Leclerc fends off Mercedes to win Italian thriller
Charles Leclerc withstood race long pressure from Mercedes to claim victory for Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix.
Having started from pole he saw off the challenge from Lewis Hamilton before hanging on ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the closing laps.
It was far from a perfect performance with small errors and some borderline defensive moves along the way, but at no point did Leclerc open the door for his rivals.
Bottas snared second ahead of Hamilton after a late mistake for the championship leader, who scored a point for fastest lap.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed fourth, one spot ahead of his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg to ensure a hefty haul of points for the Anglo-French team.
Having qualified on pole, Leclerc won the sprint to the opening corner while further back Max Verstappen left the road as the field charged into the first chicane.
The Dutchman found himself caught up in the concertina and appeared to be punted from the rear which sent him in turn into Sergio Perez.
The excursion cost him a front wing, Red Bull swapping him to the red walled soft tyres as they released him back into the race firmly in last place.
A fast starting Hulkenberg found his way through on Sebastian Vettel midway around the opening lap, the Ferrari driver promptly slipstreaming his way back through as they completed the lap.
On Lap 3 Albon found himself tucked up behind Carlos Sainz, the Thai driver attempting a move under brakes at the second chicane and briefly moving through only for the McLaren to move back by at corner exit.
Wheel to wheel into the first Lesmo, Albon found himself on the outside and ultimately bouncing through the gravel as Sainz took the racing line.
Four laps later Vettel spun at the Variante Ascari, the German clouting Lance Stroll as he rejoined into the path of the Racing Point.
The Canadian in turn forced Pierre Gasly off the road as rejoined the race, the Toro Rosso having to take to the gravel to avoid contact.
Stewards slapped Vettel with a 10 second stop-go penalty for his dangerous re-entry, a penalty which could not be served at his first stop and mandated a trundle down the lane specifically for the purpose of taking the punishment.
The four-time world champion dropped to last, some 20 seconds behind Romain Grosjean in 19th.
Stroll was given a drive through penalty for his own misdemeanour, dropping the Racing Point from 12th to 17th.
Having run wide through the run off at the second chicane while passing Kevin Magnussen, Albon was handed a five second penalty, served at his first stop after gaining advantage from leaving the circuit.
The busy steward’s room was pressed into action again, handing down a penalty to Kimi Raikkonen after the Alfa Romeo driver, who’d started from pit lane, was found to have started on the incorrect tyres.
The Finn should have had the set of soft compound tyres he used in Qualifying 2 fitted, but instead joined proceedings on a set of medium compound tyres and saw the Alfa Romeo called into the lane for a 10-second pit lane penalty.
At the end of the 20th lap race leader Leclerc stopped, a lap later than Hamilton had.
Though close into the opening chicane, Leclerc was not challenged as he maintained his advantage at the effective front of the race.
But while Mercedes had fitted a set of medium compound tyres, Leclerc had the hardest rubber fitted to his car.
The leader’s pit sequence saw Ricciardo run second for a time, though 15 seconds behind Bottas who’d opted to stay out longer than Hamilton to inherit the race lead.
In third place was Hulkenberg, who found himself embroiled in a battle for the effective race lead with Leclerc and Hamilton.
Drag racing down the front straight, Leclerc used perfect positioning to fend off Hamilton as the pair sailed by Hulkenberg.
Things then came to a head at the second chicane, Hamilton seemingly pushed onto the grass by the Ferrari driver who was shown the unsportsmanship flag for the move.
A botched pit stop for Sainz saw him leave the box with a loose front right wheel, the Spaniard pulling over to driver’s right at pit exit, briefly drawing the Virtual Safety Car.
Daniil Kvyat soon joined Sainz on the sidelines after parking his Toro Rosso by the first chicane, drawing the Virtual Safety Car for a second time when his Honda engine appeared to expire.
Renault took the opportunity to stop Ricciardo, solidifying his fourth place over team-mate Hulkenberg.
On Lap 33 race leader Leclerc caught and lapped Vettel in the sister car, his team leader running a lowly 15th following his earlier dramas.
He sportingly moved aside for both Leclerc and Hamilton, latching on to the leaders and using them to help him in his own battle with George Russell for 14th.
The lead battle continued unabated, Hamilton squarely in the DRS zone but unable to do anything with the straight line aero boost.
Finally Leclerc cracked under pressure, locking a brake into the opening chicane and bouncing over the kerb as he rejoined still in the lead.
Hamilton immediately attacked, but was unable to find a way through at the second chicane.
Race control noted Leclerc’s excursion but elected not to investigate or penalise the Monegasque driver.
The battle at the front allowed Bottas to close in courtesy of tyres that were eight laps fresher than Hamilton’s.
A mistake from the Englishman under braking for the first chicane on Lap 42 saw him take to the escape road and allow Bottas to move through without challenge.
Like Hamilton, Bottas wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge on Leclerc out front, his charge stalling just over a second adrift of the Ferrari.
That was the way they ran to the finish, Leclerc over Bottas whose charge seemed to come to an end with three laps to run when he went deep at the first chicane.
Though he closed back to within a second of the race leader on the final tour Leclerc didn’t put a foot wrong and claimed his second career win, and his second in a week.
With a pit stop in his pocket Hamilton stopped late in an attempt to steal the extra point for fastest lap, rejoining without losing a position.
Ricciardo headed a Renault fourth and fifth for their best result of the season, while Albon recovered to sixth.
Perez was the sole Racing Point in the points, one spot up from Verstappen who stopped twice en route from the back of the grid.
The top 10 was rounded out by Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris.
Result: Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix
|6||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Honda||53||+59.315s|
|7||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point Mercedes||53||+73.802s|
|8||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Honda||53||+74.492s|
|9||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|10||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||52||+1 lap|
|11||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso Honda||52||+1 lap|
|12||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point Mercedes||52||+1 lap|
|13||5||Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|14||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap|
|15||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|16||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|17||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||51||+2 laps|
|NC||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||43||DNF|
|NC||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso Honda||29||DNF|
|NC||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||27||DNF|
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton
|3||Red Bull Racing Honda||266|
|6||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||51|
|7||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||46|
|8||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||34|