Formula 1
Monday, Sep 2 07:11am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Charles Leclerc dedicates maiden Formula 1 win to Anthoine Hubert

Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc has claimed his first, and long awaited, Formula 1 win at the Belgian Grand Prix.


The Ferrari driver led from pole position and held off a spirited drive from Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton to claim a narrow victory in the 44-lap race.


It was a win tinged with sadness for the 21-year-old who grew up racing alongside French driver Antoine Hubert, who was killed in a FIA Formula 2 Championship crash on Saturday.


“It is difficult to enjoy a first victory on a weekend like this,” Leclerc said.


“I grew up with Anthoine, and we competed in our first karting race together with Pierre (Gasly) and Esteban (Ocon) in 2005. These are memories I will keep forever.


“Losing him yesterday was a huge shock, not only to me but to everyone in motorsport. In a way, I am satisfied having won today to remember him in the way he should be remembered.


“He was a champion, and this victory is for him.”


It was a clean start up the front as Charles Leclerc got the hole shot into Turn 1. Lewis Hamilton was quick away and demoted Sebastian Vettel to third while Valtteri Bottas maintained fourth.


Behind them there was drama as Kimi Räikkönen got airborne following wheel-to-wheel contact with Max Verstappen.


It wasn’t long before Vettel had second place back. With the slip stream up the Kemmel Straight the German driver got the place back and it was a Ferrari one-two.


The leaders were only through Bruxelle when the Safety Car was deployed. Verstappen suffered steering damage after the contact with Räikkönen. His Red Bull plowed into the tyre barrier at Radillon and he was out of the race in just two corners.


One big benefactor of all the carnage was Lando Norris who got his McLaren up from 11th on the grid to fifth by Turn 1. However, a career best result would go wanting.


With the race neutralized it was Leclerc who led Vattel, Hamilton, Bottas and Norris. Romain Grosjean made his way up to sixth, Kevin Magnussen seventh, Serio Perez eighth, Pierre Gasly ninth and Lance Stroll the last of the top 10 runners. Daniil Kvyat was the biggest mover up eight places to 11th for Scuderia Toro Rosso.


Carlos Sainz stalled at the start of the race and encountered more trouble. The McLaren stalled again during a pit stop under Safety Car and once more at the final corner. The Safety Car was supposed to come in on Lap 4, but stayed out another lap with Sainz stuck in no man’s land.


The race resumed on Lap 5 with Ferrari-Ferrari-Mercedes-Mercedes at the front. Vettel made a mistake at Turn 1, but Hamilton couldn’t capitalize on the error to get past.


Leclerc immediately edged away from the field and established a two-second lead. Despite being under very little pressure, Leclerc made a mistake on Lap 9 at Les Combes. The incident was noted by the stewards but didn’t warrant any action.


Green Flag pit stops began on Lap 14 with Scuderia Toro Rosso returnee Pierre Gasly. He proved that the undercut would work and only two laps later Vettel came in to the pit lane. Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas all ran much longer on their first set of Soft Compound tyres.


At the end of Lap 21 the leader came in, but he came out behind Vettel who had been cutting quick laps on fresh tyres. Lap 22 saw Hamilton pit, but he had a slightly slower stop. Bottas pitted on Lap 23 and duly returned to the race behind Hamilton.


The margins blew out with Vettel out to a 2.3-second lead. Hamilton was 6.5 seconds adrift of Leclerc and Bottas another 6.3 seconds behind his teammate.


By Lap 25 the deficit was sizeable and Hamilton blew up over the radio wondering why the team didn’t bring him in earlier to try and execute an undercut.


Lap 27 saw Vettel relinquish the lead to Leclerc on newer tyres. Leclerc streaked away while Vettel fell into the clutches of Hamilton. After a brief battle the pass was done at Les Combes come Lap 32.


Before Bottas could give Vettel a fight he came in to the pit lane on Lap 33 for another set of Soft Compound tyres to go to the end.


The final few laps saw Hamilton eat in to the margin that Leclerc held. With a lap to go the gap came down to just 1.5 seconds. The threat of lapped traffic looked like it might derail the race for Leclerc, but eventually he managed to win the race by the slimmest of margins. One lap longer and Hamilton no doubt would’ve been able to mount an attack.


Bottas came home a distant third and Vettel fourth. The finish wasn’t without drama though. Lando Norris had been in fifth but his car stopped at the start-finish line, which ended hopes of a career best finish for McLaren. That gifted Alexander Albon fifth place on his Red Bull Racing debut.


“The race itself was good and nothing would have been possible without the amazing car the team gave me,” Leclerc said after the race.


“We made good improvements in terms of race pace and tyre management this weekend. The last few laps weren’t easy.


“I saw Lewis coming closer and closer in the mirror, so I put my head down and tried to focus on the work I had to do in the car.


“At the end, I managed to cross the line in first place and I’d like to thank the team for the hard work they have put in to make this possible.”


Hamilton lamented a lack of pace and ultimately a missed opportunity to snatch victory away from Ferrari.


“It’s been a very difficult weekend for everyone in motorsport and today I raced with Anthoine in my thoughts,” Hamilton said.


“In general, it’s been a wobbly weekend but to have a solid Qualifying and then a solid race today, I’m really happy.


“Of course, you always want to win on a race day, but I gave it absolutely everything I had. Ferrari were a very strong force but for us to be that close at the end means there are plenty of positives to take. I’m happy for Charles, he did a fantastic job all weekend so congratulations to him.


“We’ve got a lot work to do to try to catch up to Ferrari on the straights in the next four days, but if anyone can do it it’s this team. Hopefully we can have another close race next weekend in Monza.


Sergio Perez (Racing Point), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso), Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) and Lance Stroll (Racing Point) completed the top 10 running order.


Norris was just outside the points in 11th ahead of he Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. A bad strategy to run Daniel Ricciardo resulted in him plummeting down the order late in the race to 14th just ahead of Williams Racing driver George Russell.


Kimi Räikkönen came home 16th after all the drama at the beginning of the race. Robert Kubica was the last car running in 17th while Antonio Giovinazzi crashed out of the points on the final lap. Sainz and Verstappen failed to finish too.


The Formula 1 World Championship moves to Monza in Italy over 6-8 September. 


Formual 1 World Championship Belgian Grand Prix


Pos   Driver Team Laps   Diff Int Pits
1 Monaco Charles Leclerc  Ferrari 44     1
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton  Mercedes 44 +0.981 +0.981 1
3 Finland Valtteri Bottas  Mercedes 44 +12.585 +11.604 1
4 Germany Sebastian Vettel  Ferrari 44 +26.422 +13.837 2
5 Thailand Alex Albon  Red Bull 44 +1'21.325 +54.903 1
6 Mexico Sergio Perez  Racing Point 44 +1'24.448 +3.123 1
7 Russian Federation Daniil Kvyat  Toro Rosso 44 +1'29.657 +5.209 1
8 Germany Nico Hulkenberg  Renault 44 +1'46.639 +16.982 2
9 France Pierre Gasly  Toro Rosso 44 +1'49.168 +2.529 1
10 Canada Lance Stroll  Racing Point   44 +1'49.838   +0.670 2
11 United Kingdom Lando Norris  McLaren 43 +1 Lap +1 Lap 1
12 Denmark Kevin Magnussen  Haas 43 +1 Lap +51.662 1
13 France Romain Grosjean  Haas 43 +1 Lap +6.978 1
14 Australia Daniel Ricciardo  Renault 43 +1 Lap +9.078 1
15 United Kingdom George Russell  Williams 43 +1 Lap +8.787 1
16 Finland Kimi Raikkonen  Alfa Romeo 43 +1 Lap +12.174 3
17 Poland Robert Kubica  Williams 43 +1 Lap +4.534 1
18 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi  Alfa Romeo 42 +2 Laps +1 Lap 1
DNF  Spain Carlos Sainz Jr.  McLaren 1 +43 Laps +41 Laps   1
DNF  Netherlands Max Verstappen  Red Bull 0