A Dream Comes True for Charles Leclerc
F1 2019 Italian Grand Prix was held at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza near the city of Monza, Italy. Inside the racing community, it is known as “Temple of Speed”, because it is the fastest race track in the whole world. It was 89th running of Italian GP and 84th time that the event took place at the Monza circuit. Fresh from the last week's first win of the season Ferrari were rubbing their hands to get first back to back wins and win for the first time on home soil, since 2010. Circuit layout suited the red car with long straights and small corners, perfect for Ferrari SF 90. Charles Leclerc did a brilliant job on Sunday by absorbing pressure from two very fast Mercedes and take his second career win, a dream victory by winning on home debut for Prancing Horse.
Thursday Pre-race Preparations
2019 Italian Grand Prix weekend is always special as teams are now looking to finish the season strongly, and is the perfect time of the year to start focusing on next year's car and driver lineup as well. The weather outlook forecasted rain on Friday and clear skies for Saturday and Sunday.
Monza requires special minimum drag aero package with top teams going for special Monza package. Ferrari and Mercedes went for low downforce package, while Red Bull went for ultra-low downforce aero kit. Most of the midfield teams went for low downforce packages. McLaren being the leading midfield, did not bring Monza specific package.
Start from the back for Sunday's race were Lando Norris (McLaren), Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) and Sergio Perez (Racing Point) because they all took extra power unit elements resulting to penalties. All four manufacturers (Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda) introduced new specification engines.
Friday practice 1 was affected by rain, but teams still managed to do some decent runs to get a feel for Monza aero package and confirm the numbers from wind tunnel data. Charles Leclerc led the FP1, followed by the two McLarens. FP2 was dry, and teams did a lot of running and setting the car up for qualifying and the race. The Monegasque set the fastest time again, but the Silver Arrow of Lewis Hamilton was just under a tenth behind, with Sebastian Vettel in Third.
Friday practice analysis again showed Ferrari as the team to beat over one lap distance. Still, the Silver Arrows were closer to the Ferraris (about two-tenths), compared to last week from Spa where the gap was consistently around 0.7 sec. The Red Bulls were in the mix fighting with Renault for the third row.
The race pace was unsurprisingly very close, but this time the Ferraris were trailing Mercedes by a tenth. Lewis Hamilton was pleased after Friday practice. He was optimistic at how strong they were on race pace that despite the Ferraris quickness in a straight line, he believed they were going to have a good fight.
The Red Bulls were in their usual spot of third on the list, and McLaren seemed very quick on long runs as well, close to Red Bull. Renault, Racing Point, Toro Rosso, and Alfa Romeo all covered by four-tenths on Race Pace. Haas was 9th and Williams last in the pecking order.
Saturday running at Monza circuit was quite straightforward with teams doing usual run plans. Teams did practice ahead how to utilise tow of car best to gain lap time during qualifying. Tow (Aerodynamic) was quite powerful at Monza in the region of 0.5 sec, and since nobody wanted to lead, it created quite a drama in the last qualifying session.
Tifosi most eagerly anticipated Monza qualifying since Ferrari were favourites to lock out the front row. Instead, everybody tried to pick up a tow and created a mess of the final session, which meant drama. The Q1 session was uneventful, apart from an engine failure for Racing Point's Sergio Perez. Charles Leclerc led the first session, no surprise, but the surprise of the quarter was Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) who went second fastest on medium tyres. Knocked out of Q1 were the following: the usual two Williams, Sergio Perez (due to engine failure), Max Verstappen (grid penalty) and Romain Grosjean of Haas.
In Q2, Mercedes turned the tide for the red cars and went 1-2 by nicely executing the tow. Valterri Bottas gave nice tow to Hamilton, which meant that Hamilton was able to set a quicker time. Sebastian Vettel was third. The Renaults again showed great speed with the skinny rear wing of R.S 19 working efficiently. Antonio Giovinazzi, the only Italian driver, was knocked out by the tiniest of margin. Lance Stroll made the first Q3 appearance of 2019. Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, and Daniil Kvyat were eliminated.
Q3 was a mess, first runs in this session was normal, and Charles Leclerc picked up a nice tow from Vettel and went fastest on a 1:19.307 sec time followed by two Mercedes, and Sebastian Vettel, top four covered by less than two tenths. Kimi Raikkonen crashed at Parabolica bringing out a red flag, so when the session resumed, no one wanted to blink first to pick up that all-important tow. In doing that when they did come out, and when everyone backed up each other in sector 1, it was apparent they'd miss the clock, and all nine drivers failed to set a lap apart from Carlos Sainz, but the order didn't change.
Charles Leclerc expressed how amazed he was to see so many people, and how happy he was with the pole but also expressed disappointment that there was a big mess at the end.
Sunday's race was all about the Monegasque who was in a league of his own, while his teammate nearly got disqualified. He made an excellent getaway from lights out and led into the first corner followed by Bottas briefly before Hamilton regained second place, Vettel was running in fourth. Further down, Carlos Sainz countered Alexander Albon's overtake move by running him wide at first Lesmo. Max starting from the back misjudged braking at turn 1. Suddenly, Vettel dropped the car at Ascari on his own, tried to rejoin the track very dangerously hitting Lance Stroll, who while going offtrack did the same to Pierre Gasly. Vettel received a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, and Lance Stroll received a drive-through penalty.
Mercedes tried to undercut Ferrari by pitting Hamilton early and going for medium tires. Leclerc pitted on Lap 21 and took hard tires, but managed to emerge ahead of Lewis. Two laps later Hamilton nearly overtook Charles, but he defended ruthlessly forcing Hamilton to go wide as the second chicane, which earned him a black and white driving standard flag.
Once Hamilton's tires gave up Bottas went after Leclerc and made attack after attack, but nothing dented Leclerc's resolve, and subsequently went on to win Italian Grand Prix. This win was Ferrari's first home win since Fernando Alonso won back in 2010. Bottas and Hamilton completed the podium, while the Renaults were the second-best star performers of the day finishing the season's best 4th and 5th. Alexander Albon finished 6th, Sergio Perez 7th, Max Verstappen 8th (Back of Grid), Giovinazzi 9th and Lando Norris 10th (Back of Grid).
Leclerc could not thank his fate enough, adding that he's never been so tired. He acknowledged that he made a few mistakes, though none caused him to lose a position, but that he needed to be more careful in the future rounds.
Can Ferrari make it three wins in a row? We'll know about that as we head to Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore!