Ferrari's Sainz and Leclerc going wheel to wheel reminds us what F1 is really all about

Verstappen and Red Bull continue to dominate but the sight of the red Ferraris battling it out point to signs of better things to come for the Prancing Horse

Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz, front, and Charles Leclerc battled it out at Monza. Getty
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Hats off to team boss Frederic Vasseur and Ferrari. Over the past few decades, Maranello have so often been the villains of the piece.

Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and former team boss Jean Todt, among others, managed to turn winning into a vice, wielding team orders heedless of the public opprobrium building up around them.

Infamously, Rubens Barrichello was ordered to hand over victory in Austria in 2002, even though Schumacher had won four of the previous five rounds and was walking away with the championship. Even the German’s own fanatical following ripped off their red T-shirts in disgust and hurled bright red baseball caps at the podium.

The pressure of winning for the Prancing Horse was just too great for morals to count for much and, to be fair, team orders were not, initially at least, illegal. And that has always been the way Ferrari have done racing.

So it was refreshing – not to say remarkable – to see two Ferrari drivers going at it as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc did at the weekend. And at Monza of all places. Especially when the outcome of a collision could have been catastrophic – especially for a team and its boss under pressure to get results. It is not outrageous to say two Ferraris have probably never raced that closely at Monza. Ever.

Maranello’s fanatical following were pitched into paroxysms of ecstasy. For a while, perhaps a dozen laps, when Sainz was charging away at the head of the field, they even dared to think the unthinkable: Red Bull could be beaten.

Of course, it wasn’t so. After Ferrari’s tyres shredded and the indefatigable Max Verstappen got into his stride it was the same old story: a record 10th victory on the spin.

The remarkable attention to detail at Red Bull meant Verstappen went to the grid with an instruction to race at over 200mph but keep his rear left tyre temperature in a three degree window.

Even in a sport used to domination of one kind or another 24 wins in 25 is superiority of a different order.

Team boss Christian Horner was staggered as F1 heads into the last eight “flyaways”. “We are leaving Europe unbeaten,” he marvelled. “That’s insane,” he added, shaking his head. Fourteen wins from 14.

At this pace Verstappen could be crowned world champion a third time before the end of the month with six rounds remaining.

Away from the Dutchman's triumphal march, Monza is early evidence that Ferrari are coming alive under Vasseur.

With third place assured he could easily have used team orders on his battling duo but didn’t.

The result was thrilling: wheel to wheel racing at 300kph. Sainz and Leclerc braked as late as they dared, skidding into tight chicanes, smoke billowing from tortured rubber then scrabbling out the other side, highly polished, priceless and red race machines still only centimetres apart, fractions from disaster, roaring down the next straight.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Leclerc, even though he had come off second (well fourth) best. “This is what racing should be all the time, it reminds me of my karting days.

“It was close many, many times. So many moments when it was tricky. This is what I love about racing. The adrenalin you feel when you are fighting. This was really fun.”

“I don’t know if I’d use the words ‘good fun’,” added Sainz. “I feel for Fred having to sit on the pit wall through that.”

Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc, left, and Carlos Sainz go toe-to-toe at Monza. AP

But it is exactly the kind of racing that will enhance Maranello’s reputation as racers and that of F1 damaged by the notion generally held that real racing is allowed only as long as it does not conflict with the designs of those in charge.

The result, the team’s best of the year, lifts Ferrari into the top three of the constructors' championship for the first time, surely invigorating drivers, team and fans.

But asked if he had risked too much Vasseur replied: “Don’t be so negative. Risk is relative.”

“I am not focussed on the championship, the most important thing in our situation is to try and do a better job, to fix the issues.

“We have to be focussed on ourselves. Not think about the classification for Bahrain [next year] but to improve ourselves. We know where we are weak and we have to fix it and the time will come [on the track].”

In the ferocious emotional whirlwind that always circles Italy’s favourite Grand Prix team it is the kind of focussed approach that is long overdue.

Updated: September 04, 2023, 6:02 AM