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Ferrari newcomer Charles Leclerc blitzed to the finish line almost one full second ahead of Drivers’ Championship scoreboard leader Mercedes AMG driver Lewis Hamilton, and clinched his first ever Formula 1 victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the Spa-Francorchamps last Sunday.
21-year-old Leclerc claimed this win in just his 13th race for Scuderia Ferrari during his second F1 season, giving the Italian badge its first win since former driver Kimi Raikkonen’s victory at the United States Grand Prix last October.
Leclerc has been outperforming his four-time world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, who came in fourth in this race, leading the German 3-1 in pole positions and has quickly become one of the most-anticipated racers, even sparking a congratulatory word from Hamilton.
“I am happy for Charles. He did a fantastic job all weekend,” said Hamilton. “His results speak for themselves. It’s not easy for any driver to jump into a top team like Ferrari against a four-time world champion, with much more experience, and then to continuously out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive him.”
Leclerc could have won earlier this season at the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix but a late engine failure robbed him of the title. This time, he started off with a clean lead, coming in midway for a tire change before gaining a seven-second lead on Hamilton, thanks in part to Vettel pulling back to second place to hold off other first place contenders and cement Ferrari’s lead.
However, on Lap 32, Hamilton pulled ahead of Vettel and gave it all, managing to eat into most of that lead and could have possibly won if he had a couple more laps.
Meanwhile Mercedes AMG racer Valtteri Bottas sailed into third place, ahead of Vettel, adding after the race: “It’s been a tough weekend for everyone. I was trying as hard as I could out there but not many opportunities came my way. Ferrari was stronger on the straights than we expected.”
Vettel, who started at second pole position and holds the record for the fastest lap at the Spa circuit, was relatively quite slow, as noted by Hamilton on the team radio during the race.
This gave Mercedes AMG a chance to catch up after a somewhat disappointing third and fourth place pole position start. Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff said: “Overall, this was a weekend of damage limitation for us in terms of the championships, so we can be satisfied to come away with a double podium finish.”
It wasn’t just the race that loomed over the weekend. F2 driver Anthoine Hubert passed away the previous day at the Grand Prix after a horrific crash with Juan Manuel Correa. The 22-year-old Hubert, last season’s GP3 series champion, went off on the exit of Eau Rouge and Radillon and suffered a heavy impact with the outside tyre barrier, before his BWT Arden ran back across the run-off area and was struck while sideways by Correa. Correa is in stable condition.
Hubert’s sudden and shocking death an hour and a half after the incident, led to an outpouring of support from fellow drivers.
Leclerc dedicated his win to the French driver and reminisced about his karting days with Hubert. “There was him, Esteban (Ocon), Pierre (Gasly) and myself,” said Leclerc. “We were four kids dreaming of Formula One. We’ve grown up together in karting for many years. To lose him yesterday was a big shock for me. It was a very sad day and difficult to enjoy it fully today.”
After crossing the finish line Leclerc pointed to the sky and then to Hubert’s name written on the side of his car.
Hamilton wrote on Instagram: “This is devastating. God rest your soul Anthoine. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family today. If a single one of you watching and enjoying this sport think for a second what we do is safe your hugely mistaken. All these drivers put their life on the line when they hit the track and people need to appreciate that in a serious way because it is not appreciated enough. Not from the fans nor some of the people actually working in the sport. Anthoine is a hero as far as I’m concerned, for taking the risk he did to chase his dreams. I’m so sad that this has happened. Let’s left him up and remember him. Rest in peace brother.”