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Brilliant Leclerc beats Mercedes in F1 Italian GP

Published : 09 Sep 2019, 02:07

  DF-Xinhua Report

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari poses during the awarding ceremony after the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, Belgium, Sept. 1, 2019. File Photo Xinhua.

Charles Leclerc held off a race-long challenge from the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to win the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, scoring Ferrari's first F1 victory at Monza for nine years.

Starting from pole position, Leclerc held onto his lead at the start and settled into what would become an epic duel with Hamilton. The Mercedes appeared quicker at various points on the circuit, but Leclerc always seemed to have enough in hand to keep the Briton at arm's length through the crucial Parabolica right-hander, with Hamilton never close enough to the Monegasque to mount a serious challenge.

With Hamilton struggling to make an impression on the long start-finish straight, the Briton looked for alternative ways past Leclerc, and almost made a move stick at the Roggia chicane on lap 23, but Leclerc was unmoved as the two banged wheels, with Hamilton left protesting that the Monegasque had run him off the road.

The leading two resumed their battle for the lead after the mid-race pit stops, with Leclerc selecting for the more durable hard compound tyre in contrast to Hamilton's choice of medium compound rubber. The Briton was not able to take advantage of his grippier tyres, however, and his challenge ended when he missed the first chicane on lap 42 as his tyres started to wear out.

This handed second place to Bottas, who was driving with the benefit of fresher tyres having pitted eight laps after Hamilton. But the Finn was also unable to make much headway into Leclerc's lead, which consistently stood at just over half a second across the start-finish line.

Bottas might have had an overtaking opportunity in the closing stages, with Leclerc himself starting to show signs of tyre wear, but a small mistake at the first chicane with two laps to go cost any victory hopes the Finn might have had.

Cheered to the echo by the partisan Italian crowd, Leclerc duly roared home to his second win in as many races, having broken his F1 duck at last week's Belgian Grand Prix. And while his celebrations then were muted out of respect for the fallen F2 driver Anthoine Hubert, this time the Monegaque celebrated exuberantly in front of thousands of adoring 'tifosi'.

"I think if you have to win one grand prix with Ferrari it's the Italian Grand Prix," said Leclerc after the race. "It's been a crazy week here. I come here with my first win [last week at Spa] and to win my second one here straight away with all the fans is just unbelievable."

Leclerc's consummate drive to victory stood in stark contrast to teammate Sebastian Vettel, who finished a lowly 13th after a troubled race. Under no pressure, the German spun at the Ascari chicane on lap seven and compounded his mistake by damaging his front wing when he collected the Racing Point of Lance Stroll as he rejoined the track.

"I can't be happy with my day today," rued the German afterwards. "We had a good start, lost a position, got it back, then lost the rear and I couldn't catch it. I still love F1, but when you're not doing well, you can't be happy."

The race stewards took a dim view of the German's actions and slapped him with a 10-second stop-go penalty - the most severe punishment before disqualification. This was the latest in a series of unforced errors that Vettel has made over the last 12 months, and paddock rumors suggest that Leclerc has supplanted the four-time world champion in Ferrari's affectations. Though Vettel has a contract with Ferrari for 2020, tough questions are increasingly being asked of the German's racecraft and motivation.

Bottas and Hamilton ultimately finished second and third respectively, with both men admitting afterwards that the Ferrari package was just too fast for them this weekend, though a late pit stop for fresh tyres helped Hamilton take the bonus point on offer for setting fastest lap.

Behind the top three, an excellent weekend for Renault saw Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg finish fourth and fifth, representing the Regie's best race of 2019 so far. Alex Albon finished sixth in his Red Bull after running wide and losing places early in the race, while Sergio Perez quietly worked his way up to seventh after starting 18th following a component change to his Racing Point.

A damage limitation exercise for Albon's teammate Max Verstappen saw the Dutchman salvage eighth after starting last on the grid due to a change of power unit, and then requiring a new front wing on lap one after contact at the first chicane. Antonio Giovinazzi was an excellent ninth for Alfa Romeo at his home Grand Prix, and Lando Norris rounded out the top ten in his McLaren.

In the drivers' championship, Hamilton still leads with 284 points, with Bottas remaining second on 221, and Verstappen still third with 185. Notably, Leclerc's win sees him move into fourth place on 182 at the expense of Vettel, who drops to fifth with 169.

In the constructors' standings, Mercedes remain way out in front on 505 points, with Ferrari second on 351 and Red Bull third on 266.

The next round of the 2019 Formula 1 Grand Prix season is the Singapore Grand Prix on September 22.