Will Sebastian Vettel mask his emotions as he drives for Ferrari at Monza?

Ben's Italian GP Preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator 

The dismal performance of Ferrari at Spa does not bode well for the tifosi, the passionate Ferrari fans, as Fomula One arrives at Monza.

Ironically the word tifosi means ‘those infected by typhus’ because of the fevered manner in which fans behave. Sadly our present pandemic means they won’t be going bonkers beside the track this weekend.

In theory they’ll be watching from home but from what we saw last weekend, they might be switching the TV off.

Both Ferraris failed to reach the top ten in qualifying in Belgium, and were pointless in the race. It saddens me that a team of such great provenance is struggling so much and I wonder what is going through Sebastian Vettel’s head right now.

Twelve years ago the race at Monza saw Vettel join the elite club of Grand Prix winners in the most challenging of conditions. In his first full year of F1, driving for the Toro Rosso team, Vettel dominated both qualifying and the race in pouring rain.

He became the youngest ever winner at the time and launched into a five year period of increasing success with Red Bull. Four World Championship titles and 38 further wins, including another two at Monza, put him at the pinnacle of the sport.

From Bull to Prancing Horse

In 2014 Red Bull struggled to be competitive under the new turbo hybrid engine rules, but Vettel was soon planning ahead to a union with Ferrari that he hoped would deliver more of those race wins and titles.

It started well in 2015, with a podium on his first outing in Australia followed by victory two weeks later in Malaysia. He finished second to Lewis Hamilton at Monza that year and was the closest competitor to the Mercedes duel between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg throughout the season.

But that initial promise was never fully realised. In 2016 there were no wins, and although the two subsequent years started well with victories in Australia, the Ferrari challenge always petered out in the final third of the year.

Monza Mishaps

As for a potential home victory for the Italian team at Monza, it has slipped away each time for Vettel. In 2018, he set the pace in two of the three free practice sessions and in both opening stints of qualifying.

But Ferrari didn’t ask his teammate Kimi Raikkonen to provide a slipstream in the final part of qualifying and the team also managed to send Vettel out at a less than ideal moment. Strange decisions when Vettel was only 17 points behind Hamilton at the time, while Raikkonen was 85 points in arrears.

It was the Finn who ended up with pole position with Vettel alongside but then on the Sunday morning Raikkonen was told that he would no longer have a seat with the team in 2019.

Not surprisingly, he didn’t move out of Vettel’s way at the start of the race, Vettel ended up side by side with Hamilton in the second chicane and spun away any chance of success.

The rest of the season slumped with no more wins for Vettel but there was always going to be another chance at Monza in 2019 after the team showed great pace at Spa.

In Belgium, his new teammate Charles Leclerc took his first win but it was with some help from Vettel as he fended off Hamilton at a key stage of the race, denying him the opportunity to attack Leclerc for many laps at the end.

A week later in Monza, Leclerc repaid him by not offering the slipstream in a muddled final session of qualifying despite Vettel having towed his young teammate to the fastest lap at that point; a lap that would ensure Leclerc started from pole while Vettel started fourth.

The frustration surfaced with a spin at the Ascari chicane on Lap 6 while battling for third. In rejoining, he clouted Lance Stroll and the subsequent pit stop and penalty saw him finish 13th on the day that Leclerc won for Ferrari at Monza for the team’s first home victory in nine years.

Bleak Outlook

Vettel’s mood was lifted slightly by snatching the win next time out in Singapore from Leclerc, but that is the German’s last victory to date. Since then he has been told he will not have a seat at the team after this year and he’s had to deal with much reduced power from the engine and a car that creates plenty of drag.

Now Vettel is coming off the back of a race where he couldn’t even beat his old friend Raikkonen in an Alfa Romeo. His head must be spinning, let alone the car. 

Those dreams of emulating his hero Michael Schumacher have evaporated at the same time that Hamilton is about to establish all new benchmarks.

So Monza is going to be a pivotal moment for Vettel, bringing back great memories yet reinforcing the downfall. 

At such a historic venue, the empty grandstands and silent parkland will echo around him as he ponders his future in the sport.

Watch Channel 4’s highlights of qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix on Saturday 5th September at 6:30pm. Race highlights and analysis from the C4F1 team on Sunday from 6:30pm.