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Leclerc secures Ferrari’s first home track win in 9 years

By REUTERS September 09,2019

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (center) celebrates at the Italian GP podium after winning the race. At left is Mercedes-AMG’s Valtteri Bottas, who finished second, while partly hidden behind the champagne spray is Lewis Hamilton, also of Mercedes-AMG. PHOTO / REUTERS

HAVING taken pole after a bizarre final qualifying session in which seven of the nine cars failed to cross the line in time, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went on to win Sunday’s Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix — the first for Ferrari on its home track since Fernando Alonso’s victory there in 2010.

Leclerc’s win, which triggered frenzied Ferrari celebrations in Italy, was not easy. The 21-year-old had to fight off a race-long Mercedes-AMG challenge from Lewis Hamilton, and then later an easier one from Valtteri Bottas.

Bottas was second for Mercedes-AMG with five-time world champion Hamilton a distant third after tire wear took its toll after a thrilling battle with Leclerc.

“What a race! I have never been so tired,” gasped Leclerc as a sea of fans swept onto the pit straight to party below the overhanging podium with flags and flares.

“Winning here is just a dream,” continued the winner, switching to fluent Italian to address a crowd cheering a fitting triumph 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, now a two-time winner — and Ferrari’s sole one so far this season — in only his 14th race for the team.

Hamilton’s lead over closest rival Bottas was cut to 63 points from 65, with the former limiting the damage by making a late pitstop for fresh tires to set the fastest lap and gain an extra point.

“He did a great job, congratulations to Ferrari,” said Hamilton, who took the fight to Leclerc from the start but dropped behind Bottas 10 laps from the end when he cut the first chicane.

“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 tires 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.

Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel had an afternoon to forget, going from bad to worse at the one circuit where every Ferrari driver wants to impress.

While Leclerc led from pole position, the four-time world champion spun off on his own doing, plunged to last place and served a 10-second stop/go penalty for a dangerous return to the track.

He was then lapped by his impressive teammate, who is now 13 points above him in the standings and fast becoming the main man at Maranello.

Mercedes-AMG leads Ferrari in the constructors’ standings by 154 points.

Stewards also handed Vettel three penalty points, taking his 12-month tally to nine. Three more in the next three races will trigger a one-race ban.

“I lost the rear, a mistake by me,” Vettel, 13th at the flag, said of the incident. “A good day for the team but not good on my side. I can’t be happy with my day today.”

Daniel Ricciardo secured fourth for Renault, just ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg in a strong race for the French manufacturer.

Alex Albon was sixth for Red Bull, with teammate Max Verstappen eighth and Sergio Perez seventh for Racing Point.

Antonio Giovinazzi, the first Italian to compete in his home race for eight years, was ninth for Alfa Romeo and Lando Norris took the final point for McLaren.

Vettel’s early spin drew the ire of the stewards when he steered his Ferrari back on track into the path of other cars, with Lance Stroll making a glancing contact and also going off.

Stroll, the innocent party turned offender, then almost hit Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly when he came back on and was served with a drive-through penalty.

Leclerc and Hamilton, meanwhile, went wheel-to-wheel, with the Ferrari driver shown a black-and-white flag for squeezing the Mercedes off at the second chicane on lap 23.

“He didn’t leave a car’s width,” exclaimed Hamilton over the radio. “He pushed me off.”

Leclerc’s response to the flag was one of puzzlement: “Why?”

 

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