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At Spa, Ferrari’s Leclerc takes his first F1 win

By William C. Herrera September 05,2019

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on the way to victory at the Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.

CHARLES Leclerc has been in Formula 1 only in 2018, first driving for Sauber then moving to Ferrari for the 2019 season. Leclerc has had success in GP3 and in Formula 2, winning the championships in both categories — in 2016 for GP3 and in 2017 for Formula 2. Since joining the Scuderia, he was billed as the future of Formula; the Monegasque has the speed and willingness to fight it out with the top dogs of F1.

He nearly came to take his first win back in Bahrain early this year, and again in Austria. Unfortunately, Lady Luck was not on his side.

In Belgium, Leclerc was dominant all weekend, besting his rivals and, more importantly, his teammate Sebastian Vettel to take pole position. Despite the demise of his friend, Anthoine Hubert, who died after a huge crash during the F2 support race on the Saturday before the Belgian Grand Prix, Leclerc was determined to race on and honor his lifelong friend.

The start saw Leclerc bolt away from the field, with Vettel and Mercedes-AMG driver Lewis Hamilton trailing behind him. The Mercedes got the better of the No. 7 Ferrari out of Eau Rogue, but on the Kemmel straight the outright speed of the Ferrari was evident — Vettel had no trouble regaining track position over Hamilton.

Down the order, local favorite Max Verstappen got bogged down at the line and was immediately on catch-up mode. The Dutchman tried to regain lost position, but in his haste drove straight into the side of the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen. The hit damaged the Red Bull’s steering system, causing Verstappen to slam into the barrier at Radillion and ending his streak of 21 point-scoring races, to the chagrin of the Dutch horde.

Up in front Leclerc kept his foot planted on the floor, wringing out all the power he could get from the Ferrari power unit, to get a substantial lead over his rivals. Leclerc was unstoppable, his driving was faultless. Even when the No. 16 car was called in for a requisite tire change, the Ferrari crew turned it around in just 2.6 seconds, ensuring Leclerc come out ahead of the Mercedes-AMGs.

Vettel, on the other hand, had trouble coping with his tires and so midway into the race Ferrari’s pit wall crew instructed the former champion to let Leclerc pass — which Leclerc did, willingly.

Due to a longer first stint, both the No. 44 and No. 77 Mercedes-AMGs had the fresher set of tires compared to the No. 16 Ferrari. But, even with the better grip of the Pirelli mediums, Hamilton and Bottas still found it difficult to trim down the lead of Leclerc. Hamilton did close the gap to nearly a second in the dying laps, but Leclerc soaked up the challenge to take the checkered flag and his first win in Formula 1.

With his victory, Leclerc became the 108th GP winner in the history of the sport, and the very first Monegasque to stand on the top spot of the podium. Hamilton had to settle for second, with Valtteri Bottas following quietly behind to take the last step on the podium.

In the post-race interview, Leclerc paid homage to his friend Anthoine, dedicating his race win to his dearly departed friend.

Hamilton still leads the drivers’ standings with 268 points. Bottas holds second with 203 points. Despite his DNF, Verstappen remains in third with 181 points.

 

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