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French Grand Prix
Monza, 12-14 September

By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport at Monza

Sebastian Vettel
Vettel becomes the youngest winner in Formula One history

Sebastian Vettel took his and the Toro Rosso team's maiden win in a thrilling Italian Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton came from 15th to finish seventh.

The German led from pole throughout a demanding race of changing conditions to finish ahead of Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen.

Vettel, 21, takes over from Fernando Alonso as F1's youngest-ever winner.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa reduced Hamilton's championship lead to one point by finishing sixth.

Robert Kubica of BMW climbed from 11th to third by making the most of a one-stop strategy in a race that started on a soaking track in persistent rain and then began to dry up from about half distance.

The drying track and mixed-up grid led to a fascinating and unpredictable race of varying strategies.

Hamilton impressed hugely in his charge through the field, but Vettel was equally deserving of plaudits for a cool and controlled drive.

Spain's double world champion Alonso, who finished fourth after a strong race in his Renault, was the first to congratulate him after the race.

The German's victory was also the best result by far for the former Minardi team, which was taken over by Red Bull and made its junior outfit in 2006.

They have emerged as a major force in the second half of this season, using cars provided by Red Bull but fitted with a Ferrari engine rather than the Renault used by their parent team.

Who might have thought about this at the beginning of the season? We had a poor start and we got better and better - I am speechless

Sebastian Vettel
Vettel left Kovalainen behind in the early stages of the race, establishing a lead of more than 10 seconds before he made his first stop on lap 18.

He controlled the race from there, changing to intermediate tyres at his second stop on lap 36 as the track dried out and continuing to drive with pace and aplomb to the finish.

"Unbelievable," he said. "The whole race we had no problems. The car was working fine. It was a fantastic race, a very good strategy but all that was gone when I crossed the finish line.

"The lap back to the pits and the whole podium ceremony was just unbelievable. For sure it is the best day of my life. These pictures, the emotions, I will never forget.

"Who might have thought about this at the beginning of the season? We had a poor start and we got better and better, I am speechless."

Kovalainen drove a steady race behind him, while Kubica was able to use a very long first stint to fit intermediate tyres at his sole stop on lap 34 and move into third place.

"It was not possible to win because Sebastian and Toro Rosso were so strong," said Kovalainen. "I just struggled to find time, go faster - we kept pushing and towards the end we improved, but there was nothing I could do, it was impossible to win."

Kubica, meanwhile, was happy with his finish, admitting: "It was quite good after what happened in qualifying.

"I stayed as long as possible until my pit stop, and we were a bit lucky with the conditions that they allowed me to switch to the intermediate tyres.

"Third place was a well deserved reward for the whole team and I am very happy."

Alonso used the same strategy as the Pole in his Renault, stopping four laps earlier when he was the third significant driver to switch to the different tyres - two laps after Red Bull's David Coulthard and a lap after BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld.

The German went on to finish fifth, ahead of Massa, Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber.

Hamilton looked on course for an unlikely podium as he carved his way up from 15th on the grid to lie second behind Vettel by the time of what was planned to be his sole pit stop on lap 27.

The track was beginning to dry up at that stage - it was only three laps before Alonso made his call for intermediates. But Hamilton decided not to gamble on them and although he was fuelled to the end, he had to come back in on lap 36 to fit change tyres.

It was probably the right call. Alonso told BBC Sport later that it might have been possible to change to intermediates "one or two laps earlier - maybe".

And Hamilton, after closing quickly on Massa in the laps immediately after his stop, then began to drop back after experiencing "graining", when the surface of the tyre rips up, reducing grip.

The problem meant that in the closing laps Hamilton had to worry more about fending off a challenge from Webber than about trying to wrest sixth place from Massa.

Webber finished in the final points place in eighth place, ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.

The Finn started one place ahead of Hamilton on the grid but was far less convincing in battling up through the field.

He is now 21 points behind Hamilton and effectively out of the title chase with four races remaining.

Result after 53 laps:

1. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1 hr 26:47.494 sec
2. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 12.512 behind
3. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 20.471
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 23.903
5. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 27.748
6. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari 28.816
7. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren 29.912
8. Mark Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 32.048
9. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 39.468
10. Nelson Piquet (Brz) Renault 54.445
11. Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 58.888
12. Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams-Toyota 1:02.015
13. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:05.954
14. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:08.635
15. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:13.370
16. David Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1 lap
17. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1 lap
18. Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1 lap
19. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 2 laps
Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India-Ferrari 42 laps

see also
Berger tips Vettel for F1 glory
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton rues Monza tyre choice
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Italian Grand Prix as it happened
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Italian Grand Prix photos
14 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Vettel on pole at rain-hit Monza
13 Sep 08 |  Formula One
'Vindicated' Mosley returns to F1
13 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Ferrari keep Raikkonen until 2010
12 Sep 08 |  Formula One
McLaren discover date for appeal
12 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton finds little support
11 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton passed too soon - Massa
09 Sep 08 |  Formula One
Hamilton stripped of Belgian win
07 Sep 08 |  Formula One

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