Leclerc fends off Hamilton to take first victory at Spa-Francorchamps

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Belgium, Circuit De Spa-Francorchampsbe

Charles Leclerc has won his first ever Formula One Grand Prix by taking a lights to flag victory at Spa-Francorchamps. Completing the podium in Belgium are Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes.

On the back of Saturday's F2 crash in which Anthoine Hubert lost his life, preparations for the Belgian Grand Prix were very much subdued, and in light of tributes to the late 22-year old Frenchman. All teams agreed to run tribute stickers, while some drivers added further details. Leclerc for instance had "RIP Tonio" on his steering wheel, while Pierre Gasly's car read "Always with me #AH19" on his Halo.

The safety car's inspection tours was done with the French flag out, while the crowd applauded when the medical team made their greeting lap early in the day as well. A minute of silence ahead of the start of the race was extremely touching, for after that, it was back to

When the lights went out, Leclerc easily secured his pole position, also thanks to Hamilton taking the inside of the hairpin and sneeking ahead of Vettel for second place. On the Kemmel straight though, they reversed again thanks to Ferrari's high top speed.

Bottas followed up in fourth, but all the action went on behind him. Verstappen got squeezed by Raikkonen into the first corner, resulting in a bump and obvious damage to Verstappen's left front suspension. The Dutchman appeared not to know, and was fast through Eau Rouge, where he lost control and went straight on into the barriers.

Lando Norris was the fortunate winner of this event, as he followed the fighting duo through the hairpin, and suddenly ended up in 5th place, followed by Grosjean, Magnussen, Perez, Gasly and Stroll.

The incident triggered a safety car, which kept on track for 4 laps, as Sainz's McLaren also had to be cleared as he retired with a technical issue half a lap after a very slow pitstop.

When the race was on again, Leclerc sprinted away from the rest, helped by two lock-ups soon after the safety car left the track. Despite that, Hamilton quickly said on the radio that Ferrari's top speed was simply too much for him to have a proper chance at this moment in the race.

On lap 14, Gasly was the first to pit, having just overtaken Magnussen for 9th.

Two laps later, Vettel pitted as well, changing to medium tyres at a time when Hamilton seemed to have no problem to follow the Ferrari any more. Vettel returned to the track in 4th place and went on to set the fastest lap on lap 17.

In typical Spa fashion, the pitstops for some triggered many overtaks at Les Combes. Magnussen meanwhile seemed to miss power and went backwards. Raikkonen similarly had trouble keeping up the pace and got passed be several cars between laps 15 and 19.

At the front, Leclerc and both Mercedes continued on with their softs, until Leclerc pitted on lap 21, just before halfway. Hamilton, who inherited the lead, pitted the next lap. His stop was considerably slower than Leclerc's. This saw Vettel become second again, 3.3s ahead of Leclerc, and another 7s ahead of Hamilton.

Bottas was pitted another lap later, bringing Vettel back into the lead.

On lap 26, Leclerc already ended up in DRS range of Vettel. Hamilton set a fastest lap to reduce his deficit to Leclerc to 5.5s. The next lap, Bottas went fastest, as he took sought a possibility to move further ahead.

The next lap, Vettel easily let Leclerc past on the pit straight. The Monegasque quickly left his German team mate behind whereas Hamilton rapidly closed up. All things together triggered Vettel to question about a second pitstop, as he felt it was unlikely to be able to competitively continue on this set of tyres.

On lap 31, Hamilton has DRS, and incidentally, Bottas is closing in on this battle, now just 4.1s back. Hamilton's first attempt to get past the Ferrari happened through the chicane, but failed as Vettel defended the outside, but at the next passing at Kemmel, Vettel was a sitting duck, clearly missing some grip through Eau Rouge, and subsequently top speed at the end of the straight.

Only one lap later, Bottas ended up right on the tail of Vettel. A battle didn't happen, as the German Ferrari driver pitted right at that moment.

Vettel changed to used soft tyres, and was seen outbraking himself at Les Combes just one lap later. It didn't stop him to set the fastest lap one lap later, but with 18s behind Bottas, and just 8 laps left, the German was fully relying on deteriorating tyre performance on the cars ahead of him to gain any positions before the finish.

Meanwhile, in the midfield, Albon was making strides on soft tyres, much in contrast to Ricciardo who fell out of the top 10 as he clearly had lots of trouble even keeping his car on track on worn medium tyres. In fact, at the time, Ricciardo as the slowest man out on track, soon getting company from Grosjean, Hulkenberg and Stroll as well.

Towards the closing stages, it also became clear that tyre wear on the Mercedes appeared to be better, likely due to their higher downforce settings. 3 laps from the end, Hamilton came to within 2.5s of Leclerc, after it had been 6s for most of the stint.

At the start of the final lap, the gap was 1.5s. Hamilton in the end didn't get past, certainly not helped by yellows through Pouhon, where Giovinazzi had crashed out on the final lap.

As Leclerc crossed the finish line to secure his first ever win in F1, Norris was seen parked in the grass, making a retirement in the penultimate lap, and crucially seeing a 5th place go up in smoke.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
116Charles LeclercFerrari441:23:45.71025
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG44+0.981s18
377Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG44+12.585s15
45Sebastian VettelFerrari44+26.422s13
523Alexander AlbonRed Bull Racing Honda44+81.325s10
611Sergio PerezRacing Point BWT Mercedes44+84.448s8
726Daniil KvyatScuderia Toro Rosso Honda44+89.657s6
827Nico HulkenbergRenault44+106.639s4
910Pierre GaslyScuderia Toro Rosso Honda44+109.168s2
1018Lance StrollRacing Point BWT Mercedes44+109.838s1
114Lando NorrisMcLaren Renault43DNF0
1220Kevin MagnussenHaas Ferrari43+1 lap0
138Romain GrosjeanHaas Ferrari43+1 lap0
143Daniel RicciardoRenault43+1 lap0
1563George RussellWilliams Mercedes43+1 lap0
167Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari43+1 lap0
1788Robert KubicaWilliams Mercedes43+1 lap0
1899Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari42DNF0
NC55Carlos SainzMcLaren Renault1DNF0
NC33Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda0DNF0