Race: Leclerc breaks his duck with Belgian win

Date published: September 1 2019 - Michelle Foster

Race: Charles Leclerc breaks his duck with Belgian win

Charles Leclerc claimed a bittersweet win at the Belgian GP, taking his first-ever F1 victory a day after the death of his friend and F2 racer Anthoine Hubert.

The F1 drivers lined up on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit with heavy hearts following Hubert’s fatal accident in Saturday’s F2 feature race.

The paddock held a minute’s silence for the Frenchman, winner of the 2018 GP3 series title.

Leclerc lined up on pole position for the 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix, with the threat of rain in the air and the track temperature 10’C cooler than in qualifying.

Leclerc made a flying start while Vettel was attacked by Hamilton and ran wide, losing a place to the Mercedes driver but fighting back corners later.

The Safety Car was out before the end of lap 1 as Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen made contact at the first corner as the Red Bull tried to sneak up the inside and instead put the Alfa Romeo onto two wheels.

Raikkonen came back down to earth but it was Verstappen who came off second best as his suspension was damaged and he ended up nose first in the barrier.

Raikkonen pitted for a new nose but wasn’t the only one needing some TLC as Daniel Ricciardo took a whack to the rear and Carlos Sainz struggled to get off the grid before coming in for a pit stop and once again stalling. He rejoined the race only to grind to a halt out on track, the race’s second retirement.

The race resumed on lap 5 with Leclerc immediately putting tarmac between himself and Vettel while the German defended from Hamilton who in turn defended from Valtteri Bottas. “Vettel’s not that quick,” reported Hamilton. Mercedes replied with a yes, “not that impressive”.

Lando Norris, P5, wasn’t able to run with the leaders as he held off the Haas pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, who ran ahead of Racing Point, STR, Racing Point, STR.

The Ferraris continued to run the 1-2 despite Hamilton again stating that Vettel is “struggling”. The German, though, was dogged by the Mercedes driver, knocking on the door of DRS’ 1s mark.

With their race pace yet again unable to live up their qualifying speed, Magnussen was overtaking by both Racing Points as well as Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, the Frenchman the lead Red Bull driver.

As the pitstops began to play out, Pass Magnussen Day continued at the Spa circuit, the Dane losing out to the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi and dropping out of the points. His next challenger, new Red Bull driver Alexander Albon. He made short work of the Haas.

Vettel was the first of the frontrunners to pit, stopping on lap 16 for a set of medium tyres. He was just 0.9s ahead of Hamilton prior to his stop. Mercedes did not react.

While Leclerc continued to lead ahead of the Mercedes drivers and Vettel, the only of the four to have pitted, F1’s midfield delivered the action – even going three wide on occasions.

On lap 19 the sell out Spa crowd got to their feet for an emotional round of applause to remember the driver of car ’19,’ Hubert.

Leclerc finally came in on lap 21, swapping to the medium tyres for the final 23 laps. He came out behind Vettel, four seconds behind Vettel! Ferrari told Leclerc: “It will be fine for the end of the race.”

Hamilton pitted a lap later, returning to the track six seconds behind Leclerc and nine shy of Vettel, with Bottas in a lap after his team-mate. He came out P4 while Norris, after his stop, was back up to fifth.

Leclerc immediately set about hunting down Vettel, taking just five laps to get within DRS of the sister Ferrari. Told “Sebastian will let you by”, he was back up into P1 at the start of lap 27.

With Vettel struggling with his tyres, he asked Ferrari when he would be pitting again, telling the team that he his current set of rubber wouldn’t see the chequered flag. And all the while Hamilton was catching hand over fist.

Vettel played the team-mate game as he held up Hamilton for several laps, allowing Leclerc to create a 6.5s gap by the time Hamilton took second off Vettel. Vettel pitted again on lap 33, swapping to a fresh set of soft tyres and falling to P4, 17s off the podium.

Back to the midfield, Norris continued his lonely race in fifth place while Sergio Perez, Ricciardo, Grosjean, Kvyat, Albon and Gasly fought over the remaining points. Grosjean losing out to the Honda-powered cars, who then all attacked Ricciardo, passing him one by one.

Grosjean made it clear to Haas that he “can’t do anything” to fight back for a point, saying: “No mate, no mate, no mate, I have been here for 30 laps and we’re losing 20kph, there’s no chance.”

Heading into the final five laps, Leclerc was 5.4s ahead of Hamilton, who was six ahead of Bottas, who in turn was 17 in front of Vettel. “If we see the same drop on Leclerc as we saw on Vettel, it will come quickly,” Mercedes told Hamilton.

Although Hamilton closed right up on Leclerc, it was the Ferrari driver who claimed the Belgian GP victory, his first in Formula 1. He took the chequered flag 0.9 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who yet again extended his lead in the Drivers’ standings.

Bottas was third ahead of Vettel, who claimed a fastest lap point, while Norris lost pace on the final lap and fell from fifth to 11th!

Albon was P5 on his Red Bull debut, finishing ahead of Perez, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Gasly and Lance Stroll.

Giovinazzi crashed out of the top ten on the final lap, nose first in the barrier.

1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.981s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 12.585s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 26.422s
5 Alex Albon Red Bull 81.325s
6 Sergio Perez Racing Point 84.448s
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 89.657s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 106.639s
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 109.168s
10 Lance Stroll Racing Point 109.838s
11 Lance Norris McLaren 1 LAP
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 LAP
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 1 LAP
14 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1 LAP
15 George Russell Williams 1 LAP
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP
17 Robert Kubica Williams 1 LAP

Did not finish
Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo crash
Carlo Sainz McLaren
Max Verstappen Red Bull crash damage

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