Leclerc ends Ferrari drought with emotional Belgium GP win
September 01 2019 06:06 PM
Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc
Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc

Dpa/Francorchamps, Belgium

Charles Leclerc ended Ferrari's 11-month wait for a Formula One victory with his maiden win at an emotional Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Leclerc took Ferrari's first season win, from pole position, ahead of standings leader Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, both for Mercedes.

But the triumph was overshadowed by the death of 22-year-old driver Anthoine Hubert on Saturday during a massive crash in the Formula 2 race at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Hamilton extends his world championship lead to 65 points over team-mate Bottas after 13 races. The next is the Italian Grand Prix on September 8.

Leclerc stays fifth in the standings with team-mate Sebastian Vettel fourth after finishing just below the podium. Max Verstappen remains third despite not scoring after crashing his Red Bull at the first corner.

The drivers observed a minute's silence for Hubert before entering cars marked with ‘Racing for Anthoine’ and the number 19 used by the Frenchman.

‘Today we race,’ the official F1 account on Twitter said. ‘We do so with the heaviest of hearts, and we carry the memory of Anthoine throughout.’  Fans also stood to applaud in the 19th of the 44 laps around the testing Spa-Francorchamps track which provided an iconic setting for Leclerc's first career win and crowned a superb weekend for the 21-year-old Monegasque.

‘On one hand, I've got a dream since being a child that has been realised but on the other hand, we have lost a friend first of all and it's very difficult in these situations,’ Leclerc said in first television interviews.

‘I would like to dedicate my first win to him, we have grown up together - my first ever race was with Anthoine - and it is just such a shame what happened yesterday.’  Leclerc topped the order in two of three practice sessions and claimed a brilliant pole by more than 7 tenths of a second in qualifying.

He made a smooth start while behind him Vettel had to fend off Hamilton and Verstappen was squeezed into the wall by Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen.

That caused a safety car which was extended to four laps by Carlos Sainz dumping his McLaren in a run-off area after power problems.

Vettel pitted first of the leading pack, on lap 16, and would later pay a high price as his second set of tyres wore quickly and left him defenceless to the pursuing Mercedes.

The German, who last won in Spa last year, moved ahead of Leclerc when the younger driver pitted on lap 21 but was ordered to make way just six laps later. Vettel had minor consolation with the extra point for the fastest lap late on.

 As Leclerc raced into the distance, Vettel soon fell prey to Hamilton and had Bottas on his tail before he pitted for fresh soft tyres, compared to the mediums used by the top three, with 10 laps remaining.

Hamilton had been held up a little behind Vettel, however, and could not eliminate Leclerc's 7 second lead before the chequered flag.

‘It was a really difficult race - the Ferraris are just too fast in this race - and we needed a few more laps in the end,’ Hamilton said.

 ‘Congratulations to Charles on his first win, it's been coming all year.’  Leclerc had Hamilton closing in going into the last lap but yellow flags caused by Antonio Giovinazzi crashing his Alfa Romeo eased the nerves and he won by around a second.

 It was Ferrari's first win since the United States Grand Prix in October 2018 and erased Leclerc's heart-breaking Bahrain GP earlier this season when he was set for victory before a late engine problem.

But celebrations were muted as the podium trio, wearing black armbands, did not indulge in the usual spraying of champagne following the national anthems.

‘I can't enjoy fully my first victory but I will keep this memory forever,’ Leclerc said.

Lando Norris was on course for a season's best fifth in his McLaren before he also stopped approaching the last lap.

 Alexander Albon benefited to take fifth in his Red Bull debut after promotion from Toro Rosso while Sergio Perez (Racing Point), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso), Nico Huelkenberg (Renault) Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) and Lance Stroll (Racing Point) completed the scoring.

Last updated: September 01 2019 06:54 PM

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