Leclerc battles Mercedes to take brilliant victory at Monza

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Italy, Autodromo Nazionale di Monzait

Charles Leclerc has demonstrated exactly why he is so highly rated, driving an impeccable race while fending off repeated challenges from Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, who completed the podium.

Despite a lot of talk about Saturday's qualifying, especially involving the matter of the slow out lap at the end, no penalties were given. Reprimands were handed to Hulkenberg, Sainz and Stroll, but they were all without implications for the starting grid.

This means Leclerc could launch from the front of the grid, ahead of both Mercedes, Vettel and then both Renaults.

When the lights went out, Lerclec moved right to defend his position, which worked out well to maintain his advantage. Bottas attempted to profit from that, but Hamilton moved back up into second through the chicane. Nico Hulkenberg did the best job, gaining 2 positions - on Ricciardo and Vettel, but Vettel easily managed to get back into fourth thanks to a much better top speed.

Stroll also moved up, past Sainz and into 7th place.

Meanwhile, at the back, Verstappen had a bit of an incident and immediately had to get back to the pits after lap 1 to take on a new front wing, making a return to the front of the field more difficult than it already was.

On lap 7 there was work on hand for the Ferrari mechanics, as Vettel spun at Ascari. He avoided damage, but then decided to come back on track in the path of Lance Stroll, breaking his front wing on the rear wheel of the Racing Point. Vettel continued to the pits, and Stroll then did the same to Gasly by going back out on track with another car coming up. Gasly only just managed to avoid a collision, but had to go wide on the gravel to do so.

Vettel, who switched to medium tyres to go to the end of the race, was later given a 10s stop-and-go for his unsafe return to the track.

Moments later, Grosjean also did a near-spin on the exit of Ascari. He managed to stay on track and get going immediately, but that won't be a good affair for his Pirelli tyres.

By lap 10, Hamilton started complaining a bit about his soft tyres, though he still managed to stay at about 1.2s of Leclerc. Bottas was at a similar margin behind his teammate while Ricciardo, who had passed Hulkenberg on lap 4, followed 10s further down. Verstappen by then had moved up into 17th and recorded a few fastest laps, thanks to having switched to the softest tyres on his pitstop.

On lap 20, Hamilton was the first of the top 10 to pit, changing to medium tyres. He returned to the track just ahead of Sainz, and at Roggia already locked up the front tyres.

Ferrari responded by pitting Leclerc the next lap, in a stop that was 3 tenths quicker than Hamilton's. Additionally, Leclerc changed to hard tyres. Lerclec did return to the track ahead of Hamilton, but his 1.5s advantage from before the stop had clearly been cut in half. Together, they soon ended up behind Hulkenberg.

Leclerc went on to make a gutsy move past the Renault through Parabolica. Hamilton followed through at the chicane, and ended up in a position to challenge Leclerc at Roggia. The Mercedes driver was aside and on the outside of Leclerc as they approached the corner, but Leclerc squeezed so hard that it triggered a complaint from Hamilton and a black and white flag for Leclerc.

Two laps later, the duo arrived with Ricciardo, but this time, Lerclec held off to make his pass only at the Chicane, forcing Hamilton to get the Renault at La Roggia, and in the event ensuring a comfortable entry at Roggia for the Ferrari driver.

As Hamilton continued to put the pressure on Leclerc, continuously staying within DRS range, Bottas pitted on lap 27 to change to mediums. He returned to the track in fourth place, 3 seconds behind Ricciardo. The Renault driver was struggling through with old softs, and was easily cleared

One lap later, Sainz pitted, but soon found his right front wheel not properly fixed, meaning he stopped at the end of the pitlane to retire from the race. The event caused a brief Virtual Safety Car period.

On lap 29, Hulkenberg finally pitted, and the next lap, Ricciardo did as well, able to do so in another VSC period due to Kvyat's stoppage just after the chicane. The Russian suffered a power unit issue on his Toro Rosso.

Hamilton didn't concede in the next laps, with threatening moments for Leclerc that eventually forced him to miss the apex of the chicane. Some tough defensive driving in the run up to Variante Roggia followed, but no penalties were handed, as the stewars "noted" the incidents. Bottas meanwhile happily cut into the lead of the guys ahead, down to 2.8s with 15 laps to go.

By lap 41, Bottas was at just 1.2s of Hamilton, making for a complicated situation for Mercedes, given that Bottas is on much fresher tyers. Then, in one of his rare mistakes, Hamilton too missed the chicane, enabling Bottas to take second place.

Hamilton seemed to ease off a bit after that, lapping around half a second a lap slower than Leclerc, while Bottas did 2 to 3 tenths better than the Ferrari ahead of him. On lap 45, with 8 left, this meant a gap of 1.2s between the two upfront, with Hamilton trailing them at 4s.

Daniel Ricciardo, the closest challenger in 4th, was by then already 36s behinds, and another 12s ahead of Hulkenberg in 5th.

Another fastest lap by Bottas on lap 48 didn't help much, as Bottas had trouble getting as close to the leader as Hamilton managed for numerous laps after their pitstops.

4 laps from the end, Hamilton pitted and switched to a used set of softs to chase the fastest lap, a feat he managed straight away to take that additional championship point.

The final lap started with a gap of 0.771s between Leclerc and Bottas, but it was clear that Bottas was having to do all he could, while Leclerc continued to lap extremely error free to take the tifosi to heaven, gaining victory for Ferrari where it matters most.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
116Charles LeclercFerrari531:15:26.66525
277Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG53+0.835s18
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG53+35.199s16
43Daniel RicciardoRenault53+45.515s12
527Nico HulkenbergRenault53+58.165s10
623Alexander AlbonRed Bull Racing Honda53+59.315s8
711Sergio PerezRacing Point BWT Mercedes53+73.802s6
833Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda53+74.492s4
999Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari52+1 lap2
104Lando NorrisMcLaren Renault52+1 lap1
1110Pierre GaslyScuderia Toro Rosso Honda52+1 lap0
1218Lance StrollRacing Point BWT Mercedes52+1 lap0
135Sebastian VettelFerrari52+1 lap0
1463George RussellWilliams Mercedes52+1 lap0
157Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari52+1 lap0
168Romain GrosjeanHaas Ferrari52+1 lap0
1788Robert KubicaWilliams Mercedes51+2 laps0
NC20Kevin MagnussenHaas Ferrari43DNF0
NC26Daniil KvyatScuderia Toro Rosso Honda29DNF0
NC55Carlos SainzMcLaren Renault27DNF0