Nothing could keep Max Verstappen from winning the 2022 Italian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen stormed to his fifth straight victory in a row from seventh place on the grid, as the Dutchman proved too much of a challenge for Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari. Verstappen’s win means he could mathematically clinch the 2022 World Championship as early as the next Grand Prix round in Singapore.
From lights out, Verstappen wasted no time scything his way through the field. By Lap 11, only Leclerc remained ahead of the surging Dutchman. When Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin stopped in a cloud of smoke, triggering a virtual safety car, Ferrari decided to switch Leclerc to a two-stopper.
Red Bull chose to stay the course of proven conventional wisdom that Monza works best as a one-stopper. And in that instant, Verstappen now led over Russell and became the presumptive winner.
The Ferrari and Red Bull traded the lead, with Verstappen leading Leclerc by 18 seconds with 19 laps remaining when Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren stopped on track.
The slow removal of the stricken McLaren from the side of the track (which brought out the safety car on Lap 47 of 53) and the safety car struggling to find the leading car on track meant racing did not resume before the chequered flag controversially came out, locking Leclerc into second and George Russell’s Mercedes in third place behind the Dutchman.
Carlos Sainz stormed from the back row to give Ferrari a superlative fourth place, just in front of Lewis Hamilton’s second Mercedes. Sergio Perez delivered sixth place for Red Bull, followed by Lando Norris (McLaren), Pierre Gasley (Alpha Tour), and Nyck de Vries (Williams). Zhou Guanyu claimed the final point for Alfa Romeo.
Particular praise is due to Nyck de Vries’ fantastic debut. The Dutchman discovered about an hour before FP3 that he’d drive for Williams after Alex Albon’s appendicitis hospitalization. He qualified 14th and finished ninth, winning Driver of the Day.
Charles Leclerc nailed his final qualifying lap around Monza to finish Q3 to finish about a tenth-and-a-half quicker than Max Verstappen. However, due to the Dutchman’s five-place grid penalty for taking a new internal combustion engine (ICE), Verstappen’s qualifying setup optimized his RB18 with a higher downforce setup for race day.
Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez faced a drop of 10 positions for exceeding his ICE allocation for the first time. Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda also received grid penalties for Monza.
Hamilton’s PU change was confirmed on Thursday, with Mercedes’ seven-time champion dropping to the back of the grid, having taken every engine component, bar the control electronics (CE) and energy store (ES). Carlos Sainz exceeded his allocation of gearbox components in his Ferrari, plus ES, control electronics (CE) and MGU-K and would therefore start alongside Hamilton.
Monza’s Temple of Speed was primed for a classic Grand Prix. First, the pre-race atmosphere was electric, starting with Ferrari’s yellow livery, part of the Scuderia’s ongoing celebrations to commemorate 75 years since the company’s foundation.
Then, Leclerc took the pole thanks to his brilliant qualifying session on Saturday, with arch-rival Verstappen back in seventh thanks to his five-place grid penalty for taking a new engine. Finally, the minute’s silence, observed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, was impeccably observed.
Russell made a superb launch at the start, but Charles Leclerc just had the edge heading into the first corner chicane. Russell tried overtaking Leclerc around the outside but ran out of track. Reflexively, he cut through the chicane to keep second place.
Lando Norris’ McLaren bogged at lights out, dropping from third back to seventh before repassing Fernando Alonso for sixth. Verstappen was already scything his way through the field and into fourth place by Ascari. By the beginning of Lap 2, the Dutchman was right behind McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo in third, sweeping past his former teammate on the straight.
From there, it took the world champion three more laps to catch Mercedes’ George Russell, who put up little to no resistance heading into the first chicane.
Carlos Sainz was equally busy from the rear as he took Aston Martin’s Stroll on Lap 6 for P10.
By the start of Lap 11, only Leclerc remained ahead of Verstappen, now 1.4s back. However, the Tifosi would lose the opportunity to see any wheel-to-wheel action as Sebastian Vettel suddenly pulled off the track with smoke billowing out of his Aston Martin, triggering a virtual safety car.
Leclerc pitted, but Verstappen stayed out, taking the lead. Ferrari’s decision to pit the Monegasque out of expected sequence meant he locked into a two-stop strategy slower than Verstappen. The Monegasque rejoined in third place on mediums that would never last the remaining 40 laps.
Russell remained out and inherited second, six seconds behind the Dutchman. Sainz had made up colossal ground and was now fourth.
By Lap 19, the window had opened for the one-stoppers running the mediums. Verstappen and Russell remained on their softs, with the Dutchman still lapping consistently while Russell began to fall away.
Russell pitted on Lap 23 for hard tyres, while Verstappen remained in another world, leading Leclerc by a consistent 13.8s. Sainz held station a further 16s behind.
Verstappen finally stopped for mediums two laps later, rejoining 10s behind leader Leclerc. However, by Lap 31, the Dutchman had closed to within 7.1s. Leclerc responded two laps later, diving for the pits and the Scuderia’s Plan C – soft tyres. Russell followed the Monegasque’s move.
Leclerc rejoined in second on Lap 34, 19.1s behind leader Verstappen. Russell returned in third, looking strong for a podium finish. By Lap 38, Verstappen seemed in another world as he extended his lead to 19.3s.
Seemingly secure, Verstappen moved into cruise control, reducing his lead first to 18.5s on Lap 41, and then to 17.0s on Lap 45. Leclerc currently held the fastest lap bonus point, but Perez might now be ready to claim it.
Then on Lap 46, Ricciardo lost his engine with no warning, leaving his McLaren stalled and smoking far from a track access point. A full safety car looked certain.
Could this be a glimmer of hope for Leclerc? Only if the race restarted.
Leclerc and Verstappen rushed in for soft tyres under the safety car to cover the chance that the remaining Monza field might race to the finish.
Unfortunately, confusion reigned as the laps counted down, with Ricciardo’s stricken car stuck in gear at the side of the track, able to move only with a hoist. Then, there was the failure of the safety car to pick up the lead driver initially, instead picking up George Russell in third.
That mistake meant the cars circulated faster than if they were properly positioned behind the safety car, thus reducing the available laps remaining to organize a restart.
Sadly, the 2022 Italian Grand Prix ended with a whimper instead of a bang.