Sebastian Vettel has admitted that he may on the face of it be taking a 'step back' in 'graduating' from Scuderia Toro Rosso to parent outfit Red Bull Racing in Formula 1 in 2009, but he is hopeful that – as he did this season – he can ultimately turn it into a 'step forward'.
The German – already the youngest points-scorer in the 58-year history of the top flight – added to that record with those of youngest pole position sitter and youngest race-winner when he sensationally triumphed in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza back in September.
Even now, he admits, he still has to pinch himself to believe that it's true – particularly given the less-than impressive manner in which STR began the campaign.
“[I learned] to never, ever give up!” he joked in an interview with the official Formula 1 website. “We started 2008 with the B-version of the '07 car and that caused us numerous retirements. Performance-wise too we were not where we would have liked to be.
“I had four retirements at the beginning of the season. That was quite a difficult situation, because I came to race after race and did not manage to finish. That caused some quite frayed nerves, so the need of the moment was to not give up.
“Me and the team were refocusing every single time; we didn't back off or try to take less risks – we always tried to stay aggressive and in the end that paid off. With the arrival of the new car – the STR3 – in Monaco we could bank on both our mental strength and a competitive car.
“That made the post-Monaco races so pleasant. Before we were always thinking of positions around 15th or 16th – on a good race day possibly even 13th – but after Monaco our results horizon expanded significantly.
“You usually don't change cars mid season as we did. It was seen by many as quite a risky move, but for us it was the dead-right decision – and it gave us a dream second half of the season. Everything changed after Monaco, and when we added some updates towards the end of the season our performance level was going up further. We can still hardly believe that we scored so many points – and even won a race! It's phenomenal.”
Indeed, come season's end Vettel and STR's performance was strong enough to see him hassle – and overtake – the McLaren-Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in the Brazilian Grand Prix finale at Interlagos. Acknowledging the Briton as one of his top three drivers in the sport – along with Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica ('I never judge myself. Someone else has to mention me – hopefully') – he admitted that it was a real sign of the small Faenza-based squad's progress over the course of the campaign that he had been able to challenge the newly-crowned 2008 F1 World Champion.