Charles Leclerc of Monaco during the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Spa, Belgium, September 1 2019. Picture: DEAN MOUHTAROPOULOS/GETTY IMAGES
Charles Leclerc of Monaco during the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Spa, Belgium, September 1 2019. Picture: DEAN MOUHTAROPOULOS/GETTY IMAGES

Monza — Charles Leclerc will be propelled by an upgraded Ferrari power unit and his own raw emotions, this weekend when he bids to claim a second career victory at the Italian Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old Monegasque’s maiden Formula One triumph was shrouded in tragedy at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix after the death of his close friend Anthoine Hubert.

For Leclerc and his teammate four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel the race in the old royal park at Monza offers another opportunity to show their cars’ superior power and straight-line speed against champions Mercedes.

“It’s time for our home Grand Prix and there can be no better way to come to Monza than as the winner of the last round in Spa-Francorchamps,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto, ahead of this weekend’s race.

“It’s a great thank-you to our fans who have given us so much support during what has been a far from easy season so far. Monza is a track where we run at very high average speeds, featuring long straights and heavy braking, running a low downforce package — and, this weekend, we plan to introduce our third [upgraded] power unit.”

After a season so far in which Ferrari have won only once in 13 outings, with Mercedes triumphing 10 times and Red Bull twice, Binotto knows his team must deliver a near-flawless performance again to resist the overall excellence and race pace of Mercedes’ defending five-time champion Lewis Hamilton.

“We saw in Belgium that, in order to win, we must do everything to perfection and our aim is to do exactly that in Monza too,” he said. “There will be no room for error. Our home race is always important, but that is especially true this time as we are celebrating 90 years of Scuderia Ferrari.

“Racing in front of our home fans is always an extra boost and further motivation to do well. Apart from anything else, there is no podium quite like Monza and we think there is no better crowd than the Italian one.”

The 2018 race ended with Ferrari fans booing loudly when the triumphant Hamilton stood atop the podium, having won after Ferrari had locked out the front row of the grid following Kimi Raikkonen’s all-time fastest qualifying lap.

The Briton’s brilliant victory drew him level with Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher’s record five Monza victories and was Mercedes’ fifth successive Italian triumph. Hamilton admitted, however, that Ferrari have every chance of snapping that run.

“Monza is going to be a happy weekend for Ferrari, most likely, because it is all straights and they are so fast,” he said. “We’ve got to make drastic improvements to our straight speed, somehow. I don’t know if it’s possible, but if anyone can do it, it’s our team.”

Going into the 90th Italian Grand Prix, Hamilton has the luxury of a 65-point lead over his resigned Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in the drivers’ championship. His old rival Vettel may be an unlikely title contender, but after a year without a win since the 2018 Belgian race, he may find a return to the scene of his own maiden victory — in a rain-soaked race for Toro Rosso in 2008 — motivates him to reboot his flagging season.

Beyond the leading teams, Red Bull may struggle on the power-hungry track particularly as Max Verstappen is set to start from the back of the grid with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, both men having taken new Honda engines for the event.

AFP