of the podium, and after the first turn in Italy, it looked like there was certainly a possibility of that. A phenomenal start by Fernando Alonso saw him jump from fourth to first in a matter of seconds, but in the end it was nowhere near enough to hold off Sebastian Vettel, who claimed his eighth Formula One victory of the season.

The early winners were those who merely were able to avoid the carnage. Through just 10 laps, six cars already had been eliminated thanks to a first-turn pileup brought about by Vitantonio Liuzzi's trip through the grass. When the safety car left the track, Vettel made quick work of Alonso and never looked back, clearing runner-up Jenson Button by nearly 10 seconds when the race concluded. To the delight of the home fans, Alonso held off Lewis Hamilton for the final podium spot. Hamilton's race, much like Button's, was held up often by Michael Schumacher.

Like so many times this year, Vettel and Red Bull looked virtually unbeatable. He's now the sixth driver to notch at least eight victories in a season, and only Schumacher got there quicker. Including partial seasons, Vettel is in his fifth year, while the seven-time champion accomplished the feat in only his fourth.

Nevertheless, Vettel joined some elite company. Both Damon Hill (1996) and Ayrton Senna (1988) earned their first eight-win year in their fifth seasons at the top level.

Vettel also has an outside chance of catching and possibly passing Schumacher for the most wins in a single season. Schumacher set the mark of 13 in 2004, and with six races remaining, Vettel would need to win all but one to tie him. Just two more victories would make Vettel only the second driver in F1 history to reach double-digit wins in a calendar year.

The German also was busy the day prior to the race. By capturing his 10th pole of the year, he joined Mika Hakkinen, Senna and Schumacher as the only drivers to claim at least 20 poles in a two-year span. Red Bull now has captured all 13 poles this year, two shy of matching the record in a single season, shared by several teams, including Red Bull in 2010.

Vettel's postrace reactions clearly showed that Monza was a very meaningful win for him. After all, it's the track where his legacy began in 2008. Looking forward, Vettel now can clinch the title in Singapore, but it depends on where others finish. He's 112 points ahead of Fernando Alonso in second, and will need to leave the city circuit at least 125 clear of the next-closest driver to mathematically clinch.

Finishing on the podium will not necessarily guarantee that Vettel clinches. An example to illustrate this would be if Vettel finishes third and all four of his closest competitors finish behind him. If, say, Alonso finishes fourth, Vettel would gain just three points in the championship, extending his lead to 115 points. With five races to go after Singapore, a driver could theoretically gain 125 points the remainder of the season. Of course, this is merely an example, but it's a quick scenario to illustrate that a podium finish will not guarantee a mathematical clinch in Singapore.

Further back in the field, Bruno Senna had a drive he will not soon forget. In just his second race with Renault, Senna finished ninth after reaching Q3 for the second straight time. He narrowly avoided the first-turn accident and then quickly pitted to switch to the softer compound tires. Having already used the medium compound, it gave him a considerable advantage for the remainder of the event.

Senna, however, has long been at a disadvantage compared to those he's competing with. He left motorsports for 10 years and did not return until 2004, meaning his experience was far less than those around him. Just four years later, he finished runner-up in the GP2 championship, ahead of names such as Pastor Maldonado, Sebastien Buemi and Vitaly Petrov.



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