Max Verstappen romped to an easy victory at the Italian Grand Prix after Ferrari gambled away Charles Leclerc’s lead on a two-stop strategy.
Leclerc had got away from pole position easily to control the first part of the race while Verstappen worked to recover from seventh on the grid. The Dutchman dispatched the task rapidly, rising to third after two laps and second on lap 5, but he couldn’t close down Leclerc for the lead. Both drivers were on the soft tire, on which their cars were equally suited.
The pit window was expected to open at around lap 18 for an early one-stop strategy, but on lap 12 Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin expired in a puff of smoke, forcing the German to park by the side of the road.
The race was neutralized by a virtual safety car, and Ferrari decided to pit Leclerc from the lead to prevent an undercut, switching him the medium compound. Verstappen — and everyone else — stayed out, wary of the 41-lap stint. Their concerns were well placed.
The world champion stayed out until lap 25, and such was his pace that he conceded only three seconds to Leclerc through to the end of his stint. He rejoined from his service just 10.5s behind the leader and immediately started lapping more than a second a lap quicker thanks to his considerable tire offset.
It was clear Leclerc would have to stop again, with Ferrari banking on his extra set of new softs being the quick enough to make the difference.
On lap 33, Leclerc returned to pit lane and rejoined with almost a 19-second deficit with 20 laps to run, but he disastrously couldn’t squeeze any pace from the fresh rubber — in fact he was slower in the early laps of his stint, blowing out his deficit to more than 20 seconds.
Verstappen was set for a comfortable 15-second victory when on lap 47 Daniel Ricciardo’s race ended on the side of the road with an engine failure, deploying the safety car.
The front-runners stopped for tires and reset the gaps, promising a dash to the finish, but Ricciardo’s McLaren took so long to recover from the second Lesmo that the lap counter expired with the safety car at the head of the field.
Verstappen’s win, his fifth race in a row and 10th of the season, gives him a 116-point lead in the championship and puts himself in a position to win the title at the next race in Singapore.
“We had a great race,” Verstappen said. “On every compound we were quickest.
“The deg was very good. We had a really good race car, and we were just controlling the gap at the end. Overall we had a really good day.”
Leclerc was diplomatic in defeat, lamenting that the race couldn’t be restarted late to give him a chance at undoing his race’s mistakes.
“The end was frustrating,” he said. “I wish we could’ve ended racing, but unfortunately we were second at the place because of what happened before. It’s a shame, but overall I gave it all.
“I wish I could’ve won in front of the amazing tifosi we have here, but I just couldn’t today.”
George Russell completed the podium, having been spared an unlikely late Sainz charge by the safety car intervention, making it four podiums in five races for the Briton.
“No matter if we’re fast or slow, we keep getting these podiums,” he said. “We’ve got to be satisfied with that.”
Carlos Sainz’s recovery from 18th ended with a commendable fourth after a particularly aggressive first stint, overtaking all the way to fourth before the first stops.
Lewis Hamilton mounted a similarly strong recovery from 19th to fifth, albeit by making up most of his places through the pit stop window to cut through the traffic.
Sergio Perez had his race hamstrung by a front-right brake problem early in the race, forcing him into an early stop that dropped him to the back of the field on lap 7. He made a late extra stop before the safety car to score a point for fastest lap.
Lando Norris ran deep into the race to overcut Pierre Gasly, having battled with him unsuccessfully through the entire first stint. A low pit stop dropped him onto the track side by side with the Frenchman, but he took the position through the first chicane and held off the AlphaTauri until the safety car.
Nyck de Vries was a sensational points-scoring debutant in ninth thanks to a perfect launch and great defensive drive to essentially hold position to the end.
Zhou Guanyu completed the top 10 to score the final point of the race.