Verstappen Charges On With Maiden Monza Victory, De Vries Scores Points On Formula 1 Debut

| Contributing Writer

Sept. 11, 2022, marked the 16th round of the 2022-23 Formula 1 Season at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Monza, Italy. Leader Red Bull and its top driver Max Verstappen aimed to grow their substantial lead on the rest of the pack as they look to wrap up the title within the next couple of races. Before the race, Max Verstappen led championship rival Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by an astounding 109 points and teammate Sergio “Checo” Perez by 109 points. 

Formula 1 comprises two competitions: an individual championship and a drivers’ championship. Before the race, from a team perspective, Red Bull led 2nd place Ferrari by 135 points and 3rd place Mercedes by 165 points in the Constructors’ Championship.

Saturday’s qualifying ended with Charles Leclerc’s pole, the Monagasque’s 8th of the season. However, despite this normalcy, qualifying was marked by many penalties. Nine drivers all received substantial grid penalties for exceeding their allowed amounts of power unit elements on the year. 

The final race order was Leclerc, Mercedes’s George Russell, Mclarens Lando Norris, and Daniel Ricciardo in 3rd and 4th. Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly finished in the Top 5. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso started in 6th, with Verstappen in 7th. William’s Nyck De Vries, the rookie Mercedes reserve driver who came in place of the injured Alexander Albon, started in 8th, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu began in 9th, and William’s Latifi rounded out the Top 10.

At the Grand Prixs’ commencement, Leclerc led the pack down the Rettifilo chicane — though he soon came under immense pressure from Russell, who briefly — yet illegally — overtook him. Further down in the race, Verstappen managed to move into third by the second lap, and within the next 2 laps, he found himself within the DRS zone of Russell’s Mercedes. After overtaking Russell, the three leaders pulled away from the remaining drivers, as Ricciardo’s slow pace prevented other drivers from catching the front three.

Sebastian Vettel’s smoking Aston Martin resulted in a Virtual Safety Car (VSC), which led to Leclerc pitting — coming back out in third — and a chase-down on Russell for second. Though Leclerc’s teammate Sainz had moved up from 18th to 4th, he couldn’t get into the podium positions until Russell pitted on Lap 23 for hards. Soon after, Verstappen pitted, giving Leclerc a 10-second lead on him in first — though on 14-lap older tires. On lap 33, Leclerc was called in for softs to try to catch Verstappen within the final 19 laps, but he emerged 19 seconds behind him and needed to gain one lap per second to catch him.

Leclerc failed to overtake the leader despite swapping to presumably faster tires as Verstappen pushed much farther in front. The Red Bull driver maintained a comfortable lead and seemed to be headed for the win, but on Lap 48, Ricciardo abruptly veered off the track between the two Lesmos. 

This brought out the late Safety Car, and all four leaders pitted while traveling at a slower speed for soft tires and maintaining their positions. Thus, the race ended with the Safety Car out, with some drivers making their way to the rear of the pack and several lapped cars remaining between Verstappen and Leclerc.

Verstappen grabbed the checkered flag to score his fifth straight triumph, with Leclerc coming in second. However, he expressed his displeasure that the race had not continued, which pushed the Drivers’ Championship further from his grasp. Russell finished 4th while Sainz finished 3rd, ahead of 5th-place Lewis Hamilton. Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly came in 6th and 8th, respectively. Nyck de Vries, a rookie, finished 9th to earn points in his debut Grand Prix ahead of Zhou Guanyu, who finished 10th to round up the point scorers.

Verstappen now has a 115-point advantage over Leclerc in the standings with six races remaining. He will win the championship if he finishes the upcoming race in Singapore with a 138-point advantage.

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