F1 Italian GP: Verstappen beats Leclerc and wins in safety car finish

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Polesitter Leclerc defied expectations by adopting a two-stop strategy, but his late push on new tires did not yield enough speed to win the champion as Verstappen rose from seventh.

Leclerc had boosted his hopes with a late safety car that had the potential to throw a spanner in the works, but it was slow to pick up the leaders and denied a thrilling sprint to the finish and thwarted any Ferrari comeback.

That enabled Red Bull driver Verstappen to take his 31st top-level win, the fifth in a row and the 11th of the season to take nearly two wins off the record for the most successful F1 season.

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After a change to the combustion engine on the advice of supplier Honda, Verstappen finished seventh thanks to a five-place grid penalty after his second lap in qualifying.

His RB18 was shod in the softest C4 tire available to launch well and quickly finish fifth after an anti-stall trigger for third-start Lando Norris and a pass to Fernando Alonso.

Verstappen continued to climb in the early stages of the 53-lap 100th anniversary race at Monza. He demoted AlphaTauri pilot Pierre Gasly for fourth place at the end of the first lap before ducking past 2021 Italian GP winner Daniel Ricciardo while braking in the first chicane for a provisional podium.

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That left only Leclerc and second starting George Russell ahead, the Mercedes holding out after breaking the first chicane as they squabbled with the Ferrari for the early lead.

Despite the W13 separating the pair, Leclerc and Verstappen traded the fastest laps across the timeline while a net 2.5 seconds split the lead.

Leclerc led Russell at the first start, while Verstappen made strong progress from seventh place

Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Red Bull then took second with a great run from Ascari before combining DRS and the drag to pass Russell cleanly on the straight to battle for victory.

With Verstappen a few tenths faster per lap, Ferrari attempted a corner by using a virtual safety car – called when Sebastian Vettel parked with a smoky engine – to give Leclerc a cheaper pit stop.

He stopped for a set of mediums on lap 13 with a quick serve of 2.2s just as the green flags were waved to dent the effectiveness of the undercut and Leclerc was released in third with 18s to be found.

Despite his outdated softs, Verstappen was able to maintain a decent pace – just 0.5s slower than Leclerc as he held a 10.2s cushion on Russell, leaving Leclerc a further 4.1s.

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When F1-75 started to take a win, Verstappen made a pit stop for mediums on lap 26 and thanks to a quick stop of 2.4 seconds he came out with just a touch of over 10 seconds on the leader.

Verstappen’s fresh rubber enabled him to close the gap to 5.4 seconds when Ferrari called in Leclerc again for soft tires on lap 34, seemingly for an easy run to mark, with the Monegask returning second over Russell.

Leclerc’s initial pace was moderate, but he managed to turn the pit to be 0.4 seconds faster than Verstappen, as the gap was 18 seconds with 10 laps to go.

But a spanner in the works on lap 47 when Ricciardo from Ascari parked with an engine failure to activate a safety car, which deployed late. But Verstappen next pitted for new soft tires and Leclerc switched to used C4s, along with Russell in third.

With the field well spread out, the safety car picking up Russell and then the overlapping cars of Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda splitting the leading duo, plus the McLaren taking time to be cleared by the crane, the race was not restarted to a sprint to the flag.

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DNF for 2021 Monza winner Ricciardo resulted in safety car invalidating the end of the race

DNF for 2021 Monza winner Ricciardo resulted in safety car invalidating the end of the race

Photo By: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

As such, Verstappen secured the win over Leclerc as Russell completed the podium, while Carlos Sainz took off in a quick first stint to offset his back-of-the-grid penalty and bag fourth.

Lewis Hamilton did the same, notably holding on to his pointed Mercedes as he chased Alonso and a slick double pass on Norris and Gasly to take seventh.

Sergio Perez was able to make the flag despite a sustained brake fire at his first hard tire stop as Norris finished seventh over Gasly.

Formula E champion Nyck de Vries equaled Williams’ best result of the season in ninth to round out his excellent replacement appearance for appendicitis Alex Albon.

Zhou Guanyu meanwhile completed the top 10 for Alfa Romeo, ahead of Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher.

Behind Bottas and Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen (who received a 5s penalty for breaking the first chicane) completed the runners.

In addition to Ricciardo and Vettel, Lance Stroll and Alonso (presumed water pump failure) had to pull up early.

F1 Italian GP race results (53 laps):