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Verstappen wins easily after Ferrari strategy bungle

Verstappen wins easily after Ferrari strategy bungle

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen has been gifted a comfortable victory after yet another embarrassing Ferrari strategic blunder cruelled Charles Leclerc’s chances at the Italian Grand Prix.

By Michael Lamonato

Sunday 11 September 2022, 11:56PM

Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Italian Grand Prix. Photo: Ciro de Luca / AFP via Getty Images

Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Italian Grand Prix. Photo: Ciro de Luca / AFP via Getty Images

Leclerc had taken an against-the-odds pole position on Saturday and led the race early, with Verstappen unable to close the gap from second, having quickly recovered from seventh on the grid.

However, Ferrari was tempted to gamble the lead during an early virtual safety car, called on lap 12 when Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin stopped on track with an engine failure.

The Italian team had been worried that inaction would be pounced upon by Red Bull Racing stopping Verstappen and earning an undercut advantage, but rather than giving Leclerc a set of hard tyres that could make it to the end of the race, the Monegasque was switched to mediums, guaranteeing him a second stop.

Verstappen responded by extending his stint until lap 25. He rejoined 10.5 seconds behind Leclerc but halved the gap by the time the Ferrari driver made his second service on lap 33.

It gave Leclerc a 20-second deficit to close in 20 laps, but even on a fresh set of soft tyres Leclerc could hardly make a dent in Verstappen’s formidable lead.

Ferrari needed a safety car, and one fortuitously emerged six laps from the finish when Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren suffered an engine failure in the second sector, but it was an awkward part of the track from which to recover the car, and the race ended without being restarted.

The passionate Ferrari tifosi jeered the result, but Verstappen didn’t care. His lead now stands at 116 points off the back of five successive victories, putting him within reach of a second championship.

“We had a great race,” Verstappen said of his easy victory. “We had a really good race car and we were just controlling the gap at the end.”

Leclerc, who faces title defeat at the next round, said he was disappointed the race couldn’t be restarted, though he tactfully avoided mentioning the strategy blunder directly.

“I wish I could’ve won in front of the amazing tifosi we have here, but I just couldn’t today,” he said. “Unfortunately we were second at [the safety car] because of what happened before.

“I think the pace was quite strong today. We’ll have to look into it.”

George Russell finished fourth, his fourth podium finish in five races and his seventh top-three finish of the season.

“No matter if we’re fast or slow, we keep getting these podiums,” he said. “We’ve got to be satisfied with that.”

Carlos Sainz was a strong contender for driver of the day thanks to a super-aggressive first stint. The Spaniard started 18th thanks to an engine penalty but completed 14 clean passes in the first 13 laps to put himself just beyond the podium.

Lewis Hamilton, who also carried engine penalties that put him 19th on the grid, followed the Spaniard up the order more slowly by extending his first stint, though he provided one of the highlights of the race with a double-overtake on Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly at the first chicane after the first stop window.

Sergio Perez was sixth after having his race cruelled early by an overheating front-right brake disc, though a late pit stop for soft tyres scored him a bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race.

Lando Norris beat Pierre Gasly to seventh ahead of Nyck de Vries, whose sensational and unexpected debut netted him two points for Williams.

De Vries was called up to the race seat on Saturday morning to replace the sick Alex Albon, and his two points put him immediately ahead of teammate Nicholas Latifi, with whom he’s competing for the second Williams seat next year.

Zhou Guanyu finished 10th to score Alfa Romeo’s first points since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.

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