Gerhard Berger, the former grand prix driver who is the co-owner of the Toro Rosso team that celebrated their first victory at Monza on Sunday, says he has no doubt that Sebastian Vettel can follow in the footsteps of illustrious fellow German Michael Schumacher and become a multiple world champion.
Vettel surprised everyone by taking pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, and then going on to dominate a race in which the championship contenders Robert Kubica, Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton could finish only third, sixth and seventh respectively.
Berger won this same race for Ferrari 20 years ago to the week. That day, only seven after the legendary team founder Enzo Ferrari had died, Ayrton Senna tripped over backmarker Jean-Louis Schelsser and thereby McLaren failed to make a clean sweep of the season's 16 races. Berger, who later partnered Senna at McLaren, says he believes Vettel has similar qualities to the Brazilian, whom many still rate as the best driver ever seen in Formula One.
"Sebastian proved today he can win races," Berger said to autosport.com. "But he is going to win world championships. He is very good."
Berger won his own first grand prix with Benetton-BMW in Mexico in 1986, and went on to win races for Ferrari, McLaren and Benetton again on his return to that fold. Later, when he had retired as a driver, he experienced victory as part of the Williams-BMW team. But he said that winning as a team owner was an entirely new experience. "It's an unbelievable feeling," he said. "We've been extremely lucky to have the support of Red Bull for the basics of the car – it helps a lot. We have been building a nice little team."
The team manager Franz Tost said: "This was Vettel's race weekend. From Friday onwards he controlled the pace and the situation and today, from start to finish, he drove a fantastic race without any mistakes under very difficult circumstances.
"The team, under the direction of Giorgio Ascanell, also did a fantastically good job in terms of being prepared for the race and in how it executed the strategy and pit stops, and we can all be proud of what we have achieved. It was great to get this result here in Monza in our home grand prix and I am particularly happy for Gerhard, who has waited 20 years to get back on the Monza podium as a winner."
The veteran German motor sports writer Achim Schlang also predicts a big future for Vettel. "With Michael, he could speak well one-to-one, but the moment he tried to talk in public it was like the Russian chancellor. Sebastian is like a man who has been coached by a Hollywood producer. He is so lucid and so sharing with his emotions, that he is a breath of fresh air for Formula One. I think we will be hearing a lot more from him."