Max Verstappen wins the Italian Grand Prix

Monza, Italy (AP) – After winning in front of his home crowd last weekend, Max Verstappen did so on sprint ground on Sunday to leave the Red Bull driver within easy reach of his second consecutive Formula One title.

Boos’ voice rang out from ardent red-clad Tifosi fans when Verstappen climbed onto the famous Monza podium for the first time in his career, after winning the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The graceful Verstappen, whose previous highest finish on the track was fifth in 2018, said: “I had a great view. It wasn’t great for me. But that’s what it is.”

Verstappen is now 116 points ahead of Charles Leclerc, who finished second after another questionable strategic decision from Ferrari on home soil. With only six races left, the Dutch driver could win the title in Singapore next month.

Verstappen started seventh after being among a number of drivers to take a shootout but worked his way up to third on the first corner of the second lap. Then Red Bull driver George Russell picked up in a Mercedes at the start of lap 5 to start the search for Polesiter Leclerc in his Ferrari.

“It was a very good start,” Verstappen said. “It was fun to drive today even though it was really hot out there. A great day for us.”

The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) gave Verstappen a chance as it exited on lap 12 after Sebastian Vettel’s final race ended at Monza, with the four-times world champion standing on the side of the track after complaining about the power issue.

Ferrari decided to bring in Leclerc to change to the medium tyres, allowing Verstappen to take the lead. Leclerc returned to the race in third place.

“I think we all have a doubt,” Leclerc said, “I think if I hadn’t done it, Max would have done it.”

“It was a bit unfortunate because in the middle of the pit lane we had a virtual end of the safety car so we didn’t get all the benefit of stopping at that moment. From that moment on, we were a little bit behind.”

It’s been a strange season for Ferrari, full of failed strategic decisions and strange mishaps, but Leclerc thinks it was just unfortunate timing at Monza.

Leclerc said: “I think if you look at our season as a whole, there are definitely mistakes and we need to improve. If today was an obvious mistake, I don’t think so. It was just our pick, and looking back, you can’t predict when the VSC will end.”

“So, yeah, there’s nothing to blame anyone out there. A little unlucky and maybe missing a bit of speed as well.”

Leclerc overtook Russell and then briefly regained the lead when he paddled Verstappen on lap 26, but the pair swapped places again seven laps later when the Ferrari driver hit new tires for a second time.

The safety car came out again shortly after last year’s winner, Daniel Ricciardo, stopped on lap 47 prompting most drivers to dig for soft tyres.

However, the final battle never materialized when the race ended behind the safety car as Verstappen took his fifth straight win and 11th of the season – once more than last year.

Russell finished third, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr and Lewis Hamilton, who fought across the field after starting at the back of the net after a penalty shootout.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez also took a net penalty and started 13th, but despite an eventful race that also saw brake fire, he managed to finish sixth and also earn an extra point on the fastest lap.

Lando Norris was seventh, after a poor start from third, trailed by Pierre Gasly.

Williams reserve driver Nick de Vries finished his first Formula One race in ninth place. The 27-year-old was a late substitute for Alex Albon after the Thai driver was diagnosed with appendicitis.

“Wow wow. Thank you, thank you very much. My shoulders are dead, dead,” de Vries said on the team radio after crossing the line, before uttering an expletive.

___

More AP Car Racing: The