MONZA: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco crosses the finish line to win the Italian F1 Grand Prix at the Monza racetrack on Sunday.—AP
MONZA: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco crosses the finish line to win the Italian F1 Grand Prix at the Monza racetrack on Sunday.—AP

MONZA: Charles Leclerc triggered a red wave of Ferrari celebration on Sunday by holding off a race-long Mercedes challenge to take the Italian Formula One team’s first home grand prix victory since 2010.

Valtteri Bottas was second for Mercedes with five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton a distant third after tyre wear took its toll in a thrilling battle with the 21-year-old Monegasque.

“What a race! I have never been so tired,” gasped Leclerc as a sea of fans, starved of success at Monza since Fernando Alonso won in the red overalls, swept onto the pit straight to party below the overhanging podium with flags and flares.

“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.”

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.

“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.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019