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ANALYSIS: 2019 Belgian Grand Prix – Assessing the field

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Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Charles Leclerc won the Belgian Grand Prix with a composed drive. The race was overshadowed by the death of Formula 2 racer Anthoine Hubert the previous day.

Leclerc finally clinched that first win that has eluded him twice this season. The two Mercedes drivers joined him on the podium as Formula 1 resumed after a month-long summer break.

Top of the class…

Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.748s

Race margin to team-mate: -26.422s

Charles Leclerc registered the first win of his Formula 1 career at the Belgian Grand Prix. This was a long overdue first win of the season for the Ferrari team. Leclerc was outstanding all-weekend topping the final two practice sessions.

The Monégasque racing driver was in a class of his own in qualification as he took pole position with a wide margin to his team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc was in a somber mood because of the death of his friend Anthoine Hubert in a FIA Formula 2 race on Saturday. Leclerc made a good start and led into Turn 1 and kept himself outside DRS-range from Vettel. The Monégasque driver stopped six laps later than Vettel for his first pit stop as he managed his soft compound tyres better.

Leclerc emerged with a five-second gap to Vettel after he pitted, but on the fresh medium compound tyres Leclerc was on his gearbox within five laps. The Ferrari pitwall instructed Vettel to let Leclerc pass him.

From that point, Leclerc never looked back. Vettel kept Hamilton at bay for a few laps before yielding second-place to him. This team game helped Leclerc establish an over six seconds gap to Hamilton which he maintained until the final laps. With the five-time world champion closing in, Leclerc held firm to take the first win of his career.

Leclerc paid tribute to his departed friend after the victory when he said: “We have grown up together. My first ever race, I have done it with Anthoine when we were younger, there was Esteban [Ocon], Pierre [Gasly]. It’s just a shame what happened yesterday, so I can’t enjoy fully my first victory, but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.”

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.133s

Race margin to team-mate: -11.604s

Lewis Hamilton started from third position and briefly got ahead of Vettel at the start before he settled for third position. The Ferrari SF90 had superior pace in Sector 1 and 2 and the Mercedes W10 pulled back some lap time in Sector 2. Hamilton stayed within touching distance of the two Ferraris in front in the first stint.

In the second stint, he overtook the struggling Vettel with twelve laps to go and set about closing the over six seconds deficit to race leader Leclerc. Hamilton cut the gap to 1.5 seconds by the penultimate lap.

Leclerc who had two race wins slip through his grasp this season held firm and could not be denied on this day. But Hamilton never gave up against the Ferraris with superior pace. The Briton settled for second position but still extended his championship lead to 65 points over Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton, the reigning world champion, was gracious in defeat and said: “I’m happy for Charles, he did a fantastic job all weekend so congratulations to him. We’ve got a lot work to do to try to catch up to Ferrari on the straights in the next four days, but if anyone can do it it’s this team. Hopefully we can have another close race next weekend in Monza.”

Alexander Albon  – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +1.667s (Q2)

Race margin to team-mate: N/A

Alexander Albon clinched a career-best fifth position in his first race for Red Bull Racing. Albon qualified in fourteenth position and started in seventeenth position after he took grid penalties for new Power Unit elements.

The Anglo-Thai driver had a steady first stint but did not make much progress. In his second stint on the soft compound tyres, Albon’s race came alive as he displayed fine race craft to take seventh position. The last lap retirement of Lando Norris and a bold overtake move on Sergio Pérez on that lap helped Albon clinch fifth position.

Albon recorded a very creditable and well-deserved result in his first race as Max Verstappen’s team-mate. Albon has a daunting task to perform from the first race in a new car and team in the middle of the season.

A good start was made by Albon and he said: “I’m very happy. P5 is an amazing result and we’ve got off to a great start. I had some good fun out there and I enjoyed this race a lot. I started off the weekend very nervous and if you had told me I’d finish the race fifth I’d be very happy, but I’m a bit more relaxed now.”

Sergio Pérez – Racing Point F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.34s (Q2)

Race margin to team-mate: -25.39s

Sergio Pérez finished in sixth position and scored his first points since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Mexican ended his eight-race points drought with a good qualification and race on a weekend when he extended his contract with the Racing Point F1 team for three more years.

In a tough season for the team so far, Pérez has not been able to display his combative wares and score unexpected points. The Silverstone-based team has brought several updates to the car recently.

Pérez maximized the performance even after a rough start in the first lap melee. The Mexican made steady progress in his long second stint of twenty-nine laps on the medium compound tyres to move upto fifth position after Norris’s retirement.

Pérez on worn out tyres could not defend against  Albon’s overtake on the last lap.

The Mexican was content with the good result and said: There was a bit of chaos at the start, which I had to avoid by running wide, which lost me two or three places. From there we were fighting all the way through to make it back. I went into attack mode with lots of overtaking and P5 looked possible – but at the end Albon was very strong and we had no chance to keep him behind.”

Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.353s (Q1)

Race margin to team-mate: N/A

Lando Norris was on course to finish “best of the rest” in a very creditable fifth position. Though Norris did not finish the race because of a loss of power on the last lap, it was the best race of his young career so far.

Norris started in eleventh position and with a blazing start was in fifth position at the end of the first lap. The Briton held firm and was in a lonely race of his own as he was far behind the top four drivers and far ahead of the sixth-placed driver behind him.

On that penultimate lap, Norris was more than fourteen seconds ahead of sixth-placed Pérez before reliability issues scuppered his chances of a career-best finish. Norris was voted “Driver Of The Day” by the fans for his valiant efforts.

Homework to do…

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.748s

Race margin to team-mate: +26.422s

Sebastian Vettel was on the backfoot the whole weekend. His team-mate Leclerc was ahead of him during the last two practice sessions. Things got worse in qualification as Vettel qualified in second position, a full 0.748 seconds behind Leclerc.

The German did not have the feel for the car that Leclerc had and locked up frequently during qualification and the race. Vettel had to put the Ferrari SF90’s straight-line speed to good use to regain second position at the start.

Vettel pitted six laps earlier than Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas as he struggled with his tyres in the first stint. Vettel played the team game and let the faster Leclerc past in the second stint. His stout defence against Hamilton over several laps helped Leclerc build a cushion to Hamilton as the race leader.

This was crucial in helping Leclerc record the first win of the season for Ferrari. But Vettel had to pit for a second time and had to be content with fourth position. The point for fastest lap was a consolation in an otherwise disappointing race for Vettel.

Leclerc has outqualified Vettel in the last six races. The team orders to let Leclerc past would have hurt the pride of the four-time world champion Vettel. Vettel has to put in a sterling performance in front of the Tifosi at Monza next week to reignite his lackluster season.

Antonio Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.205s (Q1)

Race margin to team-mate: N/A

Antonio Giovinazzi was on course for his best-career finish before he crashed out from eighth position with two laps to go. The Italian’s qualification ended in the first qualification session with an engine problem that brought out the red flag.

Giovinazzi started in eighteenth position after grid penalties and made up six places on the first lap. A long first stint of twenty-nine laps on the medium compound tyres saw him run in the points.

On the faster soft compound tyres, Giovinazzi moved upto eighth position before the unfortunate crash. Team-mate Kimi Räikkönen’s race was compromised after his car suffered damage after his clash with Verstappen at La Source on the first lap.

This was Giovinazzi’s chance to outshine Räikkönen and score valuable points for him team. But with the late crash he threw it all away.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The rest…

Verstappen’s crash at the top of Eau Rouge after his clash with Räikkönen at Turn 1 ended his twenty-one race streak of top 5 race finishes. The clash was deemed a racing incident and slowed the momentum Verstappen had before the summer break.

The Renault team had a good result with Nico Hulkenberg finishing in eighth position. Daniel Ricciardo qualified well in sixth position but started in tenth position after grid penalties. But a futile race with a long stint of forty-three laps after Ricciardo pitted under the Safety Car after the first lap saw him finish outside the points.

Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly finished in seventh and ninth positions respectively for a double-points finish for Toro Rosso.

The Haas F1 team struggled in race trim again and both their frustrated drivers, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, finished outside the points.

All the teams will assemble for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza next week (September 6-8 2019).

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