Events

Two In A Row For Leclerc: Ferrari Wins At Monza.

In a possible sign of the times, Ferrari and Charles Leclerc have combined to win for the second time in two weeks. What’s more, they did it on an Italian race track and one full of history. Pole sitter Leclerc squared his shoulders and held out a charge from Mercedes and Valterri Bottas to win by just 0.835 of a second. Lewis Hamilton was 35.199 behind Leclerc, whilst Renault locked out 4th and 5th, with a delighted Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg beating home both Red Bulls.

Crucially, it was Alexander Albon that was in 6th, ahead of Sergio Perez from Racing Point, Max Verstappen, Antonio Giovinazzi in his Alfa Romeo, and Lando Norris in his McLaren. Sebastian Vettel had yet another spin, and would finish a lap down in 13th. George Russell would finish 14, and Kimi raikkonen, who ultimately did cop a rear of grid penalty for an engine change after his qualifying crash, would finish 15th.Romain Grosjean and Robert Kubica rounded out the finishers, with Kevin Magnussen, who started 10th, Daniil Kvyat, and Carlos Sainz all non-finishers.

Leclerc got away to a blinder at the start, with pressure from Hamilton seeing Leclerc move slightly to the right and keeping the Mercedes at bay. Verstappen appeared to have been caught by traffic at the rear and suffered a broken front wing. A pit stop saw the Dutchman swap to softs from mediums. Albon and Sainz tangled on lap 2, with Albon not quite in the right place on a sweeping right hander and hitting the gravel trap. Hulkenberg had jumped Ricciardo at the start however the Australian regained his place on lap 5. Lap 7 and Vettel spins at Ascari corner, clipping both Lance Stroll and he ends up holding up Pierre Gasly. This shuffles Vettel back to P19 as his front wing is damaged from the impact. Later he is pinged for unsafe re-entry and cops a ten second penalty. Lap 14 is when he pulls in for the stop and go. Oddly, Stroll also cops a penalty for the same reason, however his is a drive-through.

Then it’s a flurry in the pits and Mercedes pits Hamilton, then Ferrari brings in Leclerc to answer. This has the Renaults temporarily leading the Ferrari whilst Bottas is race leader. It takes only a lap or two for Hamilton to challenge and Leclerc gives him no quarter, again keeping the Mercedes away. Hamilton radios in complaining that Leclerc is getting away from him on the straights. It’s lap 26 and Leclerc retakes his position from Ricciardo, whilst Bottas leads. That lead is eroded when he pits for fresh rubber and rejoins in 4th.

Shortly after it’s a Virtual Safety Car as a pit stop for Sainz goes awry. He’s released and a wheel is clearly not secured, coming loose. Leclerc is on hards and seems to be having trouble getting heat into his rubber. Lap 30 and yet again Ricciardo has yet to pit. Will Renault once again cruel his chances of points scoring? It matters for a moment as Kvyat pulls over with a smoking engine. Hamilton’s dogged determination forces Leclerc into an error, going hard over the kerbing. Renault continues to hold station, with Ricciardo and Hulkenberg looking good with pace.

Lap 40 and Leclerc gets the call: “Hamilton behind with DRS, no moving under braking Turn 4,”  with Leclerc’s terse response: “I don’t move.” 13 laps to go and Hamilton is once again on the radio saying he’s having tire issues. Bottas in 3rd waits for the crumbs. They come on lap 42 as Hamilton misses his braking point at the starting chicane. Bottas gets the call to go hunting and he has rubber that is seven laps younger than Leclerc. Lap 47 and Magnussen retires, citing hydraulic pressure problems. Leclerc is still under pressure but showing composure belying his youth.

Bottas closes to within 1.5 seconds but that seems to be about it. Hamilton pits with just 4 laps to go, he’s out of a win but can still get a podium plus a fastest lap bonus. Bottas digs deep, and goes deep, too deep, into that first turn chicane, giving Leclerc valuable breathing space. It’s all too late for Mercedes, with Leclerc taking the win and letting loose that pent up emotion from Spa. “Wahhhhhh, yessssss! Yes yes yes!!!”

It’s a win for the fans as well, with Ferrari taking a win for the first time since 2010, and in the 63rd time a race has been held at Monza.“No words to describe it,” said Leclerc. “I’ve never imagined, I’ve never dreamed of something like this before. It’s above everything I’ve ever imagined in my career to have such a podium.” This puts him ahead of Vettel and just three points adrift of a suddenly struggling Verstappen.

Hamilton, although still championship leader, isn’t happy with one aspect of the win. “It seems like the new generation get away with a lot more in that space, of how they manoeuvre their car compared to I’d say the more experienced drivers. But it’s good knowledge, now I know, and I look forward to the next one.” In opposition is Ricciardo, saying: “I want to give a special shout-out – obviously I’m happy for the whole team, but to the boys in Viry, building the engines. I think to get the best team result here in Monza on a power circuit since 2008 is a real statement. They’ve copped a lot of grief in the last few years and they’ve made some big gains this year on the power unit, so this one’s for them.” The result for Renault sees the team jump in the standings to 5th.

There’s some time to breathe now, with the next race the night race in Singapore on September 22.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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