Leclerc wins Italian Grand Prix

08/09/2019
NEWS STORY

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.

Magnussen using all the track, and then some, in his efforts to hold off Perez.

The leading three are covered by 2.752s, as Vettel is handed a 10s stop and go penalty for "returning to the track in an unsafe manner", as his teammate is told the team is considering a switch to Plan B.

The German serves his penalty almost immediately, rejoining the race in last.

Verstappen is up to 16th, and is now hunting down Raikkonen.

"Uh, I've got this problem again, I'm losing power," reports the Dutchman, "but he is urged that all is OK.

Stroll is also given a drive-through for rejoining the race in an unsafe manner, albeit without the added 10s.

Despite his power issues, Verstappen makes short work of Raikkonen, who is under investigation for starting the race on the wrong tyres, the Finn having qualified on softs but started on the mediums.

As Albon passes Giovinazzi for 7th, and Stroll serves his penalty, Mercedes looks set for a pit stop, before the crew return to the garage.

"He's quicker than us," says Hamilton of Leclerc, as Verstappen closes on former teammate Gasly.

Albon is given a 5s penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage as he battled and passed Magnussen in the second chicane.

Raikkonen is given a 10s stop and go for starting with the wrong tyres.

As Hamilton pits at the end of lap 19, Leclerc reports that his rear tyres are gone. The urgency in the Ferrari driver's voice obvious. The Briton rejoins in 5th

Raikkonen serves his penalty.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 20, rejoining in 4th, just ahead of Hamilton, the Briton on mediums and the Monegasque on hards.

Despite DRS, Hamilton is unable to pass Leclerc on the following lap, the Ferrari driver getting a helpful tow from Hulkenberg.

Bottas is told to keep pushing "hard".

A great move sees Leclerc pass Hulkenberg in the Parabolica. Hamilton makes a move on the pair on the main straight but is unable to pass the Ferrari.

Hamilton attacks at the second chicane, but Leclerc isn't having it. The Briton overdoes it and had to cut the chicane.

Leclerc is given the black and white flag, indicating that his driver is "unacceptable" but without penalty. When told, he replies: "Why?"

Phew!

Despite having Hamilton all over his back, Leclerc posts a new fastest lap (21.121). "He's too fast on the straight," sighs the Briton.

As Bottas build a 17.7s, lead Leclerc makes short work of Ricciardo on the pit straight to take second. Hamilton subsequently follows through in the Parabolica.

Meanwhile, Verstappen is up to tenth.

Another fastest lap from Leclerc (23.532) on lap 26, as Albon pits. The Thai rejoins in 12th.

"I can't keep up with him," admits Hamilton, as Bottas pits, the Finn switching to mediums as he rejoins in 4th, between the Renault pair.

Sainz pulls to the side of the track, the Spaniard suffering a loose wheel just moments after his stop.

The VSC is deployed.

Kvyat pits, as do Perez and Gasly.

As the VSC is withdrawn, Hamilton is just 0.727s down on the leader.

As Hulkenberg pits, Hamilton makes another attack on the pit straight, but the Ferrari is just too quick.

Leclerc is closing on his Ferrari teammate, who is currently 17th. Will the German aid his teammate's cause for a second successive weekend?

The VSC is deployed again as Kvyat stops on track, spoke pouring from the back of the car.

Ricciardo pits, as do Kubica and Grosjean.

The VSC is withdrawn, and battle resumes.

Norris under intense pressure from Gasly, who is under pressure from Verstappen.

Despite the Frenchman's best efforts, his former teammate passes him in the first chicane.

As Leclerc and Hamilton close in, Vettel, just ahead, is shown the blue flag. The indignity.

Hamilton is closer than ever before on the main straight, but again he simply doesn't have the speed.

Meanwhile, Vettel is battling Russell for 14th.

"I need more power, man," urges Hamilton.

Man on a mission, Verstappen is all over Norris.

Magnussen pits after a massive lock-up at the first chicane that will have destroyed his tyres.

A lock-up for Leclerc in the first chicane allows Hamilton to close to within 0.2s. In the process the youngster missed part of the chicane, which will have been noted by the stewards.

Indeed, as the stewards admit that they have noted the incident, Hamilton says he is unhappy with Leclerc's tactics. "Some dangerous driving going on," he says.

"No investigation necessary," says the stewards of Leclerc.

As the pair continue to battle, Bottas is just 3s behind and on fresher rubber.

"My tyres are..." says Hamilton, but he is told to continue the pressure.

In the meantime, Ricciardo is fourth, ahead of Hulkenberg, Albon, Perez, Giovinazzi, Verstappen and Norris after 39 laps (of 53).

"No moving under braking Turn 4," Leclerc is told. "I didn't" he insists.

As Hamilton continues to harry the leader, Bottas is now just 1.3s behind.

As Hamilton locks-up at the first chicane and misses the corner, the crowd erupts.

And with that, Bottas takes up the challenge of attacking the leading Ferrari.

"Hunt him down, twelve laps to go," Bottas is told. The Finn is currently 2.076s behind.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 42, the German reduced to going for fastest lap seemingly. He rejoins in 15th.

"We are looking at options," Hamilton is told. There is no response from the world champion.

Game over for Magnussen who is back in his garage.

"Come on Valtteri, this is your win," the Finn is urged.

With the gap currently 1.7s, that's debatable.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Monza, here.

Indeed, a minor mistake sees the Finn lose precious time. Next time around however, he posts a new fastest lap (23.137).

Hamilton is now 7.9s down on the leader.

At the end of lap 49, Hamilton pits, the Briton rejoins still in third, as he sets about going for the fastest lap.

Bottas reels in the Ferrari on the pit straight, but a mistake in the first chicane would appear to end all hope. In the Mercedes garage, Toto Wolff winces.

Lap 51 sees Hamilton post a new fastest lap (21.779).

Sensing a famous victory, as Leclerc begins the final lap, the crowd rises.

Bottas is given party mode, but it's the tifosi that looks likely to do the partying.

Leclerc takes the flag, appropriately waved by another Ferrari legend, Jean Alesi.

"You've done it," the youngster is told, "Yes, yes, yes, yes," he screams.

Bottas takes second, ahead of Hamilton, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Albon, Perez, Verstappen, Giovinazzi and Norris.

Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Stroll, Vettel, Russell, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Kubica.

Some questionable moves by Leclerc, but under the circumstances, under that sort of pressure...

Not usually associated with great strategy, the decision to put the youngster on the hards was brilliant and ultimately paid off.

While some of the media reaction to Vettel in recent weeks has been distasteful, one has to admit that today - not for the first time - the German did himself no favours.

There's a new kid in town, and while Vettel's bid to repeat the success of his countryman Michael Schumacher has clearly failed, perhaps this young Monegasque heralds a new era for Maranello.

A great result for Renault, while Verstappen must be happy witheighth considering where he started and how his race almost came to grief at the first corner.

A good result for Perez also, who, lie Verstappen, started from the back.

As the tifosi begins the party, and the giant Ferrari banners fill the track, one has to laugh at the thought of this event ever dropping off the calendar.

This circuit, like no other inspires passion, a passion that still powers this sport.

There's nowhere else quite like it... especially when a red car wins.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Monza, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 08/09/2019
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