Leclerc holds off Mercedes pair to win in Italy

Image by Steven Tee/LAT

Leclerc holds off Mercedes pair to win in Italy

Formula 1

Leclerc holds off Mercedes pair to win in Italy


Charles Leclerc held off intense pressure from both Mercedes cars to win the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari as teammate Sebastian Vettel made a calamitous error.

Fresh from an emotional first win at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, Leclerc led from pole position and had to defend against first Lewis Hamilton and then Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes was able to try different strategies against the lone leading Ferrari.

Leclerc battled Hamilton intensely much of the way. Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT

Vettel had dropped behind Nico Hulkenberg at the start of the race but re-took fourth place at the start of the second lap. However, as he tried to close a small gap to Valtteri Bottas, Vettel spun at the Ascari chicane on Lap 6 and then pulled out in front of traffic, hitting Lance Stroll and spinning the Racing Point.

The four-time world champion — who spun on the opening lap at Monza a year ago — was handed a 10-second stop/go penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner, the harshest penalty before a disqualification.

Stroll in turn rejoined the track in front of Pierre Gasly and forced the Toro Rosso into the gravel during a bizarre and amateurish spell of racing, picking up a drive-through penalty himself.

Vettel spins, then incurs a penalty. Image by Andy Hone/LAT

With Vettel out of the picture, Mercedes could split strategies in an attempt to beat Leclerc, with Hamilton pitting on Lap 19 for medium tires and Leclerc covering him on the next lap but opting for hards. Bottas could run much longer — for an extra seven laps in total — before fitting mediums himself.

Hamilton was then first to attack Leclerc, sitting within a second of the Ferrari for a number of laps but struggling to make a strong move into Turn 1 due to Ferrari’s straight-line speed advantage. Soon after the pit stops, Hamilton got one chance when Leclerc passed Hulkenberg into Parabolica but gave up the benefit of a tow, and Hamilton got close through the first chicane and could run side-by-side into the second.

Leclerc defended the inside line but then squeezed Hamilton under braking, forcing the championship leader to take to the escape road and earning Leclerc a black and white flag warning him of his driving.

Just as Leclerc was looking like he wouldn’t make an error, the 21-year-old locked up into Turn 1 and cut the second part of the chicane, allowing Hamilton a run on him. Again a tough defense followed as the Mercedes had to lift, with the stewards noting the missed chicane but opting against any investigation.

With Hamilton on a softer compound than Leclerc, his tires started to degrade and Bottas had been using his newer Pirellis to close in. Hamilton then locked up and missed Turn 1, rejoining behind Bottas as the Finn took up the charge for the final 13 laps.

While Bottas was soon within a second of Leclerc, there were no further major mistakes from the leader even though the Mercedes was often within in DRS range. Both drivers made slight errors in a sign of how hard they were pushing, but Leclerc held on to take back-to-back victories and the first for Ferrari at Monza since 2010.

Leclerc takes the checkered flag waved by former Ferrari F1 racer Jean Alesi. Image by Steven Tee/LAT

Behind Hamilton in third, it was a significant day for Renault as Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth and Hulkenberg fifth after an excellent performance, with the Australian losing out at the start but then overtaking his teammate on lap five using DRS.

Renault’s return was made all the more significant as McLaren — fourth in the constructors’ championship — only scored a solitary point courtesy of Lando Norris in 10th after Carlos Sainz was forced to retire from sixth after his right-front wheel wasn’t fitted properly during his pit stop.

Alex Albon took sixth after an incident-filled start to his race, battling Sainz early on and coming off second best. Albon dived down the inside into the second chicane with a strong move but Sainz fought back into the first Lesmo and had the inside line. As Albon tried to hang on around the outside, he was forced wide into the gravel and lost two positions at the time.

There was a worse start for Albon’s teammate as Max Verstappen ran into the rear of Sergio Perez at Turn 1 after misjudging how much the field would bunch up, breaking his rear wing. After an immediate stop for a new wing and tires, Verstappen needed a second stop later on and climbed back into eighth place but couldn’t find a way past Perez in the final stages after complaining of power unit concerns earlier on.

Antonio Giovinazzi kept out of trouble to pick up the best result of his career to date with ninth place, just ahead of Norris. Gasly was limited to 11th after the incident with Stroll, who came home 12th as a result of his penalty, one position ahead of Vettel.

Although Giovinazzi scored, Kimi Raikkonen had a day to forget when he received a 10-second stop/go penalty for starting the race on the wrong tires, despite doing so from the pit lane after taking a new power unit overnight. Raikkonen finished behind George Russell’s Williams but still beat Romain Grosjean — who spun exiting Ascari early on — and Robert Kubica, with Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat the other two drivers to retire.