Some days at work are a lot harder than usual, but you still need to be a professional and do your thing. It was that kind of difficult day for Charles Leclerc and many other drivers of the Formula 1 grid this Sunday at Spa-Francorchamps.
In qualifying on Saturday, the timesheets were dominated by the low-drag Ferraris. The same setup that had cost them in the season so far was finally paying off at this high-speed circuit. In the end, it was Leclerc who claimed pole position, outqualifying his teammate yet again. Sebastian Vettel was more than seven-tenths slower than Charles as he just pipped Lewis Hamilton to get Ferrari another front-row lockout.
The Silver Arrows were much faster in the twisty section but couldn’t make up time lost on the straights as Hamilton qualified third fastest and ahead of Valtteri Bottas who was fourth fastest. Max Verstappen in his Honda-powered Red Bull could do no better than fifth fastest while new teammate Alex Albon started 17th on the grid due to penalties for multiple power unit changes.
Renault was best of the rest as Daniel Ricciardo was able to qualify sixth fastest, just ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Kimi Räikkönen set the eighth fastest time in his Alfa, ahead of Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen who qualified ninth and tenth fastest respectively. The final grid was a little bit different after everyone’s grid penalties were applied.
Scheduled later that same day was the first of two Sprint races of the Formula 2 series, not a series I follow too closely but it’s where future F1 talent comes from. On the second lap, the camera panned to a massive crash with one car hitting the barriers before spinning into a direct side-collision with another car coming at a high speed and sliding upside down. The direct collision involved Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa.
Anthoine succumbed to his injuries around an hour later. The details of the incident and the cause of death have not been made public yet. Hubert’s death is a stark reminder that despite all the latest safety measures that have allowed our motorsport heroes to walk away from horrifying crashes, the danger remains. As one report’s title said so aptly: the human body can only take so much. Correa is still in intensive care at the time of writing this report. The F1 driver’s were giving their media interviews and many happened to see it live on the screens around them. They knew it was bad right away but nobody would have guessed it was the end of 22-year old Anthoine. You can find out a little more about his racing career here.
Sunday’s Formula 2 race was cancelled in mourning, but there was a bigger show still to be had – the main F1 Grand Prix. The 2019 grid features plenty of young talent, many of whom were friends and peers of Anthoine. Still, they got into their race suits and lined up on the grid to go do what they do better than almost anyone else on the planet – race.
The lights go out, Leclerc gets a good start but Hamilton is able to get past Vettel down the inside of Turn 1 and Bottas nearly follows through as the Ferrari goes wide but Vettel keeps his foot down to hang onto third as they head into Eau Rouge. Onto the wide and long straight, Vettel is able to get past Hamilton without any DRS and reclaims P2.
Max? Well, he had another terrible start off the line, lost a few positions, tried to make up for it by going deep down the inside of Räikkönen. Bad move as he is too far back, collides into Kimi, sends the Alfa’s rear end into the air and damaging his steering in the process. He keeps going but turning wide into Radillon, clips another Alfa that snaps his front left before going into the wall. This was Verstappen’s first DNF in a long time.
Lando Norris was able to make the most of the chaos made by Max and the McLaren driver that started 11th on the grid had made it upto P5 in the first corner.
Charles was a man on a mission. He’d started on pole position before, led a race before but somehow never bagged the win. Not this time. The youngster was able to establish a bit of a lead from his teammate and the two Mercedes by Lap 15. Vettel was the first of the lead pack to pit, changing in his Softs for a set of fresh Mediums on Lap 16, joining the race a fair bit behind the Silver Arrows in P4.
On Lap 19, fans all around the circuit stood and applauded in memory of Anthoine Hubert who’s racing number was 19.
All eyes on Ferrari and what they were going to do with Leclerc who was still leading the race with Hamilton hunting him down, always catching up in the middle sector. The #16 Red pitted after 21 laps and Mercedes responded, pitting Hamilton the very next lap and Bottas right after. Leclerc’s stop was a full second quicker. The order of the trio was the same on Lap 24 but with Vettel now in the lead.
Leclerc was quickly catching upto Vettel, but Ferrari defuse the situation early, asking the German driver to let his younger colleague pass on Lap 27. It’s still a Ferrari one-two, Charles is leading the race again and Hamilton is hunting down the red stallions. Seb’s tyres won’t make it to the end and he’ll have to pit again which puts his podium chances in doubt.
By Lap 31, Charles is more than 5 seconds clear while Lewis catches up with Sebastian. They go wheel to wheel into La Source but the Ferrari powers through to stay in front of the Mercedes. Hamilton is closer on the next lap, is able to use DRS and slipstream to overcome the pace difference and gets past Vettel on Lap 32. Vettel pits the very next lap to switch to another set of used Softs for his final stint, now behind Bottas.
Leclerc is 7.1 seconds ahead with 10 laps to go.
With each passing lap, the Leclerc’s Ferrari is struggling for grip while Hamilton’s high-downforce Mercedes cuts into his lead at every twisty section of Spa. Meanwhile, Vettel’s race has gone to sh*t as he is still in P4 and well over 15 seconds behind Bottas.
The leaders are making their way past the backmarkers, which is helping Charles stave off Lewis. The gap is down to just 1.6 seconds on the penultimate lap. For the final lap, the Mercedes is in the mirrors of the Ferrari. Leclerc fans on the edge of their seats hoping nothing goes wrong this time. Ferrari hasn’t won a single race in 2019. The #16 makes its way around the super tight final corner and Charles Leclerc takes the chequered flag for his first-ever Formula 1 race victory.
Less than a second is what puts Hamilton in second at the finish line, a superb drive from the defending World Champion duo. Bottas takes the final podium spot, allowing Mercedes to extend its lead in the Constructor’s Championship even more. Vettel takes P4 and an extra point for the fastest lap. His last win was in 2018 at this very circuit. It’s been too long since he stood on the top step and his odds don’t look too good after the race either.
It’s a bittersweet moment for Charles as he savours his first win in F1 and dedicates it to Anthoine and of course to his late mentor, Jules Bianchi. Not the most exciting race in terms of wheel-to-wheel action for the win, but still another good one. The celebrations were sombre on the day of course, but the spoils can be enjoyed in full later on.
Just because there wasn’t a whole lot of action in front doesn’t mean there wasn’t any at all. As usual, the middle-order scrap put forth some brilliant overtaking and racing scenes throughout the 44 laps around the 7-kilometre long circuit.
Red Bull’s freshest signing, Albon, had a lot to prove and he did. After starting that far back on the grid, the young driver was able to secure a P5 finish, making some fantastic overtakes along the way that you can check out right here:
It was heartbreak for Lando Norris who was running comfortably in P5 for most of the race. The rookie was on route to his best ever result in F1 but his McLaren gave out on the final lap, not the first time a good result has been snatched from the young-Brit due to reliability problems. His teammate Carlos Sainz, who was celebrating his birthday that day, also faced issues with his McLaren racecar. Sainz started 16th on the grid, stalled at the start and had to retire after just one lap for the same issue. Norris did qualify in the final standings but in P11 and out of the points. A frustrating weekend for McLaren, especially Lando.
Renault, the same company that supplies the engines to McLaren, was facing its own difficulties too. Ricciardo got hit from behind in the first corner mess which damaged his car’s floor too. He was put on a long stint strategy, running on a single set of Medium tyres after the first lap. It didn’t pay off as he was being easily passed in the final stages of the race by cars that had much fresher rubber and the Australian finished P14. However, Hulkenberg was able to finish the race in P8 to get the team some crucial points running on a two-stop strategy.
Team Racing Point was able to score some points too thanks to a strong performance from Sergio Perez. The Mexican driver had a pretty good weekend overall — getting a 3-year extended contract to stay with the team, making it to Q3 and starting 7th on the grid, and crossing the finish line in P6. Teammate Lance Stroll was also able to get score a point in the end as he finished P10 after starting 16th on the grid.
Toro Rosso was also able to get a double-points finish with Daniil Kvyat securing P7 and Pierre Gasly crossing the line in P9. Kvyat had started 19th on the grid while Gasly started 13th, both running on different tyre strategies.
Haas is still struggling to fix their problems with race trim after the summer break as well. Despite their performance in qualifying and both drivers starting in the top 10 spots on the grid, neither was able to score a point. Magnussen and Grosjean finished the Belgian GP in P12 and P13 respectively. Williams Racing continued their expected form with George Russell finishing P15 and Robert Kubica in P17.
It was a horror Sunday for Alfa Romeo Racing despite a commendable performance in qualifying. Kimi’s car suffered plenty of damage to the floor and came into the pits multiple times but he was able to get it to the finish line in P16. Meanwhile, his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi was having a good run on his second set with some fantastic wheel-to-wheel racing action too. But unfortunately, he binned it on the last lap when he lost the rear end in the double left-hander of the middle section. So, no points for the team after their summer break which hurts their Constructor’s Championship standings.
The racing action resumes next week at Monza which is the fastest circuit in the calendar. It is also the last European race of the season before the teams fly over for the Asian leg near the end of September.
Can Ferrari gift the Tifosi a win at home in 2019? Will it be Vettel or Leclerc who claims the top spot? Or will Lewis and Max be able to make up for the lack in pace? The title race may not be in the balance but the fight for each race win is still very much alive. Hopefully, the second half of this 2019 season will be a lot more exciting than last year.
Full final standings:
- C. Leclerc Ferrari — 1:23:45.710
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +0.981
- V. Bottas Mercedes+12.585
- S. Vettel Ferrari +26.422
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +81.325
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +84.448
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +89.657
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +106.639
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +109.168
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +8.966
- L. Norris McLaren Renault DNF
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- D. Ricciardo Renault +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari DNF
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda DNF