Reuters: Sebastian Vettel wiped away tears of delight on an emotional return to the Italian Grand Prix podium on Sunday as a sea of fans, most of them in Ferrari red, flooded the Monza pit straight.
They would have cheered louder had Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso repeated last year’s win on home soil instead of finishing third, but many also have a lingering affection for Red Bull’s German champion.
They may also, perhaps many years down the line, eventually cheer him as one of their own.
Their passion, Vettel left nobody in any doubt, was shared and soaked up as the 24-year-old celebrated an eighth win of the season that left him possibly only one race away from a second successive crown.
It was at Monza in 2008 that Vettel took the first win of his Formula One career with Toro Rosso, Italy’s ‘other’ grand prix team.
“This circuit means a lot to me and has been very special,” he said.
“I got my first win here so when I crossed the line I remembered every single bit and the podium is unbelievable ... so many people underneath and coming all the way, even from Curva Grande.
“It is the best podium in the world. The only thing that could make it better is probably wearing a red suit,” he added, even as the Ferrari fans continued to chant and unfurl their flags.
“I think all the people who had a Red Bull shirt or flag were very happy but the majority came here this morning dressed in red,” he continued.
“Fair enough, it’s Ferrari’s home grand prix. It’s an atmosphere that all the other teams are allowed to enjoy as well ... before the race, down on the grid, I thought looking at the grandstands ... life doesn’t get much better than this.”
It could be that Vettel one day ends up in that red suit, although Alonso is contracted until at least 2016, but domination with Red Bull will do for the present.
“We will see what happens in the future,” said Vettel. “But for now I am very, very happy. I think the story has been unbelievable so far.
“I owe a lot to Red Bull. Without them I wouldn’t be here. They gave me the chance when I was just a little kid, 12 years old, it goes back a long way ... but of course, one day, you don’t know what is happening. We will see.”
Despite his previous win, Red Bull Racing had not had a driver on the Monza podium since they entered the sport in 2005.
Vettel made up for that several times over and also avenged Ferrari winning his team’s home race at Silverstone in July.
Putting everything into perspective, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner hailed a “phenomenal race” and then dedicated the victory to female team member Erin Pezzella who died of cancer earlier in the week.