Charles Leclerc claimed his first Formula One victory after holding off a late Lewis Hamilton charge at an emotional Belgian Grand Prix.
The Monegasque, who secured pole position yesterday, led from the start and after dropping behind Sebastian Vettel in the pit stops, was allowed back past his team-mate to secure Scuderia Ferrari’s first victory of the season.
Hamilton finished second ahead of Mercedes AMG Motorsport team-mate Valtteri Bottas who competed the podium. The celebrations were naturally muted following the events of the weekend while Leclerc dedicated his victory on the radio to Anthoine Hubert.
The second Ferrari of Vettel finished fourth after he lost out as his tyres degraded but he did secure the bonus point for fastest lap.
Lando Norris looked to have secured fifth place after a fairly lonely race at Spa-Francorchamps but disaster struck for the McLaren F1 Team on the final lap as he was forced to pull off with an issue and ended up missing out on points altogether.
Norris’s retirement meant it was a dream debut at Red Bull Racing for Alexander Albon as he finished fifth after a terrific drive through the field which included a last lap overtake on Sergio Pérez who finished sixth. Albon’s team-mate Max Verstappen crashed out on the opening lap following contact with Kimi Räikkönen.
Daniil Kvyat finished seventh for Scuderia Toro Rosso with Nico Hülkenberg in eighth while Pierre Gasly, on his return to Toro Rosso, secured points with a ninth place finish and Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten as Racing Point F1 Team got their second double points finish of the season.
Norris was classified in eleventh following his issue with the two Haas F1 Team in twelfth and thirteenth. Daniel Ricciardo was involved in a first corner incident and ended the race in fourteenth ahead of George Russell, Räikkönen and Robert Kubica while Antonio Giovinazzi crashed out on the final lap.
Carlos Sainz Jr. joined Verstappen on the sidelines early on following an issue with his Renault engine.
Leclerc survived the opening corner as he kept the lead through the first corner and up Eau Rouge and the Kemmel Straight while Hamilton got past Vettel at turn one but lost out on the run up the hill and the Ferrari got back into second place. Behind the two Ferrari’s and Mercedes chaos ensued at the opening turn.
Verstappen had a poor start and hit Räikkönen at the opening corner. The contact broke his front left suspension and he crashed into the wall at Eau Rouge. The Alfa Romeo Racing made it back to the pits while further back, Ricciardo and the Racing Point of Stroll came into contact as the Australian tried to avoid the chaos ahead but was hit in the rear and forced to make an early pitstop.
Sainz also had a tough start as he stalled but got back going but would stop at the Bus Stop chicane a couple of laps later. The team reported a loss of power as the reason for his early finish.
The McLaren stopping created some confusion as the safety car, which had been called following Verstappen’s crash, was due to come in but with the McLaren stopping on track, it was forced to pick the drivers back up just as Leclerc was due to get the racing back underway.
The following lap, the Belgian Grand Prix got back underway with the two Ferrari’s leading both Mercedes and Norris the top five. Leclerc got a great restart while Vettel locked up but held off the two Mercedes.
The race began to settle down while the Haas of Kevin Magnussen slowly slipped down the order as the American team’s problems on race day seemed to continue.
Vettel was the first of the front four to pit and none of the top three reacted letting the Ferrari to close up again as the crowd rose on lap 19 to applaud in memory of Hubert.
Leclerc pitted on lap 22 while both Mercedes stayed out and appeared behind his Ferrari team-mate. A lap later, Hamilton came into the pits and after a slow stop, appeared behind both Ferrari’s leaving Bottas as the sole driver out of the front four to have not stopped. The next lap, the Finn made his way into the pitlane and came back out in fourth.
Further down the field, Albon on his Red Bull debut started on the medium tyres and slowly made his way through the field before pitting on to softs. He dropped back to 15th and made his way back through the field including overtaking Gasly, the man he replaced at Red Bull, and produced an incredible overtake on Ricciardo.
Norris was having a fine, albeit lonely drive in fifth position while the rest of the midfield were as tight as usual as the battle for the points paying positions heated up.
On lap 27, Ferrari made the decision to let Leclerc pass Vettel and the German obliged, moving aside on the pit straight and letting his team-mate go through and back into the lead of the race.
Hamilton, on fresher tyres, closed in on Vettel and after staring at the rear wing of the Ferrari for a few laps, the championship leader made his way up the Kemmel Straight and got past and into second place and could set about trying to chase down the leader. Vettel then made his way into the pits and dropped behind the second Mercedes of Bottas but did set the fastest lap of the race thanks to his new set of tyres.
Albon’s rise through the grid continued as he made his way up to seventh while Ricciardo, who pitted on the opening lap after being hit by Stroll at the first corner, continued to stay out and hang on in the top ten but with five laps to go, he eventually dropped out the points as Giovinazzi and Gasly made their way past the Renault. Ricciardo would continue to drop down the field.
The race would reach boiling point in the final couple of laps as Hamilton closed in on Leclerc very quickly with the gap down to two seconds with two laps to go while the battle for sixth was also heating up as Albon closed in on Pérez.
The last lap saw the gap at one and a half seconds as they crossed the line but there was lots of drama still to come. Giovinazzi crashed out at Pouhon as the leaders battled it out behind while Norris pulled off to the side of the track at the start of the final lap as he was forced to retire when a career best fifth looked in the bag meaning Albon, who made it past Pérez on the grass grabbed fifth place. Giovinazzi’s crash brought out yellow flags and Hamilton, who was probably too far back anyway to make a move, was unable to attack the Ferrari and Leclerc held on for his first Formula One victory.
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