Charles Leclerc took an emotional first Formula One win at Spa-Francorchamps and immediately dedicated his maiden victory to childhood racing rival Anthoine Hubert who tragically lost his life in a crash in Saturday’s FIA Formula 2 race at the Ardennes circuit.
“On the one hand I’ve got a dream since being as child that has been realised. But on the other hand it has been a very difficult weekend since yesterday,” he said after defying late pressure from championship leader to take the win.
“We have lost a friend first of all. It is very difficult in these situations, so I would like to dedicate my first win to him. We have grown up together – my first ever race I have done it with Anthoine and there was Esteban [Ocon] – and just shame what happened yesterday. I can’t enjoy fully my first victory but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.”
Leclerc’s victory was scored from the second pole position of his career and the Monegasque driver kept his advantage at the race start to lead ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton and Bottas.
There was drama behind the leaders through, with Max Verstappen’s race ending within moments of the red lights going out to signal the start. The Dutchman’s start from P5 on the grid was not ideal and he was immediately passed by a number of cars.
Verstappen responded by taking a tight line down the inside into the La Source hairpin. As he approached the corner, though, he hit Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo pitching the Finn into the air.
Verstappen’s car was also damaged in the incident and though the Red Bull driver attempted to carry on, his suspension broke as he exited Eau Rouge and he crashed out of the race.
The incident brought out the safety car and as the field formed up behind the course car, Leclerc led ahead of Vettel with Hamilton third ahead of Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Lando Norris who had profited from the turn one incident to climb from 11thon the grid.
Vettel was the first of the frontrunners to pit, with the German taking on medium tyres on lap 15. He rejoined in fifth place and was soon setting purple times as the new front three of Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas continued to circulate.
Race leader Leclerc made his sole stop on lap 21, but he rejoined behind team-mate Vettel and after Hamilton and Bottas had made their visits to pit lane, the German emerged as the new race leader, two seconds clear of the younger Ferrari driver.
Vettel’s lead didn’t last long, however. Leclerc quickly closed the gap and on lap 25 Vettel was told to let his team-mate past. At the start of the next tour he obliged, drifting off the racing line on the run down to Eau Rouge to let his young team-mate re-take the lead. The German then came under heavy pressure from Hamilton. He defended well for a number of laps but on lap 31 he Hamilton got close enough and passed
Further back, new Red Bull recruit Alex Albon began to make moves forward after his sole pits to swap opening medium tyres for new softs. The Thai driver, who has started from 17thon the grid emerged in P15 began to power through the pack. On lap 30 he moved into the points when he passed Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly with a good move into Les Combes and he then made a good move down the inside of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo on the run towards Pouhon to claim eighth place on lap 33.
The second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat was the next target and on lap 38 Albon powered past the Russian on the run down the Kemmel Straight.
He now set off in pursuit of sixth-placed Perez, though the Mexican driver was nine seconds up the road. That was no deterrent, however, and by lap 42 he had reduced the deficit to the Racing Point to just two seconds.
And in a frenetic final two laps, the Red Bull driver continued his rise. At the start of lap 44, McLaren’s Lando Norris, who had been running fifth stopped just beyond the start-finish straight and then with pace in hand Albon made his move on Perez on the long run to Les Combes. It was a brave one too, with the new recruit putting a wheel into the dirt on the right side of the track as the Mexican tried to defend.
There was no denying the Red Bull’s pace, however, and as Leclerc crossed the line to take his first grand prix victory ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel, Albon powered towards his best ever F1 finish.
Behind the Red Bull, Perez clung on to sixth ahead of Kvyat and Hulkenberg took eighth place ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly. The final point on offer went to Racing Point’s Lance Stroll.
2019 FIA Formula One Belgian Grand Prix – Race
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari –
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.981
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 12.585
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 26.422
5 Alex Albon Red Bull Racing 1’21.325
6 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1’24.448
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’29.657
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’46.639
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1’49.168
10 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1’49.838
11 Lando Norris McLaren
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
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing
19 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing