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Leclerc wins Italian Grand Prix

NEWS STORY
08/09/2019

Following yesterday's shambolic qualifying session, one would like to think that fans are owed a decent race today.

Sadly however, most of the excitement provided by the Autodromo Nazionale Monza these days takes place on the first lap.

The mad scramble through the first and second chicanes could well decide the finishing order, with Sebastian Vettel, in particular, aware that here is where it all began to go awry last year.

The same aerodynamic principles that provided all the fun in qualifying will today work to the detriment of fans enjoyment, as the true extent of how difficult it is to follow a car is shown in all its glory.

Assuming we can get through the first couple of chicanes unscathed, we might (fingers firmly crossed) still see Ferrari go head-to-head with Mercedes, while Max Verstappen starting from the back is surely going to be worth the price of admission alone.

As was the case last week, the grid bears little resemblance to the order in which the drivers finished qualifying, Sergio Perez joining Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris at the back of the grid after changing engines overnight and Kimi Raikkonen starting from the pitlane after he too changed engines.

The big surprise of qualifying - other than the obvious - is that the Renaults (and Sainz) start ahead of Albon, indeed pretty much the rest of the field.

While Daniel Ricciardo has been pretty vocal in terms of the French engine's power, it remains to be seen if reliability is also improved.

In Belgium, Ferrari had the clear power advantage, while Mercedes had the race pace, however, in Monza the Italian team's advantage has been nothing like expected. Whether Charles Leclerc, or Sebastian Vettel, can give the tifosi its first Ferrari win since 2010 remains to be seen, while the first 1-2 since 2004 appears overly optimistic.

As F1 bids farewell to Europe, other than Japan and Brazil, and to a certain extent USA and Mexico, this is the last chance for the cars to really stretch their legs, and while overtaking is difficult it is not impossible.

While the drivers' title appears done and dusted, there is still much to fight for, not least those drivers either hoping to retain their seats or find gainful employment elsewhere. Furthermore, in terms of the all-important Constructors' Championship - that which decides the prize money - every single point won (or lost) is vital.

As ever, there remains a big question mark in terms of the weather. All week we have been told that it would rain today, much like they correctly predicted for Friday. There was even talk of thunderstorms.

However, today they are predicting that the rain won't arrive until long after the race - yet ominous dark clouds are visible in the sky.

As for tyres, the optimal strategy is a one-stopper, but of course that depends on the weather. Assuming it stays dry the fastest strategy is to start on the softs and change to the mediums on lap 22. That's what the top 10 here are seemingly banking on - no pun intended.

Very close is another one stop strategy, starting on the softs, then changing for the hards after 19 laps. Slightly slower than that is another one-stopper, starting on the mediums and changing onto the hards after 24 laps.

A two-stopper is distinctly slower, so only to be considered if wear and degradation on the soft is higher than expected (in case of warmer weather, for example). In which case, drivers would start on the softs, softs again on lap 16, then mediums around lap 32.

If it rains, it's a question of reacting to changing circumstances and opportunities (such as safety cars). The teams gathered considerable information about the intermediate tyres and crossover points on Friday, which will certainly help in the decision-making process under those circumstances.

The pitlane opens in bright sunshine, and one by one the drivers head out.

Air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32.9 degrees.

As Vettel reports that his drinks bottle is leaking, Russell reports some oscillation when he launched. "It felt like wheelspin, but I don't think it was."

The drivers assemble for one of the best national anthems on the calendar.

With impeccable timing, as the anthem reaches its conclusion, the Italian equivalent of the Red Arrows pass overhead, filling the sky with the colours of the tricilore in smoke.

Other than the top ten, who all start on the softs, Magnussen and Grosjean are also on the red-banded rubber, while Kvyat, Russell, Kubica, Norris, Gasly, Perez, Verstappen and Raikkonen are all on mediums.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap, red flares from the grandstands adding to the smoky residue from that fly-past.

As the grid forms the atmosphere is palpable.

They're away. Leclerc and Hamilton get away side-by-side, while Vettel is a little slow off the line. Bottas and Vettel move across the track as the Renaults and Norris look for a gap.

Bottas gets alongside his teammate in the second part of the first chicane, but Hamilton has the line. Meanwhile, at the back of the field, a number of drivers have missed the chicane and taken the escape route following an incident.

Grosjean and Perez appear to miss the first chicane, Verstappen gets clouted from behind by Raikkonen, which causes the Red Bull driver to damage his wing as he, in turn, clouts the Mexican.

Hulkenberg passes Vettel in the second chicane, with Ricciardo also sizing up the German.

Leclerc leads Hamilton, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Vettel, Ricciardo, Stroll, Sainz, Albon and Giovinazzi.

As Vettel passes Hulkenberg on the main straight, Verstappen pits for a new front wing and soft tyres, which surely can't last the distance.

Albon is all over Sainz, as Kubica is up to 14th.

A bold move sees Albon nail Sainz in the second chicane, however the Spaniard fights back and has the inside at the first Lesmo. The Thai runs wide and loses a number of positions in the process.

The stewards have noted the first lap incident involving Raikkonen, Perez, Grosjean and Verstappen.

Ricciardo passes his Renault teammate for 5th as Leclerc has a 1.5s lead over Hamilton.

Down in 11th following his off, Albon is all over Magnussen. Teammate Verstappen remains 20th.

A spin for Vettel in Ascari brings out the yellows, the German making a real meal of getting back on track and damaging his front wing in the process as he is clouted by Stroll. The Canadian's efforts to get back on track after spinning following the contact almost collecting a hapless Toro Rosso.

The German pits and rejoins in last position on hards.

Grosjean pits following a spin at Ascari and rejoins in last.

Elsewhere, Albon misses the second chicane as he battles with Magnussen.

After 8 laps, Hamilton says he's Struggling, but "just a little bit".

Consequently, behind Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas, it's the Renault pair and Sainz.

Giovinazzi is seventh, ahead of Albon, Kvyat and Magnussen. Verstappen is 18th, 20s ahead of Vettel.

The Vettel/Stroll incident is under investigation.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Monza, here.

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