Classy Charles Leclerc aiming to be new king of Monza and other talking points ahead of Italian GP

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Ferrari head to their homeland this weekend as Charles Leclerc bids to back up his victory in Belgium while Sebastian Vettel searches for his first win in over a year.

Here’s some key talking points ahead of the Italian GP.

FORZA FERRARI

It’s been nine years since Ferrari won their home race when Fernando Alonso crossed the finish line ahead of 2010 world champion Jenson Button.

But following Charles Leclerc’s emphatic victory in Belgium last Sunday, the Italian marque have to be favourites for victory on home soil this weekend. And what a weekend it would be to see Ferrari locking out the front row and dominating race day with a 1-2 finish.

Aside from Leclerc’s heroics in Spa, it was yet another day of frustration for Vettel, who finished fourth and has yet to taste a race win since his victory in Belgium last August.

A series of errors undermined his tilt for a fifth world title in 2018, that honour instead going to Hamilton as the Briton powered to his fifth crown.

But, even if the drivers’ championship does seem out of sight, this is the perfect weekend for Vettel to turn it all around and boost the confidence of a driver who looks low on belief.

To see both Vettel and Leclerc on the podium on Sunday would be a serious filip for the Scuderia.

HAMILTON TO THRIVE 

One man who will have supreme confidence going into this weekend’s race is Hamilton.

The Briton has won five times in Monza, including four out of the last five races, and will be bidding to extend his run to nine wins this season.

For the bulk of this campaign, the 34-year-old has been operating in a class of his own. Still extracting the best from his car, he looks simply relentless in his pursuit of a sixth title.

Winning again on Ferrari’s home turf is likely to spur him on even more.

As for Hamilton’s team-mate, Valtteri Bottas has shone in Italy over the years, with back-to-back podium finishes. A third successive one looks likely on Sunday.

MAX AIMING TO BOUNCE BACK

Max Verstappen’s stunning run of 21 successive races finishing in the top five came to an end last Sunday when he crashed out on the opening lap.

The Dutchman retired after a collision with Kimi Raikkonen on turn one. Once he discovered his steering rack was broken he could not continue.

It meant bitter disappointment for the thousands of Dutch fans who made their way to Belgium for what is effectively the Red Bull star’s home race. Verstappen was born one hour away in Hasselt.

Still, apart from his error, the 21-year-old is in a sweet-spot during this championship, sitting 22 points behind Bottas in third, and in with a serious chance of finishing second in the final standings.

Unfortunately, Verstappen will start from the back of the grid this weekend for taking on a revised power unit for the 14th round of the campaign.

His best finish in Monza was fifth in 2018, but judging by his recent sparkling array of form, he should clinch a podium if all goes to plan this weekend.

ALBON LOOKS THE PART

The Thai-British driver flew the Red Bull flag with aplomb in Belgium, finishing fifth in his first race with the senior team.

The 23-year-old, who was promoted from Toro Rosso during the mid-season break, didn’t look overawed by the step up to a race-winning operation.

Starting all the way back in 17th, Albon tore his way through the field, completing his charge to a career-best fifth with a late pass on Sergio Perez.

His standout move of the race was his swift pass around a sluggish Daniel Ricciardo on lap 35, demonstrating his sheer commitment behind the wheel of the RB15.

As the F1 circus moves from Belgium to Italy this weekend, Albon has the chance to cement his Red Bull credentials once again for the 2020 season.

HOPE FOR THE WEEKEND…

Lando Norris was denied his best ever finish in an F1 race when losing power as he was about to start his final lap in Spa.

Starting 11th on the grid, the 19-year-old battled his way up to fifth only for engine failure to deny him 10 points.

McLaren will head to Monza off the back of collecting no points in Belgium after Carlos Sainz’s early retirement on lap 12.

One of the most likable driver pairings on the grid, let’s hope Norris and Sainz enjoy positive, incident-free races on Sunday.

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Emotional victory in Belgium first step on path to Charles Leclerc achieving greatness

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As Charles Leclerc jumped out of the seat of his iconic Ferrari to celebrate a maiden victory in Formula One, the emotion of a devastating weekend was worn across his young face.

The sheer delight of a race win, sprinkled with a sense of loss following the horrible accident that claimed the life of Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert on Saturday.

At just 21, Leclerc has grown accustomed to loss.

He is the godson of Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015, following a crash in the Japanese Grand Prix 10 months earlier. His father died two years ago, just days before Leclerc won the Baku GP2 race.

The joy of victory in Belgium was no doubt balanced by the despair of losing a friend he’d known for more than a decade.

His first French Championship race was with Hubert back in 2005 and the pair had remained friends since. Hubert was killed following a horror 170mph crash during a Formula 2 race on the same track.

It’s at sad times like this that the motorsport community draw together, and although it is hard to focus and enjoy the race weekend itself, the show goes on.

Leclerc’s epitomised that with his professional manner before and after the race, his composure behind the wheel and admirable words in triumph after the race.

The Monaco native comfortably brought his Ferrari home ahead of a chasing Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. And as he said on the Ferrari team radio after the race, his first win was the culmination of a lifelong dream, but impossible to enjoy given the circumstances.

Despite the sombre atmosphere around Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, it was clearly a bittersweet moment to secure a first win and a relief for Ferrari to soar to their first victory since Kimi Raikkonen’s win in the US Grand Prix last October.

Leclerc was relatively unchallenged throughout the race, though he was fortunate that Ferrari gave Sebastian Vettel team orders to give Leclerc the lead on lap 27.

The strategy was perfect given Leclerc had favourable race speed. For the next few laps, Vettel did a stellar job to hold Hamilton back and allow Leclerc to stretch his advantage to 6.9 seconds.

Though his superb defending did help Leclerc to victory, it proved to be another disappointing day for Vettel, who finished fourth despite starting from second on the grid.

Vettel is now 21 races without a win – ironically his last win came at last season’s Belgian GP. Leclerc has one victory in just his 13th race for Ferrari and only his second season in F1.

Some F1 enthusiasts may suggest Leclerc is making Vettel look average. But that’s a measure of how talented he is and how he continues to improve with each race.

He has beaten his more experienced team-mate Vettel in five of the last seven races, and outqualified the elder statesman in six-successive races.

As ever, it bodes the question as to whether Leclerc should be the number one driver at Ferrari for the remaining races this season?

It’s too early to say after just one victory.

Vettel is one of the best drivers of this era with four champions wins, but Leclerc is clearly getting better as each race weekend passes.

The German is fourth in the championship and a commanding 99 points behind Hamilton. Leclerc, meanwhile, is fifth and would have won in Bahrain in March had his car not lost power with 12 laps remaining.

Leclerc needs more time and if he keeps it up this level of performance then he will definitely become the Scuderia’s premier driver at some point over the next year or two.

Vettel fought hard to try and match Hamilton in 2017 and 2018 championships, but ultimately failed against a better competitor in the Briton. Leclerc looks a real menace and perhaps the shining hope to help steer Ferrari to a first championship since 2007.

It might not fully come together for Leclerc this year, but he looks a future world champion in the making.

For now, the focus for both Ferrari drivers should be to make a fight of this championship after the opening half was dominated by Mercedes. They won 10 times in 12 races.

A confident Leclerc and a resilient Vettel have the class and searing race craft to limit the Silver Arrows’ excellence.

Next week presents the ideal opportunity at the home of Ferrari in Monza.

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Emotional Charles Leclerc registers maiden Formula One win at the Belgian Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc registered the maiden win of his Formula One career after romping to victory at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Less than 24 hours after Leclerc’s French motor racing contemporary, Anthoine Hubert, was killed at the Spa-Francorchamps venue, the young Monegasque driver delivered a dominant display to take the chequered flag in his friend’s honour.

Lewis Hamilton finished second after fighting his way past Sebastian Vettel with 12 laps remaining. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas also managed to see off Vettel after the Ferrari driver was forced to make an additional stop for tyres.

Hamilton extended his lead over Bottas in the championship to 65 points.

“This one is for Anthoine,” said an emotional Leclerc on the radio.

“It feels good but it is difficult to enjoy a weekend like this.”

He added: “On one hand I have realised a dream, but on the other hand it has been a difficult weekend.

“I have lost a friend, so I would like to dedicate my win to him.

“We have grown up together. It is a shame what happened yesterday, so I cannot enjoy my first victory.”

Leclerc posted a childhood picture with his arm around Hubert upon news of his death following a horrifying 160mph crash in Saturday’s Formula Two race. He accompanied the picture with the words: “I can’t believe it.”

Leclerc, who is 22 next month, the same age as Hubert, was visibly moved by the tragedy. Prior to the race, he hugged Hubert’s mother, Nathalie.

A moment of silence was observed before the race in the French driver’s memory. Nathalie held her son’s pink and white crash helmet. Hubert’s brother, Victhor, stood alongside her as the Formula One and grieving Formula Two drivers formed an arc, bowing their heads in honour of their fallen colleague.

Daniel Ricciardo, the usually jovial Australian, kept his eyes closed throughout the silence and ensuing national anthem. He then appeared to wipe away tears, summing up the sombre mood before the start of Sunday’s race. All 20 of the drivers’ cars were adorned with “Racing for Anthoine” stickers.

Leclerc made the perfect start, racing away to the slow, right-handed La Source turn, to retain the lead. Hamilton, starting from third, got the jump on Vettel before Max Verstappen bumped wheels with Kimi Raikkonen.

The force of the impact sent Raikkonen temporarily on to two wheels. Verstappen sustained damage to his car and slammed into the barriers at the top of Eau Rouge, the corner which claimed Hubert’s life.

Verstappen walked away unscathed from the high-speed shunt, but the safety car was quickly deployed. Vettel had managed to re-pass Hamilton for second on the Kemmel Straight, while British teenager Lando Norris took advantage of the chaotic opening exchanges to move up six spots to fifth.

Following the safety car period, Leclerc retained his lead, with Hamilton hot on Vettel’s heels. The German stopped on lap 16, but it was not until lap 21 that Leclerc dived in for a change of rubber. Hamilton pitted on the next lap.

The early stop had helped Vettel take the lead, but his tyres would not last the course. On lap 27, he was told by Ferrari to move out of Leclerc’s way, which he duly did. Then, on lap 32, Hamilton fought his way past with Vettel struggling on ageing rubber.

Leclerc was six seconds up the road on Hamilton, and the world champion kept Leclerc honest to the flag, crossing the line just one second behind the Ferrari driver.

But Leclerc would hold on to take an emotional victory ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel.

Norris looked set to claim a career-best fifth in his McLaren, but stopped with an apparent mechanical failure as he began his final lap.

The London-born Alex Albon took the flag in fifth after starting 18th in an impressive start to his Red Bull career.

Copy provided by Press Association Sport

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