Charles Leclerc admits his aggressive driving was right on the limit at times during the Italian Grand Prix but says standing on top of the Monza podium is better than he ever imagined.
Ferrari had not won its home race since 2010, but Leclerc followed his maiden victory in Belgium last weekend with a defensive drive from pole position. Holding off both Mercedes drivers, Leclerc was warned for his robust defense against Lewis Hamilton at one stage, but withstood the pressure to take victory at Monza on his first appearance as a Ferrari driver at the circuit.
“There was a lot going through my mind during the race and after the race,” Leclerc said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously it was very, very difficult during the race. Lewis was behind me and I think the biggest gap there was, was maybe 1.7 or 1.8s so he was always right behind me. I knew that Lewis rarely does mistakes, so obviously I had to stay on it.
“I did a few mistakes, which never cost me a position; one was very, very close but it was crazy. Finally in the last two laps I started to believe that the win was possible. The tires felt quite OK and I think with the traffic Valtteri (Bottas) dropped quite a bit and that helped me to get a little bit of space and then finally going over the line, I just let all my emotions out over the radio.
“I don’t think you can understand anything that I said on the radio but it felt absolutely amazing and the podium was also, going beyond my dreams I have had since a child. So many people cheering for one team, singing altogether, it was amazing.”
With Leclerc receiving the black and white flag to warn him of his driving when he squeezed Hamilton wide at the second chicane on Lap 23, the 21-year-old says it’s good that penalties aren’t instantly applied, even though he was unsure what his warning was originally for.
“I think since Austria it is clear that you can go a bit further in the way we defend and overtake and just the aggressiveness of us drivers. I believe that Austria helped me to change this approach and today, it’s also thanks to this that I managed to win. It was obviously very on the limit but I’m happy to race like this.
“I have been aware on the radio that I took a black and white flag for moving under braking but I’m not so sure for which move — if it’s the one at the right-hander where we were flat-out or after that.
“To be completely honest, I knew he was completely on the right. He braked a little bit early, which I think was because he didn’t want to try around the outside. I felt I had left a car width but I haven’t seen the images. I am pretty sure there was a car’s width.
“I think it’s good if we can race harder. I haven’t seen the images so I cannot comment on this case but overall I am happy if we can race harder.”