F1 Raceweek: Charles Leclerc must fight Lewis Hamilton to end Ferrari’s Monza pain

Ferrari have not won at Monza since 2010, with Charles Leclerc needing to fight off Mercedes if he is to end that run of woe.

After waiting all season for a race victory that arrived in Belgium, Ferrari are now eyeing up a second win in as many weeks that could end nine years of hurt at their home race.

The Italian Grand Prix will see Charles Leclerc, last week’s winner at Spa, line up on pole position, with the Scuderia looking to end a run that has seen them fail to win at Monza since Fernando Alonso triumphed in 2010.

Mercedes have won at Ferrari’s home circuit for five consecutive years – the best run of any team ever in Italy – with Lewis Hamilton claiming four of those victories, adding to one he took for McLaren earlier in his career.

And it is a confident five-time world champion Hamilton who will lead the fight to Ferrari again as he starts second.

On the second row, Valtteri Bottas, who trails Hamilton by 65 points in the drivers’ championship, heads Leclerc’s team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

The German expressed his frustration at his misfortune and the team’s tactics after qualifying. He has now been out-qualified by Leclerc for seven consecutive races.

Despite the Q3 chaos where none of the leading drivers crossed the line in time to set a final flying lap as they scrapped for the ideal slipstream, the margin between the top two teams is small, with Ferrari’s advantage on another well-suited track not as pronounced as last week.

Hamilton, who ended up just 0.039seconds adrift of Leclerc, felt he would have got pole had Kimi Raikkonen not crashed right in front of him on the flying lap he was able to set, an incident that also hindered Bottas.

Level with Michael Schumacher on five Monza wins, Hamilton is eyeing double delight in claiming the outright record and extending Ferrari’s drought.

“I have to be grateful that I’m on the front row,” said the 34-year-old.

“We get to have a fight with the Ferraris on Sunday which is nice; we split them, so as a team, it’s a really good position for us to be in. It’s great to separate the Ferraris.

“We can work together as a team, try to overhaul Charles and fortunately not have the Ferrari – Vettel – in the way this time.

“Charles did a great job, but honestly, just to be up here on the front row, we can give Ferrari a good fight. We managed to get quite close to them which is awesome. We improved the car bit by bit over the weekend. I love that it is that close between us.”

Last week was the first time in five races the driver on pole won and only the fourth time all season, so Leclerc knows he will be challenged as he looks to make it back-to-back triumphs.

“To see so many people feels absolutely amazing,” Leclerc said of the Ferrari fans. “It feels unbelievable, incredible support. Obviously the feeling I got when I went out of the car, hearing the crowd cheer so loud is absolutely amazing.

“The pace was actually quite good during the race simulations in FP2 so it’s looking positive on that – we are pretty confident. It looks a little better than in Spa.

“The Mercedes were quick, but I think we were very quick too. My first timed Q3 lap was not special as I was way too close to Nico Hulkenberg – obviously the slipstream was amazing but in corners I was losing a lot so it was not ideal.

“But it’s obviously going to be very, very difficult [to keep Mercedes behind] because, first of all, they are quick, secondly, slipstream and DRS are very important here. So it’s going to be difficult to lead.

“It is a long way from the start to the first corner so a very good start from myself and also from Seb will be very important.

“A bit of a shame for the team that Seb couldn’t do his second timed lap; he was very quick. I felt like a 1-2 was an opportunity even though Mercedes were extremely quick and it was very, very close.”

Bottas is also hoping to be in the mix having not won since Baku in April.

“I was quite unlucky – the last run was kind of a mess for everybody – and I also had the yellow flag at the last corner in the first run, so I had to lift off and I believe I missed the pole on that,” said the Finn, who was just 0.047s behind.

“But the pace was good and I’m happy to still be very much at the front because it is Sunday that counts. Top three gives you a good chance here.”

VERSTAPPEN STARTS FROM THE BACK

A power issue meant Max Verstappen could not complete a lap in Q1, but the Red Bull star already knew he would be starting from the back of the grid having taken a new engine to incur a penalty.

Verstappen retired for the first time in 22 races last week and is optimistic about charging through the field to record a high points finish, with the possibility of rain another factor that could work in his favour.

“I still have a target to get into the top five,” said the Dutchman. “For sure, we’ll try to go forward

“I definitely hope it is wet. The dry will be really tough as the cars in front will pull away massively in the early laps. When it is wet the differences would be a bit bigger normally and you can definitely come to the front. But even if it is dry we will try to make a good race.”

Alex Albon starts eighth in the second Red Bull after he was unable to set a time amid the qualifying chaos.

THE GRID

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
6. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
7. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
8. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
9. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)

PREVIOUS WINNERS

2018: Lewis Hamilton
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton

DRIVER STANDINGS

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 268
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203 (-65)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 181 (-87)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 169 (-99)
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 157 (-111)

CONSTRUCTOR STANDINGS

1. Mercedes 471
2. Ferrari 326 (-145)
3. Red Bull 254 (-217)
4. McLaren 82 (-389)
5. Renault 51 (-420)

WEATHER FORECAST 

Practice had wet spells, qualifying was dry and race weather could be a combination of the two. Sunday temperatures will be around 17 degrees Celsius but the biggest element the teams will be watching is the rain.

Showers are almost certain in the morning in Monza, though the chances decrease as the day progresses. They are presently down to around a 33 percent possibility of rain at the time of the race, a figure that is likely to change regularly as the start gets closer.

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