It’s been over 24 hours since the 2019 Formula 1 Italian GP came to its conclusion. My heartbeat still quickens as I return to the memory of those intense 53 laps around Monza, with a lone Ferrari leading the race, hunted by two Mercedes. What an epic race it was and I get to retell some of it.
The racing action resumed after the summer break in Belgium where Ferrari claimed their first victory of the season, at the hands of none other than Charles Leclerc. A good omen for the Reds as they headed to Italy for their most important race in the calendar. The home race for Scuderia Ferrari at Monza. Winning here was almost as important as winning the championship, and here too, Ferrari had not tasted victory since 2010.
The Tifosi (a collective name for Ferrari fans) were in full force at the start of the weekend. Still high on the win at Spa, celebrating the 90th anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari and hungry to see a red car win at Monza once again. All of that excitement and the weight of those expectations fell on the shoulders of two key individuals. Sebastian Vettel was kind of used to it but the German had not won a race in over a year. It was a first for Charles. And to think, the last weekend had been difficult enough.
Ferrari’s low downforce package seemed to be giving them the edge they were hoping for at the fastest circuit on the F1 calendar in practice and qualifying. However, final qualifying turned into a bit of an embarrassing situation towards the end. Given the nature of the circuit, there will be a huge advantage for whoever is driving in the tow of another car ahead of them.
Charles Leclerc already had provisional pole ahead of both Mercs with Vettel 4th on the grid. The Renaults were best of the rest with McLaren’s Sainz 7th on the grid ahead of Albon, followed by Lance Stroll. After Kimi Raikkonen crashed in Q3, the rest of the grid was pressed for time to get another fast lap in.
All 9 drivers left the pits at the same time in this order – Nico Hulkenberg, Lance Stroll, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Alex Albon, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo. Nobody wanted to give anybody any edge by going first and as a result, it turned into one of the most absurdly stupid things in modern F1. It’s hard to explain it in words, so you can see for yourself:
Thanks to that, nobody was able to set a time and so we had a Ferrari starting in Pole position at Monza. It was Leclerc’s first back-to-back pole position and his fourth of the season.
On Sunday, when the lights went out, Hamilton got a better start than Leclerc as they headed into the first chicane but the Ferrari driver was able to close the inside line. Bottas did manage to get past Hamilton around the outside on Turn 1 but slipped back as they exited the chicane. Max Verstappen started last on the grid due to penalties for new components and seemed to be playing it cautiously after Belgium’s crash. Somehow he still got caught up in some Turn 1 chaos and into the back of Sergio Perez as they took the slip lane. Hulkenberg was able to get past Vettel at the second chicane but the Ferrari’s dominant pace allowed Seb to regain P4 at the next long straight.
However, things became quite dismal for Vettel pretty soon. On Lap 6, he spun at the entrance to the Ascari chicane and was one the grass. Both the Renaults got past as Seb tried to unbeach himself ASAP and returned to the track, straight into the path of Lance. The Racing Point driver tried to swerve out of the way but got taken out as Vettel clipped his rear right tyre, breaking his front wing too. A remarkable absent-minded move from Vettel that not only forced him to pit but also be handed a 10-second stop and drive-through penalty as well as points to his racing license. With that, Ferrari only had one car in the running and so began Charles’ lonesome battle against the might of Mercedes, all the way till the chequered flag.
Leclerc was helped by the Ferrari’s pace advantage at Monza as he pulled ahead but was never quite able to shake off Hamilton who stayed within a couple of seconds behind him. By Lap 15, the Brit began to reel in the red car ahead, getting closer each lap with the help of DRS, especially down the main straight after getting a good tow out of the Parabolica.
Mercedes went for the undercut by pitting Lewis after 19 laps onto a set of Medium tyres. Ferrari pitted Leclerc the very next lap but he was put on a set of Hard tyres to last him till the end of the race. Ferrari had learned in practice that the medium compound does not work in their advantage and would not work for a single-stop strategy. Mercedes left Bottas out on track for a longer stint. After their stops, Leclerc and Hamilton were running in P3 and P4 respectively while Bottas led the race with Ricciardo between them in P2. Lewis had the pace advantage on the softer compound which allowed him to really close in on Charles.
At the start of Lap 23, Lewis got real close but Charles was able to defend into the first chicane but didn’t get have the best exit. The Merc was right on his tail through the long right-hander and then side-by-side into the second chicane. Hamilton took the outside lane as Leclerc covered the inside line but the Ferrari driver got his elbows out in the braking zone, forcing the Mercedes slightly off track. The defending champ had to go through the escape road instead which allowed Charles to pull away again. My gut feared a time penalty but surprisingly Leclerc was shown the black-and-white flag as a warning instead. This was one of the deciding moments of the race and became the new hot point in the debate around “letting them race”.
Charles was handed a lifeline by not getting penalised for that duel but half the race was still left to fend off the attack from the two Silver Arrows. Hamilton had some work to do to catch the Ferrari yet again until he was right on its tail again, especially down the start/finish straight, keeping the pressure for every lap.
At the start of Lap 36, Leclerc was still just ahead of Hamilton as they headed into the first chicane. But the Ferrari driver braked too late, locking up his front left tyre. He just about made the first half of the chicane before bailing out of the corner and cutting across the speed bumps instead. Charles rejoined the track still ahead of Lewis but it didn’t seem like he had gained any advantage while going over the bumps. Hamilton was right on it, as they headed into Curva Grande once again and towards the second chicane. Leclerc blocked off the attack this time by weaving left and right (but not under braking). He had somehow managed to stay ahead yet again.
This time for sure, I thought the stewards would hand Leclerc a penalty for cutting the corner. But this is Monza and a Ferrari is winning. A final lifeline was handed to Charles and he didn’t get a penalty since he didn’t gain an advantage. This was the stroke of favourable luck that the Monegasque needed and he made sure there won’t be any need for a third lifeline.
Around 40 laps in and Bottas had caught up to the leaders with Medium tyres that were at least 7 laps younger. Lewis was struggling for grip on his medium tyres which had seen plenty of action and turbulent air while chasing the Ferrari. On Lap 42, Lewis locked up while braking for the first chicane and had to take the escape road which was pretty much the conclusion for his battle with Charles as he dropped down to P3. However, this was Valtteri’s chance to go on the hunt for the Italian stallion.
With 12 laps left, Bottas was around two-and-a-half seconds behind Leclerc. By Lap 51 of 53, Bottas was within half a second of Leclerc as they headed down the main straight with his DRS wing wide open. But the Finn got his braking a fraction too late which had him go wide into the first corner and allowed Charles to breathe again for a bit. Both cars had to make their way past a few backmarkers in these closing laps which also allowed Leclerc to stay just out of DRS range.
But this chase lasted all the way till the chequered flag as Charles Leclerc took his second-ever Formula 1 race win. For Ferrari. At Monza. A first since 2010. He even started on Pole position. After a drive like that, even with the lifelines he got, Charles Leclerc has deservedly become the latest hero for the Scuderia Ferrari Tifosi.
Charles’ first F1 win came just the previous Sunday at Spa. Back-to-back wins for the Monegasque in his first season at Ferrari. It doesn’t get much dreamier than this.
Mercedes claimed the other two spots on the podium as Bottas finished P2 while Hamilton finished P3. The Brit had stopped for a fresh set of soft tyres to score an extra point for the fastest lap of the race. Meanwhile, Vettel finished the race in a distant P13. As the cars parked into parc ferme, Hamilton went to congratulate Leclerc on their hard-fought battle (even though he talked smack afterwards about racing people off track if there’s no penalty anymore). Sebastian went and apologised to Lance for a mistake that cost both of them a decent result.
Both the Red Bulls were able to score some points despite the difficult starting positions. Alex Albon started 8th on the grid while Max Verstappen had to start 19th after changing multiple power elements. After the opening lap crash at Spa, Max was a bit more cautious with his driving but he somehow still got caught up in some Turn 1 chaos and had to pit on the second lap for a new front end. In the end, he was able to finish in P8. Meanwhile, Alex did have his own impressive track battles but couldn’t do better than a P6 finish. His first one was with Carlos Sainz in the opening laps wherein he passed the Spaniard into the second chicane but got forced off the track at the next turn.
Renault was able to finish best of the rest as Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished P4 and P5 respectively. The duo was surprisingly quick in qualifying as well but the question is can they continue this newfound form till the end of the season to claim fourth in the constructor’s championship once again.
Sergio Perez was able to finish P7 after starting 18th on the grid due to various penalties for new power elements. However, Racing Point missed out on a double-points finish as Lance Stroll was unable to recover from his incident with Vettel and then handed a penalty for doing the same and almost crashing into Pierre Gasly. The Canadian finished P12 in the end.
Ferrari’s win wasn’t the only reason for the Italian fans to cheer as Alfa Romeo ‘s Italian driver – Antonio Giovinazzi, was also able to score some points with a P9 finish. Kimi who started from the pits finished the race in P15. Meanwhile, McLaren was also struck by some bad luck as Sainz had to quit the race after the front right wheel had not been properly fitted. He was running in P6 when he pitted for fresh tyres. Lando Norris was able to get one point with his P10 finish after starting 16th (grid penalties).
The third Italian stable on the Formula 1 grid, Scuderia Toro Rosso, also missed out on points as Gasly finished P11 after starting 17th (grid penalties) and Daniil Kvyat was forced to retire immediately after his pit stop due to engine troubles. Surprisingly, George Russels was able to finish P14 in his ROKiT Williams while his teammate Robert Kubica finished P17. Haas was unable to score any points for the 10th time this season as Romain Grosjean finished P16 and Kevin Magnussen had retired early despite a promising start from 11th on the grid.
It’s been a fantastic two races back-to-back after the summer break and the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc is finally beginning to flourish. Vettel is now behind his teammate in the driver’s standings and has the rest of the season to try and find his form again. Valtteri retains his seat with Mercedes for 2020, but maybe he can make life tough for Lewis and Ferrari in the remaining races. The racing action resumes in two weeks time at Singapore, the most physically challenging race for the F1 drivers and that too around a street circuit at night. Hopefully, the fun won’t end on the first lap this time around, eh?
Final race standings
- C. Leclerc Ferrari — 1:15:26.665
- V. Bottas Mercedes +0.835
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +35.199
- D. Ricciardo Renault +45.515
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +58.165
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +59.315
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +73.802
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +74.492
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- S. Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari DNF
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda DNF
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault DNF