Max Verstappen won the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday to take another giant stride towards defending his world championship after Charles Leclerc’s pit-stop gamble backfired.
Ferrari driver Leclerc led Verstappen by two seconds at Monza when Sebastian Vettel broke down after a dozen laps and the virtual safety car was deployed.
Leclerc dived into the pits in the hope of making his rubber last to the end, but 125,000 Ferrari hearts sunk in Monza as the Monegasque was forced to concede the lead when he stopped for a second time.
Their hopes were revived when a safety car was sent out on lap 46 of 53 after Daniel Ricciardo stopped in his McLaren.
But the marshals could not clear Ricciardo’s McLaren before the end, and the race effectively finished behind the safety car to boos from the Ferrari fans.
Verstappen took his fifth win in a row, his 11th from 16 this season, and extended his championship lead to 116 points with just six rounds remaining.
"We had a great race, on every compound we were quickest and the degradation was really good," said the Dutch driver.
"We had a really good race car and just controlling the gap in the end as the safety car came out, unfortunately we didn’t get a race restart but overall we had a really good day.
"The start was very good I had a clean chicane and I could quickly get back into my rhythm and get into second. It was really good on the tyres, it was really enjoyable to drive today even though it was quite hot out there.
"It took a bit of time to be put on a great podium like this (Monza) but finally we are on it."
Verstappen will have his first shot at sealing his second world championship in as many seasons at the next round in Singapore on October 3.
Mercedes’ George Russell started second and completed the podium. Carlos Sainz took fourth, while Lewis Hamilton, demoted to the back of the grid with engine penalties, crossed the line in fifth.
Leclerc called on his Ferrari team to end their run of blunders and help him convert his dazzling pole position into victory. But his team's strategy will again be in the spotlight.
It started so well for Leclerc when he blasted away from his marks and held off Russell heading into the Variante del Rettifilo. The British driver was forced to take to the escape road, and the home crowd roared as Leclerc led.
Verstappen, who started seventh following a five-place grid drop for an engine penalty, was quickly on the move.
By the end of lap one he was already up to fourth, before he sailed past Ricciardo for third. On lap five, the Dutchman eased ahead of Russell for second.
Leclerc was comfortably keeping Verstappen at arm’s length when Vettel’s engine expired. The virtual safety car was deployed, and in came the 24-year-old for fresh rubber as the rest of the field stayed out. Could Leclerc make his tyres last 41 laps?
The answer arrived on lap 21 when Leclerc’s race engineer was on the radio to say Ferrari would revert to "plan C". The message might have been coded, but it was obvious that Leclerc would need to stop again.
Leclerc assumed the lead on lap 26 when Verstappen stopped. He was 10 seconds clear of the Red Bull driver, but the Dutchman halved Leclerc’s advantage before the Ferrari changed tyres for a second time.
Leclerc left the pits trailing Verstappen by 20 seconds, and, despite a late safety car providing him with hope he could challenge for victory, it was the world champion who claimed yet another win.