When there were still a few laps to go, it looked as if Max Verstappen would spoil the Sunday party for the tens of thousands of Tifosi in the stands of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza. He was well ahead of the Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who most viewers wanted to see win the Italian Grand Prix. But then Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren stopped half on the green stripe and half on the track. And suddenly a new opportunity opened up. 21.7 seconds lay between Verstappen and Leclerc, in the 48th lap a safety car phase was called, both turned off for a tire change. A furioso finale beckoned! How deceptive this impression was gradually trickled through. Because now it lasted and lasted.
A crane had to remove Ricciardo's car, meanwhile all the cars already lapped drove past the safety car, behind Verstappen in the red bull rolled and another two cars behind Leclerc. Four more rounds, three, two. That had to be an exciting finish between Verstappen and Leclerc as soon as the track was reopened! But when there was only one lap left, Leclerc received the disappointing news. "We'll finish the race behind the safety car," he heard and replied frustrated: "Oh come on! The track is clear!" Why did the rescue take so long? Why wasn't the field sorted earlier for a restart? Not only Leclerc should have asked himself that, in any case the spectators felt cheated and whistled.
And so Verstappen remained the party-crasher of Monza, winning the 16th Grand Prix on his fifth win in a row, his eleventh of the season. "We had a great race, we were the fastest on all tire compounds. We just had a good day all round," said the Dutchman. The 24-year-old has thus further extended his lead in the overall standings. The reigning world champion now has 335 points, Leclerc has 219. In theory, Verstappen can become world champion for the second time in Singapore on October 2nd. A turnaround in the fight for the title was no longer to be expected after the most recent results. "The end was frustrating, we wished we could drive again," said Leclerc. "I gave everything, the speed was there." Nevertheless, Ferrari fans flocked to the track, unfurled huge flags with the Scuderia logo and cheered as Leclerc took the podium. Third was George Russell in the Mercedes.
Verstappen made up two places shortly after the start
"Overall it was a good weekend compared to the last races," said Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. "We've made progress. But Max was just faster today and hard to beat." After the disappointment of the past few weeks, it was particularly good for the stricken Scuderia that Leclerc - 2019 winner in Monza - was the fastest in qualifying at the home race in the exceptionally yellow and not red racing suit on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the first road Ferrari. Behind them landed Verstappen and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.
But as in Spa, parts had been changed in various cars beyond the permitted quota. And so there were some demotions due to starting place penalties: The field sorted itself differently again than it would have been based on the lap times. Russell in particular benefited from this, starting second instead of sixth. Third and fourth place on the grid went to McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Ricciardo. Verstappen slipped to seventh place, Lewis Hamilton to the penultimate place. Mick Schumacher was allowed to start 17th in the Haas instead of from the back and finished 12th.
The Ferrari fans could immediately hope for Leclerc to win, after a few meters he pushed ahead of Russell, Ricciardo took third place because Norris overslept. Verstappen made up two places and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before more maneuvers from the world champion would follow. He practically stuck to Ricciardo, who was unable to defend himself against the fast Red Bull on the straight at the beginning of the second lap. In the fifth lap it was Russell's turn, Verstappen again sucked his car in front, in the first corner he was over - and was second behind Leclerc. The Monegasque had a two-second lead, but then lost the lead when there was the first stoppage.
Further down the field Sebastian Vettel had problems, smoke was coming out of his car. "I'm losing power," radioed the four-time world champion, who had started eleventh. Shortly thereafter he had to park his Aston Martin on the hard shoulder. What a farewell to Monza, where he clinched his first pole position in 2008 and the next day the first Grand Prix win of his Formula One career, which Vettel is ending after this season. The virtual safety car followed the yellow flag.
Leclerc doesn't get the soft tires up to temperature fast enough
Ferrari decided to bring Leclerc into the pits after 13 laps and switch from the soft to the medium tires. Leclerc lost the lead to Verstappen but came back in time ahead of Ricciardo and was third behind Russell and Verstappen, who drove away blithely in front. After 23 of 53 laps he had put more than ten seconds between his Red Bull and the Mercedes. When would he turn into the pits? First Russell got a set from the tough mix which put the two Ferraris in front of him in second and third.
Verstappen had a 14-second lead over Leclerc when he had his tires changed after 26 laps. This resulted in a gap of ten seconds, now the Dutchman was in the Ferrari sandwich. The title rivals had both opted for medium, but Leclerc's tires were 13 laps older, which all promised excitement. The strategists of formula 1 calculated a duel between the two after 40 rounds. Meanwhile, Hamilton had fought his way from behind to fifth place - where he also finished the race.
Leclerc and Ferrari agreed on plan C, after 34 laps it was clear what that meant: another pit stop, from medium to the faster soft. This resulted in another change at the top, now Verstappen was leading again, and that by more than 19 seconds, Russell was third after a pit stop by Sainz. So Leclerc would have to make up about a second per run to be able to challenge Verstappen in a direct duel. But it took a while for the soft tires to warm up, the gap to Verstappen remained large. And it shouldn't be enough, despite the safety car.