Tuesday 17 September 2019

Ferrari finds a new hero as Leclerc takes glory

TOPSHOT - Winner Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc (C) celebrates with champagne next to second placed Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas (L) and third placed Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) on the podium after the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 8, 2019. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Winner Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc (C) celebrates with champagne next to second placed Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas (L) and third placed Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) on the podium after the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza on September 8, 2019. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Duncan

Charles Leclerc celebrated a remarkable Italian Grand Prix victory and then remembered the day he was refused entry through the gates of Ferrari's Maranello headquarters.

Aged just 21, Leclerc held off a Mercedes onslaught at Monza to become the youngest driver dressed in red to win Ferrari's home race, ending a nine-year losing streak for the Italian team. Following in the footsteps of Alberto Ascari, John Surtees, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, Leclerc became the 11th Ferrari driver to win here, completing the ultimate Italian job at his very first attempt.

The Tifosi have a new hero. F1's fanatical army spilled into the pit striaght, lining up in their thousands to see Leclerc hoist the winners' trophy into the air.

Flares were lit, red, white and green ticker tape fell from the sky and giant Ferrari flags were unfurled as fans scaled the catch fencing just to get a glimpse of the team's new star.

Pantomime boos rang out for Lewis Hamilton, who finished third - the world champion slipping behind Valtteri Bottas after falling off the road in his absorbing wheel-to-wheel battle with Leclerc. But this was a day in which the five-time world champion would play second fiddle to the sport's rising star.

Leclerc's young life has been tinged with tragedy. His father, Herve, died two years ago. He registered his first grand prix win in Belgium just 24 hours after the death of his friend Anthoine Hubert in a Formula Two crash. Leclerc was also the godson of Jules Bianchi, the Ferrari academy driver who died in July 2015, nine months after his devastating crash at the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix.

"I first went to Maranello with Jules," said Leclerc. "They wouldn't let me in the factory. Now it is a little bit easier to go inside. I remember dreaming of one day going through those doors and seeing how a Formula One team works, especially Ferrari. As soon as you arrive in Maranello, you can feel that everyone is there to work for Ferrari, and that they are completely crazy for Ferrari.

"The podium here went beyond all the dreams I have had as a child. To see so many people cheering and singing for one team was amazing.

Leclerc moves up to fourth in the standings, 13 points ahead of Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel. In contrast to Leclerc's heroics, the four-time world champion took the chequered flag a dismal 13th and one lap down after he spun on lap six.

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