by Romano Lupi with Eleonora Pedron
MONACO. The Monegasque Pilot Charles Leclerc secured Ferrari’s first victory at their home Italian Grand Prix since 2010 on Sunday 8 September 2019 when he resisted race-long pressure from both Mercedes rivals to claim his second successive Formula One triumph.
The 21-year-old Monegasque, who dedicated his maiden win last Sunday to the memory of his late friend Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in an F2 race a day earlier, was exultant as a vast army of fans in an estimated crowd of more than 150,000 “tifosi” celebrated deliriously.
“What a race!” said an exhausted Leclerc. “I have never felt so tired in a race. It was so difficult. Winning here is just a dream,” continued the Monegasque, switching to fluent Italian to address a crowd cheering a fitting win on the 90th anniversary of both Monza and Formula One’s most glamorous team. “Last weekend [in Belgium] was my first victory, but the emotion of winning here is 10 times that,” said Leclerc, in only his 14th race for Ferrari. “Thanks to everybody. I have no words.” Lelcerc came home narrowly ahead of second-placed Valtteri Bottas and his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who pursued the victor for most of the race until his tyres let him down. After a late pit stop, Hamilton then claimed the fastest lap of the race. Hamilton’s lead over his closest rival Bottas was cut to 62 points from 65, with the Briton limiting the damage by making a late pitstop for fresh tyres to set the fastest lap and gain an extra point.
“He did a great job, congratulations to Ferrari,” said Hamilton. “A lot of pressure from both Valtteri and I. I did the best I could. Obviously following so closely for such a long time, the tyres eventually just went off the cliff. Hamilton apologised to Mercedes and said his tyres “had gone off the cliff…. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to pull it off,” he said. “But nevertheless they were just quicker today, quicker in a straight line, so even if we did get close we couldn’t pass. So not our day but still strong points for the team,” added the 34-year-old.
Hamilton hounded Leclerc, especially after pitting at the end of lap 19 and emerging on medium tyres. Leclerc pitted a lap later and although he managed to come out in front of Hamilton, he was on hard tyres. Shortly afterward, Hamilton almost got past but Leclerc held him off in a move that ended with the Mercedes on the grass. Leclerc was given a black and white warning flag for that but no penalty. Another defensive move from Leclerc later in the race had Hamilton saying on team radio: “Some dangerous driving going on here.” However, any hope Hamilton had of snatching victory slipped away with 11 laps remaining as he made a mistake at the first corner, ending up on the escape road and allowing Bottas to take second. With that, Hamilton gave up his pursuit of Leclerc and instead pitted for fresh tyres in order to set the fastest lap and get the bonus point.
Bottas took over the attack on Leclerc and, on fresher tires, kept gaining but locked up with two laps remaining, paving the way for an emotional win for Leclerc. Leclerc’s German team-mate Sebastian Vettel had a miserable race as he was given a 10-second stop/go penalty early on for returning to the track unsafely after spinning off at the Ascari chicane and almost causing an accident with Lance Stroll. Vettel, a four-time world champion, finished 13th and a lap behind Leclerc. Daniel Ricciardo came home fourth ahead of his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, Red Bull new boy Alex Albon, Sergio Perez of Force India and Max Verstappen, who finished eighth after starting from 19th in the second Red Bull. Local hero Antonio Giovinazzi came home ninth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren, who continued his impressive rookie season.
The air temperature was 20 degrees Celsius and the track 33 as the lights went out, Leclerc making a clean start and fending off Hamilton at the first chicane. Verstappen was an opening lap casualty and required a pit stop for a new front wing and a set of hard tyres, after a collision at the first chicane.
After a wheel-banging battle between Albon and Sainz, Leclerc clocked a fastest lap and then Vettel spun at Ascari, clipping Lance Stroll’s Racing Point as he re-joined.
Both cars were damaged, Vettel pitting for a new front wing.
Vettel was given a 10-seconds stop-and-go penalty and dropped to last.
By lap 19, Hamilton and Vettel had warned their tyres were gone, the Briton pitting immediately for ‘mediums’ as Mercedes went for the ‘under-cut’.
He fell to fifth, but Leclerc hung on to pit a lap later for ‘hards’ and return fourth as the champion roared down the straight.
The two fought ferociously, Hamilton attempting to pass twice, the second attack ending with him escaping across the grass. “He didn’t leave me a car’s width,” said Hamilton.
The stewards agreed and Leclerc was shown a black-and-white flag, warning him to behave.
“I need more power, man,” exclaimed Hamilton after another foiled attack as Leclerc surged out of range again.
On lap 36, Leclerc kept his lead by scampering across the run-off at the first chicane.
“Some dangerous driving here,” reported Hamilton as the stewards noted the incident and Bottas, remorselessly fast, closed to within three seconds in third.
His tyres worn, with 10 laps to go, Hamilton out-braked himself and ran into the first chicane escape road. Bottas passed for second and the hunt was on. “I’ve nothing left in these tyres,” said Hamilton.
Bottas cut the lead to a second, but the ice-cool Monegasque tyro hung on, his harder rubber keeping him ahead, while Hamilton pitted with three laps to go to seek an additional point for fastest lap.