Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc became "Mr Invincible" at the Italian Grand Prix held on Sunday to make it a worthwhile visit for the massive Tifosi "army" that turned up at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza Circuit to cheer on their home team.
Leclerc sustained pressure from both Mercedes cars to take the chequered flag in a race in which Ferrari was expected to lead the charge.
The Italian Grand Prix is the fastest on the calendar which favours the Ferrari since its straight-line speed is something that the Mercedes only dreams of.
Only 0.047 of a second separated the top three, Leclerc and the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, after a chaotic qualifying session.
Four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, in the second Ferrari, was unable to partner his teammate for a front-row lockout and was fourth on the grid.
At the start, as is becoming customary when Leclerc snatches pole, the Monegasque made a brilliant get-away and ensured that Hamilton could not sneak in through the inside heading into Turn One.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg then passed fellow German, Vettel, during the first lap but the four-time world champion reclaimed fourth place soon after.
On the third lap, Albon fancied passing McLaren’s Carlos Sainz by braking later than the Spaniard.
This worked, momentarily, but then Sainz came back at Albon overtaking him at the fast Turn Six, coming into contact with the Red Bull in the process which forced Albon to go out wide and lose some positions.
On the sixth lap, Vettel spun and as he was trying to get back on track, he nearly took out SportPesa Racing Point’s Lance Stroll.
It led to Stroll skidding off and in his attempt to recover, he also almost collided with the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly in similar fashion.
The Ferrari driver was given a 10-second stop-go penalty for rejoining the track unsafely.
He got into the pits on the 12th lap to serve it and when he came out, he got between third and fourth placed Bottas and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo respectively, who were one lap ahead of him.
For causing Gasly some inconvenience, Stroll was given a drive-through penalty. The penalties led to the odd outcome that even before the halfway mark of the race, Leclerc was leading while Vettel, in the same type of car, was last.
Hamilton pitted on the 19th lap, and it took 2.6 seconds for the tyre change to get done. Fearing an undercut, Ferrari pitted the lead car a lap later, with Leclerc staying stationary for 2.3 seconds.
Hamilton took on the mediums while Leclerc was put on the hards. It meant that Hamilton caught Leclerc soon after the Ferrari had exited the pit stop.
Approaching Turn Four, Hamilton was side by side with Leclerc but marginally behind. It is then that Leclerc squeezed Hamilton farther out to ensure that he maintained the lead, going into the Turn.
Hamilton opted for the run-off area and complained that he was not left with enough room for a car’s width. The stewards agreed with him for Leclerc was shown a black and white flag, the equivalent of a yellow card in football.
Tyre degradation meant that Hamilton could only keep up the pressure on Leclerc for so long, given that Leclerc was on the tyres with the longest life specification.
For some time, Hamilton kept within DRS range of Leclerc, but the Monegasque stayed ahead all the time courtesy of the superior speed of the Ferrari on the straights and deft driving that saw him, more than once, position his car advantageously.
On the 33rd lap, Vettel’s pride took a hit when he was shown blue flags to let his teammate and Hamilton through. In this race, Leclerc and Vettel, it seems, were playing in different leagues.
Three laps later, Leclerc made a mistake by cutting through a chicane but the stewards deemed that no investigation was necessary.
Hamilton then made a costly mistake six laps later that cost him second position and effectively ended his chance of winning the race.
It was Bottas’ turn to hunt down Leclerc. The Finn, with much fresher tyres than Hamilton’s, clawed his way to reduce the gap and got to within DRS range of Leclerc, only to brake too late into Turn One which allowed the Monegasque to open a healthy enough lead that lasted till the end of the race.
Hamilton pitted and made the fastest lap, earning him an extra point, which means that Bottas gained only two points on him.
The championship heads to Singapore with Hamilton having a 63-point cushion over Bottas.
Verstappen is third, with just three points between him and Leclerc. The precocious Monegasque is now 13 points ahead of his more illustrious German teammate.