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After a nine year wait, Ferrari finally made it to the top podium position at the Italian Grand Prix held last weekend, with rookie Charles Leclerc streaking into first place, a comfortable 0.8 seconds ahead of Mercedes AMG driver Valterri Bottas and a hubristic 35.1 seconds ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Leclerc continued his winning streak from last week, where he beat Hamilton by almost a full second, holding an edge over the Merc drivers with consistent performance on the straights and strong, albeit borderline aggressive, defensive driving.
With the words “RIP Toni” written across the back of his steering wheel in memory of his friend Anthoine Hubert who passed away in the Belgian F2 race last week, Leclerc started from pole position. He was hounded by Hamilton for most of the race, especially after emerging on medium tires after a lap 19 pit stop. Hamilton almost got past but the Monégasque driver pulled a move that ended with the Mercedes machine on the grass, earning a warning without penalty.
The stewards’ call regarding the move was contentious, since Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was given a five second penalty last year for similar driving at the same circuit.
Even though Hamilton chased the wunderkind around the circuit doggedly, both drivers driving dangerously, any hope Hamilton had of clinching the cup ended on the 42nd lap with a mistake that led him down the escape road, ending up behind Bottas.
Hamilton then decided to end his pursuit of the top position, pitted for fresh tires and went after the fastest lap record, winning the bonus point to boost his rankings on the scoreboard. He noted after the race: “I think it just wasn’t our day today, it’s always disappointing to follow another car so closely but not be able to take the lead. But in the end, we’re leaving Italy with more points in the Constructors’ Championship and ultimately that is what matters.”
Mercedes AMG still kept up the fight for top position as Bottas stepped up but was ultimately unsuccessful giving the Ferrari new-comer his second ever F1 title in as many weeks.
Bottas said: “I was trying everything to get close enough to Charles to make a move on him in the final laps, but the Ferraris were very quick on the straights this weekend, so it was difficult to get close enough. I was pushing as hard as I could, but every time I got really close, I started to lock-ups the fronts.”
Leclerc’s team mate Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion, finished 13th and a lap behind him. Vettel, who started the season as Ferrari’s top driver has had a miserable season and was given a 10-second penalty early on for returning to the track unsafely after spinning off at the Ascari chicane. He almost caused an accident with Lance Stroll who raged colourfully on the team radio: “He just came back onto the circuit like an idiot!”
The first driver from the Italian automaker since Fernando Alfonso in 2010 to step onto the top podium position of the Italian Grand Prix, zealous fans chanted Leclerc’s name, waved flags and lit flares to celebrate the momentous occasion.
Mercedes still leads the charts overall with Hamilton holding a 63 point lead over Bottas, with seven races remaining. He said: “Congratulations to Charles today. He did a great job, especially considering the pressure Valtteri and I were putting on him. I’m not looking to the next race thinking it will be easy for us. Instead, we’re going to go to the factory next week and go through the same process, looking for ways to improve our car, improve our processes over a race weekend, and I hope that I can do a better job in Singapore. I personally cherish this battle between Ferrari, Red Bull and us, so I want it to continue.”