F1: Max Verstappen wins the Italian Grand Prix for the first time

MONZA, Italy –

After winning in front of his own fans last weekend, Max Verstappen did it on hostile soil on Sunday to leave the Red Bull driver within reach of a second straight F1 title.

Boos rang out from the ardent red-clad Tifosi fans as Verstappen stepped onto the iconic Monza podium for the first time in his career after winning the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

“I had a great view,” said a tactful Verstappen, whose previous highest result at the track was fifth in 2018. “The atmosphere wasn’t great for me. But it is what it is.”

Verstappen is now 116 points clear of Charles Leclerc, who finished second at his home circuit after another questionable strategic decision by Ferrari. With just six races left, the Dutchman could clinch the title in Singapore next month.

Verstappen started seventh after being among a string of drivers hit with grid penalties but was able to work his way up to third at the first corner of lap two. The Red Bull driver then picked up George Russell in a Mercedes at the start of Lap 5 and set about chasing polesitter Leclerc in his Ferrari.

“The start was very good,” said Verstappen. “It was fun to drive today even though it was pretty hot out there. A great day for us.”

The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) gave Verstappen a chance when it came out on lap 12 after Sebastian Vettel’s final race at Monza came to an ignominious end when the four-time world champion pulled to the side of the track after complaining about a power issue.

Ferrari decided to bring Leclerc in to switch to medium tyres, which allowed Verstappen to take the lead. Leclerc returned to the race in third place.

“I think we all had doubts, I think if I hadn’t done it, Max would have done it,” said Leclerc.

“It was a bit unfortunate because we had the virtual safety car end in the middle of the pit lane so we didn’t have all the advantages of stopping at that moment. And from that moment on we were a bit behind.”

It’s been a strange season for Ferrari, full of botched strategic decisions and bizarre incidents, but Leclerc believes it was simply unfortunate timing at Monza.

“I think if you look at our season as a whole, there were definitely mistakes and we need to get better,” said Leclerc. “If today was a clear mistake, I don’t think so. It was our choice and looking back there is simply no telling when the VSC will end.

“Well, yeah, that’s nobody’s fault. Just a bit of bad luck and probably a bit of a lack of pace as well.”

Leclerc passed Russell and then briefly regained the lead when Verstappen pitted on lap 26, but the pair swapped places again seven laps later as the Ferrari driver went for new tires for the second time.

Shortly after last year’s winner Daniel Ricciardo pulled up on lap 47, the safety car deployed again, prompting most drivers to look for soft tyres.

A final fight never materialised, however, as the race ended behind the safety car and Verstappen secured his fifth straight win and his 11th of the season – one more than last year.

Russell finished third ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lewis Hamilton, both of whom fought their way through the field after starting from the back of the grid following penalties.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez was also hit with grid penalties and started 13th, but despite an eventful race that was also marked by a brake fire, he managed to finish sixth and also took the extra point for fastest lap .

Lando Norris was seventh after a poor start from third with Pierre Gasly just behind him.

Williams reserve driver Nyck de Vries finished his very first F1 race in ninth place. The 27-year-old was a late replacement for Alex Albon after the Thai driver was diagnosed with appendicitis.

“Wow, wow. Thank you! Thank you. That was incredible, points on the debut, thanks,” de Vries said over team radio after crossing the finish line, before then spluttering out and adding, “My shoulders are dead, dead.”