Monza, Italy, Sept 11, 2011 (Gordon Howard / AFP) - Sebastian Vettel shed tears here on Sunday after moving to within sight of retaining his Formula One drivers' world championship with a comprehensive victory for Red Bull in the Italian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old German now leads the title chase by 112 points ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari in the 2011 title race.
Vettel fought back his emotions as he stood atop the podium, elevated above the start-finish straight on which thousands of Italian fans packed together after the traditional post-race invasion.
Tears ran slowly down his cheeks during the anthems as, he said later, he reflected on his feelings three years on from his maiden victory at the same circuit and in the same event in 2008, when he took pole and won the race in torrential rain, for the Toro Rosso team.
"I was emotional and I was thinking of all those things, everything that happened," admitted Vettel. "Here, the podium is unbelievable. You feel so blessed. The view is incredible with all the people below. There is nowhere like it anywhere else
and the emotions are so strong.
"Today, the car was amazing in qualifying, and it was even better today. It's very special for me to win here again. It was such a race, too. I didn't get the best start and I was on the grass, but it all worked out thanks to the team."
Jenson Button finished second in the leading McLaren, the Englishman taking full advantage of a battle between his team-mate and compatriot Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, 42, of Mercedes, to finish on the podium after a typically well-judged drive.
Alonso took third to the delight of the tifosi who invaded the circuit at the finish to cheer their famous team's colours on the elevated podium. He said: "Well done to the whole team. There was a lot of stress racing here in Italy, a lot of pressure for all of us, but we did the best job possible. It's a great achievement to get on the podium here and a fantastic feeling."
Hamilton, frustrated initially by Schumacher and ultimately by Alonso in the closing laps, came home fourth, just a few metres behind Alonso with Schumacher, a five-times winner at Monza, finishing fifth for Mercedes thanks to another performance that stirred memories of his halcyon days as a supreme champion.
Mercedes team chief Ross Brawn, who twice reminded Schumacher not to make two defensive blocking moves during the race when he aggravated Hamilton with his tactics, defended his driver afterwards.
He said: "I think Michael drove a fantastic race. We know we haven't got the fastest car, but we have seen everything we know about Michael Schumacher. The FIA were watching it (the incident with Hamilton) and asking us to be careful.
"It is a balance between racing and not overstepping the mark. They asked us to be careful, which we were. It was great racing - and great for F1."
Schumacher said: "It was a fun afternoon. I think so my racing was clean and fair. As far as I was concerned there was no request to see the stewards, so I guess all is in order."
Hamilton, clearly disappointed, wore large dark glasses and a low-peaked baseball cap during his post-race interviews.
Almost with a dismissive sense of irony, he said: "It was a good race. I got some points and I finished, so I can't complain at all..
"It was racing."
Vettel's win was his eighth of the season and the 18th of his exceptional, if brief career, bringing him also his 31st podium finish in only his 75th race - a record that hoists him into the company of many of the sport's greatest.
Vettel's huge points lead ahead of Alonso means he is now likely to win his second title at the Japanese Grand Prix in early October providing he does not suffer any catastrophic setback at the Singapore Grand Prix later this month.
In the standings, Vettel now leads with 284 points ahead of Alonso on 172, Button and Mark Webber on 167 and Hamilton on 158. "It's all over now, isn't it, mate?" said Vettle's teammate Webber. I think the rest of us are just racing for second place now."