Verstappen wins Italian GP as title nears

·3-min read

Max Verstappen has powered from seventh to triumph at the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, his fifth victory in a row this season as he closes in on retaining his title.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, Verstappen's main rival, started on pole on Sunday but, as so often this season, pit-stop gambles yet again did not work out for the Italian team on their home Monza track.

World champion Verstappen quickly made his way up the field and then kept hold of the lead as the race controversially finished behind the safety car, with Leclerc second ahead of Mercedes' George Russell.

Verstappen now leads Leclerc by 116 points with six races left as Ferrari fans booed the anti-climactic finish.

The Dutchman can even seal the title in three weeks in Singapore if results go his way.

"We had a great race. We had a really good race car and we were controlling the gap and then the safety car came out. Unfortunately, we didn't get a restart," Verstappen said.

It was the opposite to the Abu Dhabi finale last year where Australia's former race director Michael Masi allowed one lap of racing after the safety car and Verstappen snatched the title.

This time, caution won the day with stewards a little slow to remove Daniel Ricciardo's stricken McLaren, which the Australian defending Italian GP champ was forced to park at the side of the track after yet more late disappointment.

Despite the unsatisfactory finale, Verstappen went on to win an 11th race this season and 31st of his career.

"The end was frustrating. I wish we could have ended up racing. It's a shame," Leclerc said.

Leclerc had got away well from pole but Russell tried to get past on the first corner before running wide, without either being penalised.

Verstappen was quickly up to third on F1's fastest and most used track. The world champion then easily overtook Russell on lap five of 53.

A virtual safety car when Sebastian Vettel retired his Aston Martin prompted Leclerc to make an early pit-stop but Verstappen stayed out initially to take the lead.

Verstappen boxed midway through the race and came out in second behind Leclerc, who opted to pit again and lose the lead.

The late safety car phase led to a flurry of stops but Verstappen clung on as the yellow flags stayed out.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz drove from third last to fourth to at least give Ferrari fans something to cheer at Monza, celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Lewis Hamilton, who also started towards the back, finished fifth for Mercedes and Red Bull's Sergio Perez, also hampered by a grid penalty and brake problems after a stop, was sixth.

Williams driver Alex Albon was ill with appendicitis so reserve Nyck de Vries, the 2021 Formula E champion, competed in qualifying and ended the race in an impressive ninth on his F1 debut.

Alpine's Fernando Alonso had to retire in his 349th race, equalling Kimi Raikkonen's record for most F1 starts.

The day started with rumblings of discontent about the starting grid and whether the governing FIA had properly imposed a raft of grid penalties for engine and gearbox changes.

Verstappen started seventh - after qualifying second and having a five-place penalty - but many fans said he should have been fourth according to their reading of the rules, with an official announcement taking hours after Saturday qualifying.