Sports

Verstappen on verge of second world title after dominating Italian GP

Charles Leclerc began Sunday’s race from pole position at Monza with an array of cars dropping down the order for taking new engine components, including Verstappen who started seventh yet was already in third place by the time he approached the first-turn chicane on the second lap.

George Russell, starting second in the Mercedes, waved the Red Bull through moments later before Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin suffered an apparent engine blowout to call out the virtual safety car.

Ferrari took the opportunity to pit Leclerc with Verstappen sat on his tail, calmly preparing his attack for the lead.

Although the early stop took advantage of the VSC’s reduced time-loss for tyre changes, it left the pole-sitter relying on a long stint on the Medium tyres up against the Red Bull’s fearsome pace.

At the halfway point of the 53 laps, Verstappen finally pitted on a one-stop strategy and came out ten seconds behind his ailing title rival. Within moments, the gap was down to six seconds and the Dutchman looked unstoppable.

Leclerc pitted for Softs that left him 20 seconds off the lead and needing to close up over a second per lap, a mission simply impossible for the Ferrari and he had barely tamed three seconds off his rival before a late grain of hope emerged.

The local tifosi fans roared at Daniel Ricciardo’s stranded McLaren drawing out a safety car at lap 47 of 53 but the vehicle was too difficult to quickly retrieve by tractor and the race was effectively ended then and there – despite the leading quartet’s dart into the pits from fresh tyres.

Verstappen’s title lead now stands so tall that he can officially claim his second world championship when F1 reconvenes in Singapore early next month.

“We had a great race, under every compound we were quickest. Unfortunately we didn’t get a [safety car] restart but overall a really good day,” he said. “The start was very good, it was really good on the tyres, really enjoyable. It took a bit of time to be on a great podium like this but finally we’ve done it.”

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