Italian Grand Prix: 'Max Verstappen creates more history but Ferrari the story at Monza'

Ferrari fans mass on the Monza pit straight in front of the podium after the Italian Grand Prix
Jubilant Ferrari fans gathered in front of the Monza podium to celebrate Carlos Sainz's third place behind race winner Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen had just achieved something unprecedented in Formula 1 history, but the fans massed on the pit straight after the Italian Grand Prix did not care about that.

The Dutch national anthem was playing in the wake of the Red Bull driver's 10th victory in a row, something no driver has ever before achieved, but it was drowned out by the chants of "Carlos, Carlos, Carlos" from below.

Standing beside Verstappen on the rostrum, the recipient of those chants was savouring the atmosphere. Carlos Sainz had not only just secured his first podium of the year, but he had done it fighting like a lion. If he wasn't idolised by the tifosi already, he certainly was now.

Well over an hour later, the tifosi were still there. Sainz's team-mate Charles Leclerc came out from the Ferrari pit, climbed the debris fencing and spent quite some time signing autographs and taking selfies with the fans. Now the chants were "Charles, Charles, Charles".

Despite Verstappen's momentous achievement, Ferrari were the story of the weekend at Monza, and that's how the tifosi like it.

Ferrari did not win, but they produced their best performance of a difficult year, Sainz and Leclerc giving the all-conquering Red Bull team their toughest fight of the season. And once Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez were finally past into first and second places, the Ferrari drivers set about each other as they fought over the final podium place in the final laps.

Each threw everything at the other, right up to the final lap, when Leclerc tried a 'dummy' move on Sainz at the first corner, and both locked up and went through the escape road. "We were both on the limit of the regulations at the end," Leclerc said, "me attacking and him defending. We had a bit of fun at the end there but it all ended well.

"Carlos was pushing like hell, I was pushing like hell. Checo (Perez) was pushing like hell. We were all pushing like crazy.

"It's been a long time since I had that much fun in a race. Everyone was really close."

In previous years, Ferrari might have called the fight off. It has not been traditional for the team to let their drivers fight - certainly not as hard as this.

But new team boss Frederic Vasseur, who took over at the start of the year, is trying to sweep a new broom through Maranello. The Frenchman is a racer, and he let his instincts flow.

"It is much easier to comment when you have a happy ending but it was also the best way to thank everyone, the support of the tifosi and so on," Vasseur said.

"I was not very comfortable to freeze something five laps from the end. I trust them but I told them no risk at all - the notion of no risk always relative. But I am quite proud of the decision and of the job done by the drivers today."

Ferrari's 'chance of the season'

Monza is always a febrile atmosphere but somehow this weekend felt even more so.

At the Hotel de Ville, down the road from the track, the fans gathered in their hundreds to celebrate the two drivers, who were both staying there.

On Saturday morning, the crush delayed Sainz and Leclerc's arrival at the track, when they were due to be filmed by the Hollywood crew shooting Brad Pitt's new F1 movie.

When later that afternoon Sainz emerged on top at the end of a gripping qualifying session, in which pole changed hands three times in the closing seconds, the famous autodromo went wild.

That evening, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said, the chanting outside the Hotel de Ville finally died down at around 1am.

Ferrari sensed an opportunity at Monza, Their car has been at its most competitive this year on tracks that require a low-downforce set-up. Monza is at the most extreme end of this, and they had produced a new rear wing for the occasion, the car trimmed right out to maximise its speed on the straights.

Not only that, but they introduced brand new engines on both cars. Rivals suspected they had also turned them up more than normal, as high as they dared, although Vasseur denied that. Whatever, it did the trick. The cars - and especially Sainz - were quick from the off.

When they qualified first and third, the hope was that they could both get ahead of Verstappen in the race and perhaps play some strategy. One rival team boss saw it as "the chance of the season for Ferrari".

In the end, Leclerc did not manage to pass Verstappen for second at the start, and Sainz only just chopped across in time to hold the Red Bull back. But the lead secured, Sainz began one of the drives of his life.

It took 15 laps, but in the end, Verstappen broke his resistance. A small lock-up into the first chicane was all Verstappen needed. He got a better run down to the second chicane, and the lead was his.

Sainz's battle, though, was only just starting. Now he had Leclerc on his tail. Later, when Perez had passed the second Ferrari, Sainz fought hard against the Mexican. When he again eventually succumbed to the inevitable, Leclerc came back at him, and their fight was perhaps the hardest of all. It was on the edge at times, but Sainz did just enough.

'It was a day to try and I tried everything'

Carlos Sainz crosses the finish line just ahead of Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc
Carlos Sainz just held off Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc to take the final podium place in third

The start of the final lap looked the diciest moment of all. Leclerc had tried to dummy Sainz into the first chicane, but Sainz moved one way and then the other to hold him off. He looked perilously close to contravening the rule forbidding moving under braking, but afterwards Leclerc had no complaints.

"This is what racing should be and when we are racing at the limit like this it is really fun and I really enjoyed it," Leclerc said.

"At the end, we did a bit of a show and a bit of a scare for everybody. But in the car it was all fine. I just had a smile on my face and I hope Carlos had, too."

He did.

"I never felt too much of a risk," Sainz said. "With a team-mate, you are always a bit more tense, and give a bit more space because the last thing you want in front of the tifosi is to touch. We had a tough, fair battle and we managed to keep it clean and I had good fun.

"A P3 in front of the tifosi is as good as it can get, at least for this weekend, because in the end Red Bull were quite a bit quicker than us, as we expected.

"It was a day to try, and I tried everything I could to keep them behind. It probably nearly cost me a podium because it meant I was wearing the tyres more than I liked and making me very vulnerable towards the end of the stints to Max and then Checo and Charles. We made it, but it was a tough one."

'Emotionally, it was huge'

Even Vasseur found himself caught up in the emotion of it all, he said. To his surprise.

"Overall it's a good weekend," Vasseur said. "On the sporting side, probably the best from the beginning of the season. But I think emotionally it was also a huge one for me.

"I tried all week to downplay the situation to the guys, saying: 'We can't score more points in Monza than anywhere else, let's take it a little bit easy.'

"But when I arrived on Wednesday evening (for an event in Milan) and we had hundreds of guys two or three days before the event, I thought: 'OK, it won't be easy to take it easy, huh?'

"And yesterday when we crossed the line with Carlos, it was mega in the grandstands. You can't say it's a normal one. It's completely unique. For sure as a Ferrari team principal I was a bit flying."

'It is a golden moment for Max'

Max Verstappen clenches his fist on the podium as he celebrates winning the Italian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen needs three more wins in 2023 to equal his own record for victories in a single season (15), achieved last year. There are eight races remaining

To the surprise of no one, Verstappen, a matter-of-fact sort of guy, seemed not to be reacting in the same way to his new record.

"Of course it's something you don't expect to happen," he said. "I never thought at the start of the season that something like this was possible. So very proud but also very happy with the race in general.

"I am very proud also of the whole team effort. Winning every race. We are definitely enjoying it. These kinds of seasons don't come around very often and it is the same with winning 10 in a row."

It was left to Horner to express the magnitude of the achievement.

"What Max is doing is breaking records and driving at an unbelievable level," Horner said.

"I don't think there is anybody in the world at the moment that can beat Max Verstappen in this car, that's for sure.

"You have to recognise and applaud what Max is doing. It is very special to achieve what he has achieved and we shouldn't detract from that in any way.

"In sport it is very rare that something like this happens and it is a golden moment for him and certainly a golden moment for the team.

"We are making history and it's not often you get the chance to do that. We went through the building years to get where we did in '10 to '13 with Sebastian Vettel. We hit some fairly lofty highs.

"Then we had seven tough years where we never lost focus on what our goal and objective was. And so to get back into a situation where we're winning again is very special for the whole team. To have gone through those tough times and that hard work is paying off."

And Horner allowed that Verstappen, for all his public nonchalance, had seemed a little different this weekend, with the record on the line.

"I wouldn't say nervous," Horner said, "but you could definitely say that his focus was razor sharp. More than usual. You could see that it definitely meant something to him."

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