Pole sitter Leclerc defied expectations by executing a two-stop strategy, but his late push on fresh tires failed to produce enough pace to bring the champion back as Verstappen dropped from seventh.
Leclerc had her hopes bolstered by a late Safety Car which had the potential to throw a spanner in the works but was slow to retake the leaders and duly denied a thrilling sprint to the finish and sabotaged any comeback of Ferrari.
It took the Red Bull driver to his 31st top-flight victory, fifth in a row and 11th of the season close to two triumphs from the record for most successful F1 season.
After a change to the internal combustion engine on the advice of supplier Honda, Verstappen lined up seventh thanks to a five-place grid penalty following his turn for second place in qualifying.
His RB18 was shod in the softest C4 tire available to start well and quickly claim fifth after an anti-stall trigger for third-placed Lando Norris and a pass over Fernando Alonso.
Verstappen continued to climb in the opening stages of the 53-lap 100th anniversary race at Monza. He relegated AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly for fourth at the end of the first lap before diving past 2021 Italian GP winner Daniel Ricciardo under braking in the first chicane for a provisional podium.
It was down to Leclerc and second starter George Russell ahead, holding Mercedes after interrupting the first chicane while arguing with Ferrari for first place.
Despite the W13 separating the pair, Leclerc and Verstappen traded the fastest early laps on the timing line as a net of 2.5 seconds separated the protagonists.
Then Red Bull took second with a fine outing from Ascari before combining DRS and towing to pass Russell cleanly on the main straight to start the fight for victory.
With Verstappen a few tenths quicker per lap, Ferrari tried to spin using a virtual safety car – called in when Sebastian Vettel pulled up with a smoky engine – to give Leclerc a cheaper pit stop.
He stopped for a series of mediums in the 13th round with a fast 2.2 second serve just as the green flags were waved to reduce the effectiveness of the undercut and Leclerc was released third with 18 seconds left. to find.
Despite his aging softs, Verstappen was able to maintain a decent pace – spinning just 0.5s slower than Leclerc while maintaining a 10.2s cushion at Russell as Leclerc trailed an additional 4.1s.
As the F1-75 began to make gains, Verstappen pitted for mediums on lap 26 and, thanks to a 2.4s quick stop, only exited a touch over 10s. of the leader.
Verstappen’s fresh rubber allowed him to close the gap to 5.4 seconds when Ferrari recalled Leclerc on lap 34 for softs seemingly for a single run to the flag, with the Red Bull coming second to Russell.
Leclerc’s initial pace was moderate but he managed to increase the wick to lap 0.4 seconds quicker than Verstappen as the gap was 18 seconds with 10 laps to go.
But a wrench was thrown in the works on lap 47 when Ricciardo pulled out of Ascari with an engine failure to trigger a safety car, which was deployed late, but Verstappen objected the next time to new softs and Leclerc exchanged used C4s with Russell. third.
With the field well spread out, the safety car picking up Russell instead, then the run-in cars of Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda separating from the leading duo, plus the McLaren taking time to be cleared by the crane, the race n was not revived to deny a sprinter to the flag.
As such, Verstappen took the win over Leclerc as Russell completed the podium, while Carlos Sainz made a quick ascent from the first stint to offset his back-of-the-grid penalty and trap fourth.
Lewis Hamilton did the same, including holding his Mercedes bristling while chasing Alonso and performing a deft double pass over Norris and Gasly to claim seventh place.
Sergio Perez managed to pass the flag despite persistent brake fire on his first stop for the hard tyres, as Norris took seventh over Gasly.
Formula E champion Nyck de Vries equaled Williams’ best result of the season in ninth to cap off his fine appearance as a substitute for appendicitis-ridden Alex Albon.
Zhou Guanyu, meanwhile, completes the top 10 for Alfa Romeo ahead of Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher.
Behind Bottas and Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi and Kevin Magnussen (taking a 5s penalty for interrupting the first chicane) completed the riders.
Alongside Ricciardo and Vettel, Lance Stroll and Alonso (suspected water pump failure) were forced to stop early.
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