Italian GP: Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton set for ‘box-office’ battle
Will Mercedes ruin Ferrari’s big day again? Leclerc on pole ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel
Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton are set to do battle again as they share a “box-office” front row at Sunday’s Italian GP, with home favourites Ferrari looking to finally end Mercedes’ Monza dominance.
Leclerc, Ferrari’s new star who just held off Hamilton one week ago in Spa, starts on pole and will have the weight of a nation on his shoulders as the in-form young Monegasque bids for the Scuderia’s first win in front of their passionate ‘Tifosi’ fans since 2010.
“Seeing all the fans as crazy as [Saturday] was unbelievable,” Leclerc told Sky F1 after topping a bizarre qualifying session. “I really hope to see them that way [on Sunday] under the podium.”
But with Sebastian Vettel only fourth in the sister Ferrari, Leclerc is vulnerable.
Hamilton starts just behind the 21-year-old and will lead Mercedes’ charge ahead of Valtteri Bottas, and the Silver Arrows are confident considering they have been much closer to Ferrari than they expected at F1’s fastest track.
“I love that it’s that close and it’s not multiple tenths,” said Hamilton, just 0.039s off Leclerc on Saturday.
Mercedes have won the last five races at Monza, with Hamilton the victor on four of those occasions. Last year, he passed Vettel on the first lap before hunting down team-mate Kimi Raikkonen’s after Ferrari’s qualifying one-two.
He is in an even better position in 2019.
“I definitely think we can keep up with them,” added the championship leader, who will look to extend his 65-point advantage. “Whether or not we can close the gap and overtake them, time will tell.
“I have to be grateful that I’m on the front row. We get to have a fight with the Ferraris, which is nice. We’ve split them, so as a team it’s a really good position for us to be in.”
Leclerc stated: “It’s obviously going to be very, very difficult because, first of all, they are quick, secondly, slipstream and DRS are very important here. I think the race pace is quite good, better than in Spa, but for sure it’s going to be very difficult to keep them behind.
“I think a very good start from myself and also from Seb will be very important for the good result.”.
Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta is enthused by the prospect of Leclerc vs Hamilton again.
“It’s box office,” said Di Resta. “Ferrari on pole gets the crowd going. They have embraced Charles.
“Lewis has to do some overtaking to win this race, as he did last year. Tricky conditions, it should be good.”
Vettel, without a victory in over a year, will start ahead of the Renaults after their superb Saturday, with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Nico Hulkenberg. Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Alex Albon share the fourth row.