MONZA, Italy: Charles Leclerc secured Ferrari’s first victory at their home Italian Grand Prix since 2010 on Sunday when he resisted race-long pressure from Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to claim his second successive Formula One triumph.
The 21-year-old, who won his maiden GP in Belgium last weekend, was exultant as a vast army of Ferrari fans in an estimated crowd of more than 150,000 celebrated deliriously.
“I think if you have to win one Grand Prix with Ferrari, it’s the Italian Grand Prix,” said an exhausted Leclerc after winning the 90th edition of the GP for the Italian team in their 90th year.
“I came here with my first win and to win my second one here straight away with all the fans is just unbelievable.
“I don’t have the words to describe this. I have never imagined it, I’ve never dreamed of something like this — it is above everything I have imagined in my career and in my racing life to have a podium like this.”
Leclerc came home narrowly ahead of second-placed Valtteri Bottas and his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who pursued the victory for most of the race until his tires let him down.
Hamilton apologized to Mercedes and said his tires “had gone off the cliff” but the defending five-time champion still has a healthy lead in the drivers championship, 63 points ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Bottas.
Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel endured a torrid and disappointing day, finishing 13th after spinning off and taking a penalty for rejoining in a dangerous fashion.
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.
Leclerc made a clean start from pole and fended off Hamilton at the first chicane, where Verstappen was an opening lap casualty and required a pit stop for a new front wing and a set of hard tires.
After a wheel-banging battle between Albon and Sainz, Leclerc clocked a fastest lap and then Vettel spun at Ascari, clipping Lance Stroll’s Racing Point as he re-joined.
Both cars were damaged, Vettel pitting for a new front wing, after which the German was given a 10-seconds stop-and-go penalty and dropped to last.
By lap 19, Hamilton and Vettel had warned their tires were gone, the Briton pitting immediately for ‘mediums’.
He fell to fifth, but Leclerc hung on to pit a lap later for ‘hards’ and return fourth as the champion roared down the straight.
The two fought ferociously, Hamilton attempting to pass twice, the second attack ending with him escaping across the grass. “He didn’t leave me a car’s width,” said Hamilton.
The stewards agreed and Leclerc was shown a black-and-white flag, warning him to behave.
“I did a few mistakes, but at the end I finished first.” Leclerc said afterwards. “But I do need to be careful with the mistakes, but none of them stopped me from finishing first today.”
On lap 36, Leclerc kept his lead by scampering across the run-off at the first chicane.
“Some dangerous driving here,” reported Hamilton as the stewards noted the incident and Bottas, remorselessly fast, closed to within three seconds in third.
With 10 laps to go, Hamilton out-braked himself and ran into the first chicane escape road. Bottas passed for second and the hunt was on.
Bottas cut the lead to a second, but the ice-cool Leclerc hung on, his harder rubber keeping him ahead for a historic win.