Ciao Seb. But this is not the way it was supposed to end.
Sebastian Vettel is farewelling his beloved Tifosi as he makes his sixth and final appearance in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza racing for Ferrari.
His Ferrari dream was supposed to include a championship title and a Monza win in an all-conquering Prancing Horse in front of an adoring crowd but, instead, Coronavirus is keeping spectators away and he’s forced to make pitiful excuses for Ferrari’s worst results in more than a decade.
“I wanted to win more at Monza but I’ve never been able to fight to the end,” Vettel says.
“In recent years I have often given my opinion and it has not always been shared but it was a privilege to race with the red team.”
Yes, there is the Mugello GP next week that will welcome 3000 fans, some paying up to $2000 for the privilege, and Seb should be back next year in an Aston Martin, but Monza is the Italian Grand Prix and where he has represented Italy’s national team since 2015.
“My greatest ambition is to become world champion with Ferrari. I have already won four titles but I want to win again,” he said in 2017. Sadly that dream won’t be realised as the team has given him notice that his services will not be required in 2021.
Vettel has taken three wins at Monza but none with Ferrari. His debut victory came with Italian minnows, Toro Rosso in 2008 and was the one that endeared him to local fans, helped by his podium speech in fluent Italian. His other wins were with Red Bull in 2011 and ’13 while his best Ferrari results were second in 2015 and third in 2016 / 2017.
Coming off the back of a total shocker at Spa in Belgium he says; “We will have a dedicated aerodynamic package which we hope will give us a more competitive car. Our goal to maximise performance and take home as many points as possible does not change.”
As a fan of F1 history who regarded Enzo Ferrari as a childhood idol, it’s telling that in the week leading up to an Italian double-header, Vettel buys a classic Formula One car, but it’s not a Ferrari.
The German is now the proud owner of the car called ‘Red 5’, the actively-suspended, Williams-Renault FW14B that carried Nigel Mansell to his 1992 world championship, winning 10 of its 16 races and taking 15 from 16 pole positions.
It’s the 1992 equivalent of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz that has so far snared all but one win and every pole position in the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Even the Mercedes boss, Toto Wolff, is shocked by Ferrari’s lack of pace in 2020. Rarely commenting about a rival, Wolff realises the watershed moment reached in Belgium with F1’s most lauded team’s fall from grace – and only 13th place for Vettel and 14th for his team mate Charles Leclerc.
“Ferrari is an iconic brand and they should be racing at the front. It’s not good for Formula One and it’s not good for the competition. I feel for all the Tifosi (fans) and employees of Ferrari for this lack of performance,” Wolff says.
Ferrari team boss, Matteo Binotto is quick to respond.
“I know that there are certain people on other teams who like to talk about our situation and our fans. There is nothing I would like to answer to him. I know what’s going on with our fans. I’m a fan myself. I’ve worked in this team for 25 years.”
Conversely, Renault arrives at Monza buoyed by the confidence carried over from Spa and Daniel Ricciardo’s outstanding drive which saw him grab the fastest lap on the final lap, just missing out on a podium in fourth and helping the French manufacturer to its biggest haul of points with Esteban Ocon in fifth.
The result matched the team’s season-best finish last year in Monza where they also claimed fourth and fifth – the extra point for Ricciardo’s fastest lap giving Spa the points edge – so the team feels confident in the car’s low downforce package.
“Monza is one of my favourite tracks. It’s home to the best pizza in the world which is my weekend fuel and I really like the setting in the park, so I certainly get a buzz here. Although there won’t be fans, you can feel the awesome energy about the place,” says Ricciardo.
“As for the racing, it’s probably not typical for my style as I love street circuits with walls and the close shaves, but Monza is high-speed and a lot of fun, especially with the low downforce as the car skates around.”
Renault, like the Ferrari and Honda-powered teams, is hopeful of a better qualifying run as this race marks the introduction of the “quali mode” ban stopping, namely Mercedes from turning up the power, implementing its “Party Mode” for short runs.
“The technical directive that comes into force regarding qualifying and race engine modes will affect all teams to some extent and it will be interesting to see whether it affects the order of the grid and the race,” Renault’s Chief Race Engineer, Ciaron Pilbeam says.
Aside from Hamilton, who again goes into this weekend as favourite, the man-most-likely for a Monza shake up is Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Currently second in the championship, 47 points behind Lewis, Max has outgunned Mercedes number two Bottas so far but even so, the RB18 lost pace to the dominant W11 Merc in Spa, so the team is banking on a podium and a win only if they’re lucky.
“We won’t give up but I’m very realistic that we need luck to win races and actually gain some points back,” 22-year old Verstappen says.
“At the moment, it looks like we’re in the championship fight but every race I’m more or less losing seven points.”