Those were the words Sebastian Vettel uttered as he crossed the finishing line at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on September 14th 2008 and became an F1 race winner for the first time.
He won the Italian Grand Prix driving an Italian car powered by an Italian Ferrari engine. Seven years later, Vettel has been reunited with the most evocative name in motor racing.
In that time no Ferrari driver has claimed the sport’s ultimate prize. Vettel’s mission is to put that right.
Into Alonso’s seat…
The first person to congratulate Vettel after he climbed from his Toro Rosso was Fernando Alonso. Since then an intense rivalry has developed between the pair, and Alonso’s view of his rival’s accomplishments is a perspective shared by some.
“It’s true that he had an advantage in car performance all these years,” said Alonso in 2013, “so we see how good he is later in the career.”
Of course the irony of Vettel taking Alonso’s place at Ferrari is that much of his success at Red Bull came the expense of his new team. In 2010 and 2012 Vettel broke Ferrari hearts by denying Alonso the championship at the final race of the season.
Those defeats rankled with the Tifosi. Their cheers may have greeted his maiden victory but at his most recent Monza triumph they were replaced with jeers. It was the man stood beside him who enjoyed the crowd’s approval: Alonso.
The needle between the pair heightened in 2012, when the championship resolved into a two-way fight between the pair. Monza had been a flashpoint the year before: Vettel accused Alonso of forcing him off the track at high speed in the Curva Grande. In 2012 he returned the favour – and was penalised – but went on to take his third of four consecutive titles.
Alonso will be a difficult act for Vettel to follow at Ferrari. He seldom gave anyone cause to believe he was extracting less than the maximum available from the car. He annihilated Felipe Massa over four seasons and the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen last year made not one iota of difference to the balance of power.
While Vettel expects an easy relationship with his new team mate, both drivers have reputations to rebuild after difficult 2014 campaigns. The sight of Raikkonen being so emphatically eclipsed by Alonso was as great a surprise as the difficulty Vettel had alongside Daniel Ricciardo.
It is tempting to draw comparisons between Vettel’s move to Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s move in 1996. Like his predecessor, Vettel is eyeing the challenge of winning the championship with a different team, and is drawn to the undeniable emotional appeal of Ferrari.
A driver who has won four world championships cannot be described as something less than a great of the sport. But the ultimate example of the sport’s elite won titles with more than one team – something which Alonso is also trying to do.
But these are different times for Ferrari. When Schumacher arrived Jean Todt had already been team principal for two years, and the process of dragging Ferrari from its early-nineties slump was well underway.
Vettel, however, has joined Ferrari as they are in a state of flux. Since his hiring was announced they have jettisoned their team principal, chief designer, director of engineering and director of tyre development. The director of engine and electronics was shown the door in July, and three months before that the poor performance of their power unit cost the previous team principal his job.
The hard truth for Ferrari at the beginning of 2015 is that last year they produced the only power unit which failed to win a race, and their two drivers for this season have struggled with the latest generation of cars.
While the Red Bulls of 2011 and 2013 were almost unstoppable, Vettel’s 2010 and 2012 titles were harder-fought affairs. However the simple fact that he won four titles in a row will lead some to share Alonso’s view that we are yet to see how good Vettel really is.
There will be no room for such doubts if Vettel does win the championship with Ferrari, and succeeds where Alonso failed. But Schumacher’s example is a cautionary tale.
The Ferrari Schumacher joined in 1996 was in a state of evolution, not revolution. And even then he still had to wait five years for his first world championship in red. Vettel may get there too, but it could be a long time until everything is “perfetto”.
2015 F1 season
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- The Complete F1 Fanatic 2015 season review