Renault duo Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg continue to make strides in developing car

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Ferrari fans lit up Monza in their thousands on Sunday to toast Charles Leclerc’s stunning win, but in a quiet corner around Milan, the Renault team wheeled around in delight after their season-best performance.

The French manufacturer may face a notable power deficit compared to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but they appear to have closed the gap considerably this year.

Coming into the weekend, Renault had toiled through a grim campaign which featured few highlights and several lowlights.

However, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg had Renault fans smiling again, locking out the third row on Saturday, before finishing fourth and fifth in a thrilling race.

The chassis proved more than useful for the team’s drivers on the high-speed Monza layout, and the power unit showed clear signs of improvement.

And rather than falling away in race conditions and getting passed by one or both Red Bulls, they held their own and recorded Renault’s best finish since the team’s re-entry to the sport in 2016.

Ricciardo, starting fifth on the grid, benefited from Sebastian Vettel’s spin which dropped the Ferrari man down to 19th.

Pitting under the virtual safety car, the Australian came home 12 seconds ahead of his German team-mate Hulkenberg.

Finishing ahead of the Red Bulls would have been pleasing for the Perth man, with plenty of eyebrows raised last year when he decided to leave a potential championship winning team and move to a side which had not finished on the podium since April 2011.

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, started from sixth on the grid and finished fifth, maintaining his speed and using his strong race-craft to keep ahead of Alex Albon and Max Verstappen. It was his best finish since the German Grand Prix in July 2018.

Of course, reliability issues need to improve if Renault are to continue making progress and threaten the top three.

Ricciardo has been forced to retire four times this season through power unit, collision damage and exhaust issues, while Hulkenberg has retired on three occasions through power unit and spin off problems.

In contrast to their midfield rivals, the seven retirements between Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is one more than the McLarens and three more than Toro Rosso.

In spite of early, disappointing finishes, the results of the Renault drivers have been notable.

Ricciardo shades his teammate on qualifying, notching an average starting position of 9.85 while Hulkenberg has started on the grid an average position of 11.78.

On race day, both drivers have made improvements generally, with Hulkenberg averaging a 10.06 place finish in contrast to Ricciardo’s 9.6 place average finish.

Ricciardo holds the advantage in the drivers’ championship, sitting eighth, three points above his team-mate who is 11th.

Progress is progress but it needs to stay consistent if Renault are to ever put pressure on the top three.

As it stands, they sit fifth in the constructors’ championships, 14 points ahead of Toro Rosso and just 18 points behind McLaren.

The next stop on the calendar in Singapore, a track which requires downforce rather than power, so despite Renault finding their rhythm in Monza, the chassis will be truly tested on the twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will carry on their leading form, but has Renault found the turning point to help prove their own claims of being the best of the rest?

If they are to achieve strong results over the coming weeks in Singapore, Russia and Japan then it will set up a frenetic finish as they go in search of replicating last season’s formidable fourth place finish in the team standings.

Only time will tell if they have made consistent developments but, in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, they possess two drivers who will extract the maximum from an improving car.

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Italian GP blunder puts Sebastian Vettel at risk of one-race ban

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Sebastian Vettel faces a potential one-race ban after his latest blunder on another miserable afternoon for the quadruple world champion.

Vettel spun at the Ascari chicane on lap six, and in his desperate attempt to rejoin the track in haste, collided with Lance Stroll.

Vettel smashed into the right-rear tyre of Stroll’s Racing Point, sending the Canadian into a spin.

“He just came back on the circuit like an idiot,” said Stroll over the team radio.

Vettel limped back to the pits with a broken front wing, and was then hit with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for dangerous driving. The punishment is one of the most severe available to the stewards.

The German was also dealt three penalty points for the collision, taking his tally to nine for the calendar year. He had previously fallen foul of the stewards after crashing into Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at Silverstone, and rejoining the track in a dangerous fashion at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel will be banned for a race if he accrues three further points at the ensuing rounds in Singapore, Russia and Japan.

“I still love what I do but when you are not doing well, and you know you can do well, you can’t be happy,” said Vettel, 32.

“I lost the rear of the car and it was as simple as that.”

The penalty points capped an afternoon to forget for Vettel, who is swiftly becoming yesterday’s man at Ferrari following the emergence of Leclerc and his second win in as many grands prix.

Vettel has not stood on the top step of the podium for more than a year, and crossed the line in 13th place here. To add insult to injury, he was lapped by Leclerc with a third of the race remaining.

Vettel is paid handsomely by Ferrari, understood to be in the region of £36million a season. His contract expires at the end of the next year, but there is a feeling he might choose to walk away from the Scuderia before then, particularly if he further surrenders his number one status to his new team-mate.

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Charles Leclerc the king of Monza and other talking points from Italian GP

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Charles Leclerc survived an onslaught from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to win a thrilling Italian Grand Prix.

Hamilton hustled Leclerc during a remarkable spell of wheel-to-wheel action – but the Ferrari man excelled to keep the world champion at bay and register his second win in as many weeks and the Italian marque’s first on home soil since 2010.

Here’s our key talking points from Monza:

CLASSY LECLERC

What a drive from the young man.

The last time Ferrari secured victory at Monza, Leclerc was taking part in the Junior Monaco Kart Cup as a 12-year-old in Monte Carlo.

The young Monegasque has impressed as each round has passed this championship, and backed up his triumph in Spa last weekend without a superb victory in Italy.

He showed his maturity when soaking up pressure from Hamilton for large parts of the race and was smart on the positioning of his car when trying to defend. To have the Briton on your tail for Ferrari’s home race is hugely pressuring and Leclerc delivered with aplomb.

The 21-year-old was right on the edge with his searing driving, although he did make some errors at times, but ultimately embraced the pressure of both Mercedes drivers attempting to narrow the gap at every opportunity.

It’s a win Ferrari badly needed. And with two triumphs now in the space of seven days, it will be a serious confidence-booster for the Maranello side as they aim to make a fight of this championship after the opening half was dominated by Mercedes.

It looks like there’s a changing of the guard at Ferrari as this young stallion is slowing transforming into a future world champion in the making.

MIXED DAY FOR HAMILTON

The 34-year-old delivered an impressive race performance to hustle Leclerc to the flag last weekend, and for spells of Sunday’s race, looked like he was primed to overtake Leclerc and clinch a ninth win of the season.

He attempted a number of moves down the straight, but didn’t have sufficient power to mount a successful attack on Leclerc.

His tyres ran out of power late on, and was forced into the run-off area on lap 43, falling off the road and allowing Bottas to take second.

Knowing his opportunity to push for victory was gone, Hamilton stopped for a set of fresh tyres, and claimed a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race in the closing stages.

Although he would have come into the weekend bidding for his fifth win in Italy, Hamilton will be firing for Singapore in two weeks time, around a track where he’s sealed victory on four occasions.

CONSISTENT BOTTAS

The significant thing about Bottas is that he’ll make podiums without doing anything spectacular.

He always drives consistently, but is prone to an error when the pressure is on.

Running in third, he made ground on Leclerc late on after Hamilton ran off the track and fell down to third. The Finn pushed hard and closed to within half a second to Leclerc, but locked up twice and lost valuable time.

He struggled with the mediums and went on to notch second, finishing eight-tenths behind the Ferrari star.

Still, it caps off a fine weekend for the 30-year-old as he tries to keep the pressure on Hamilton in the drivers’ championship. As it stands, he trails by 63 points.

VETTEL PAST HIS BEST

Vettel was desperate to strike back following his rather drab fourth place in Belgium last week.

Starting fourth on the grid after a poor Q3 run on Saturday, he struggled on the opening laps and spun with no contact around him on lap six.

The German received a 30 second penalty for re-entering the track in a different position. He limped into the pits with a damaged front wing and re-entered in 19th.

His error left Leclerc alone at the front with no team-mate help as Hamilton and Bottas had the chance to gang up strategically on the Monaco man.

Leclerc didn’t wilt under the pressure, but it was another error for Vettel, who went on to finish a disappointing 13th.

It’s becoming all to familiar for the four-time world champion, who appears to be a fading force as each round passes in this championship. His last win was 12 months ago in Spa.

TEAM OF THE DAY?

It has be Renault.

Daniel Ricciardo and Niko Hulkenberg notched the best performance of the season for the French side, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

Renault were clear of the midfield all weekend and their efforts were warmly greeted by the Monza crowd.

As well as being the team’s best joint-finish all season, it was also season-best displays for Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.

Their 22 points puts Renault fifth in the constructors’ championship on 65 points – just 18 points behind McLaren.

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