Charles Leclerc won the Italian Grand Prix fending off intense pressure from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, as a close penalty call could have made events a whole lot different.
Keeping distance within a second throughout the race, it was lap 23 that Hamilton had his best chance to overtake for the lead, which could have seen Leclerc penalised.
Heading into the Roggia chicane, turn four and five, the two were side-by-side with Hamilton on the racing line, however Leclerc played hard ball leaving the Mercedes with minimal space on the outside as he was pushed off track.
But, the championship leader complained that not enough space was provided for the defending to be legal, as Hamilton was pushed off track onto the escape route.
Two Mercedes wheels were on the kerb in what could be viewed as ‘dangerous’ defending from the Monegasque, however Leclerc came away with just a black and white flag presented his way – the equivalent of a yellow card in football.
With Leclerc narrowly avoiding a penalty, the pressure from Hamilton was still being applied who still managed to keep the deficit within a second despite a set of degrading tyres.
The five-time world champion had his chance once again as Leclerc locked up heading into the opening chicane on lap 35, forcing the Monegasque to avoid the second apex.
It could be seen that Leclerc gained an advantage via cutting the second corner, but still, the pressure was once again applied to its maximum as Hamilton was on his tail through Curva Grande.
However, Leclerc made a late defensive move under braking to once again fend off the Mercedes.
Throughout this pressure it looked as though Hamilton would eventually take the lead with the help of DRS, but with a combination of Ferrari’s straight line pace and Leclerc’s excellent defending, the Mercedes could not force its way through.
Usually in situations such as these with Hamilton racing wheel-to-wheel, it is the other driver that cracks under the pressure but with medium tyres that kept losing grip, it was the championship leader that couldn’t keep it up.
Hamilton locked up into the opening chicane as this was the end of his challenge for the lead.
However, due to this it was now Valtteri Bottas’ turn, who overtook Hamilton as he was driving through the escape route.
The gap subsequently reduced to under a second between Bottas and Leclerc as the Mercedes driver was told over team radio: “Come on Valtteri, this is your win”.
Yet, just a few laps later Bottas locked up into the opening chicane ending such chance of a victory, despite coming so close to the Ferrari.
Although there were some close calls regarding a penalty, the defending on show from Leclerc was excellent. And for a 21-year-old to hold off a driver like Hamilton for so long shows the matureness that already excels within the Ferrari driver.
But, as Leclerc made it back-to-back wins, his team-mate experienced a disastrous race.
Whilst running fourth, Vettel lost control and spun at the Astari chicane, to then return to the track in an extremely unsafe manner colliding with the Racing Point of Lance Stroll on his comeback.
The four-time world champion was presented with a ten second stop-and-go penalty, which put the ‘icing on the cake’ during such a miserable race for the German.
He came home in 13th as the tide and momentum within the Ferrari garage is very much changing, with Leclerc potentially starting to become the outright number one driver.
The form is with the Monegasque as Vettel has serious thinking to do.
What the top three said.
Race winner, Charles Leclerc: “I did a few mistakes, but in the end I finished first. I need to be careful with the mistakes but none of them made me lose position”.
Second placed, Valtteri Bottas: “I think we had a good strategy with me and could go very long in the first sting and that opened opportunities in the end. I am gutted.
“I was trying everything. They are so quick in the straights, but we tried. I think that was the best we could do today. We move on”.
Third placed, Lewis Hamilton: “Charles did a great job, a lot of pressure from Valtteri and me. Following so closely, the tyres went off. They were much quicker in a straight line today, we couldn’t pass.
“A strong day for us. We pull away from Ferrari in the constructors and that’s what matters to us”.