Max Verstappen tightened his grip on the Formula One drivers’ championship with victory ahead of Charles Leclerc at the Italian Grand Prix.
It was Verstappen’s fifth-straight victory and his first at the Italian Grand Prix — much to the displeasure of the Ferrari fans who packed out Monza and were hoping for a Leclerc win.
The Dutchman now leads the driver standings by 116 points and could mathematically wrap up the title at the next race in Singapore.
Boos rang out around Monza as Sunday’s race finished behind a safety car after Daniel Ricciardo had stopped on the track with five laps remaining.
It meant Leclerc, who trailed Verstappen having taken an extra pit stop, was unable to mount a challenge on his rival in the closing stages.
Throughout the race, however, it became apparent that Verstappen had the superior speed having climbed from seventh on the grid.
“It was just controlling the gap at the end when the safety car came out,” Verstappen said in his post-race interview. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a restart, but overall we had again a really good day.”
The Red Bull driver had to serve a five-place grid penalty after taking a new power unit component, but he quickly made light work of the drivers between him and pole-sitter Leclerc.
He had moved into second place ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell by the fifth lap and then took the lead as Leclerc pitted when a virtual safety car was deployed on lap 12.
Verstappen swapped tires himself on Lap 26 to hand the lead back to Leclerc, who pitted for a second time seven laps later. That gave Verstappen a lead of around 20 seconds, and his victory was eventually confirmed as the race finished behind the safety car.
“The start was very good, I had a clean chicane,” Verstappen added. “Then I could quickly get back into my rhythm and get into second.
“It was really good on the tires, it was really enjoyably to drive today even though it was quite hot out there. A great day for us.”
A solid race for Russell saw him complete the podium behind Leclerc, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Mercedes Lewis Hamilton, both having started at the back of the grid following power unit penalties, surged through the field to finish fourth and fifth.
Despite his gutsy performances, Hamilton is now mathematically unable to win the F1 title as he sits an unassailable 167 points behind Verstappen in the standings.
Williams’ Nyck de Vries, a late replacement for Alexander Albon who is undergoing treatment for appendicitis, finished ninth on his F1 debut and was awarded the Driver of the Day accolade.