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Leclerc win lifts F1 spirits


Not for the first time in our sport's long history, a dark cloud hangs over the F1 paddock.

It is not the dark cloud of the rain gods, keen to ensure yet another incident-filled thriller, rather the dark cloud that mark a tragedy within the motorsport family.

Courtesy of the huge steps the sport has taken over the years, finally heeding the lessons of the past, we have grown used to huge accidents from which those involved walk away, smiling and waving to the crowds.

We become complacent, forgetting that age-old warning on the back of the ticket that proclaims... "motor racing is dangerous".

Occasionally, we are reminded just how dangerous motor racing can be, and on (thankfully) very rare occasions the reminder is brutal.

The joy that marked Charles Leclerc's superb run to pole, marking Ferrari's 223rd, was short-lived, for just over an hour later total silence fell over the majestic Spa-Francorchamps track.

As a result of a vicious, grotesquely violent incident, French youngster Anthoine Hubert lost his life, and as a result motor sport is in mourning.

The show goes on, and this afternoon Messrs Hamilton, Vettel, Leclerc, Verstappen et al will climb into their machines for our entertainment.

We will shout at our TV screens urging our heroes to 'go for it', grin when the opposition makes a slight mistake, scream when an engine detonates and argue with every stewards' decision.

However, we must never forget, what it says on the back of the ticket; motor racing is dangerous, and despite the huge strides the sport has taken, despite the emasculation of tracks and the introduction of all manner of namby-pamby rules with which we don't agree, it shall remain so.

And every now and then, just like yesterday, we are painfully reminded.

The optimal strategy today is a one-stopper, assuming it remains dry. Ideally, the quickest way is to start on the softs for 22 laps, then switch to the mediums until the end.

Close behind in terms of overall race time is a two-stopper: starting on the softs for 15 laps, sticking with the softs again for another 15 laps, and then doing the final 14 laps on the mediums.

Finally, there's a slightly slower alternative strategy (in case of an early safety car): start on the softs for 12 to 14 laps, then finish on hards.

As expected, it is noticeably cooler than yesterday, and somewhat overcast. Indeed, around an hour before the race there is a light shower.

The pitlane opens, and one by one the drivers head out.

Air temperature is 16.8 degrees C, while the track temperature is 27 degrees.

"A lot of mid-to-exit understeer, everywhere," reports Russell.

As ever, the drivers assemble for the national anthem, which, in light of yesterday's tragedy, will be preceded by a minute's silence.

Other than the leading ten, who are all on softs, most of the others are starting on the red-banded rubber, the exceptions being Russell, Albon, Giovinazzi, Kvyat and Kubica who are all on the mediums.

Ahead of the warm-up lap, Leclerc is talked through a whole load of settings.

The warm-up laps gets underway, all get away bar Kubica who is starting from the pitlane.

Hamilton asks about temperatures.

The grid forms, and for the third time in his F1 career, Leclerc waits on pole.

They're away. Good starts for Leclerc, Ricciardo and Albon, while Verstappen is particularly slow getting off the line.

Into La Source and Hamilton has the inside on Vettel, and as the German runs wide on exit, a number of other cars appear to follow his lead.

As Leclerc leads the way up the hill, Vettel is the meat in the sandwich, with Hamilton ahead and Bottas close behind. However, the sheer grunt of the Ferrari sees Vettel sweep by on the long run up the hill.

Meanwhile, Verstappen is out, the crowd appearing to sigh as one.

The Dutchman is in the barriers at Raidillon having damaged his steering after colliding with Raikkonen at La Source.

Replay shows Raikkonen, Verstappen and Perez battling for position going into Turn 1 and the Red Bull hitting the Alfa, which didn't appear to leave much room. That said, it's entirely possible the Finn didn't see the Red Bull.

The Finn is momentarily on two wheels and in the ensuing melee as drivers seek to avoid the Alfa, Stroll hits Ricciardo

After hitting Raikkonen, Verstappen continues, but heading into Eau Rouge it is clear he has an issue with his steering, indeed, though travelling slowly he fails to control the car and heads into the barriers. Unbelievably, as the Red Bull slides across the track it clips a passing car... the Alfa of a certain Mr Raikkonen.

"Some ****** hit me," reports the Finn, "he ******* hit me again," he adds moments later.

As the safety car is deployed, the one man to have gained in all that was Norris, who successfully picked his way through the various problems at the first corner.

Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Sainz all pit at the end of lap 1, the Spaniard's McLaren stalling in the process.

Leclerc leads Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Norris, Grosjean, Magnussen, Perez, Gasly and Stroll.

The safety car is due to be withdrawn at the end of lap 3, however Sainz has stopped on track following a loss of power and as a result the official Mercedes remains on track.

Hamilton is warned that his front callipers "are still hot".

The race resumes. A slight lock-up for Vettel at La Source almost allows Hamilton through. Up the Kemmel Straight Bottas makes a move to pass his teammate but Hamilton has it covered.

"Vettel's not that quick," reports Hamilton who is just 1.035s behind. The German is already 1.8s down on his teammate.

Perez is hard on the heels of Magnussen, as the stewards confirm that though "noted" no investigation is necessary in terms of the first lap incidents involving Ricciardo and Stroll and Raikkonen and Verstappen.

Talking of which, Stroll is currently tenth, Ricciardo 15th and Raikkonen 16th.

Vettel posts a new fastest lap (49.459), contrary to Hamilton's observation.

In seventh, Magnussen has a train of eight cars running close behind.

Replay shows an unforced error from the race leader at the top of the hill.

Albon told to keep watching his battery.

Finally, on lap 11, Perez passes Magnussen on the Kemmel Straight.

Norris warned of a tailwind in Turn 5 that is causing problems for other drivers.

Gasly is the next driver to pick off a clearly struggling Magnussen.

"Still going to Plan A," Leclerc is told.

At the end of lap 11, Hulkenberg is the first driver to make a scheduled pit stop. He rejoins in 18th on the mediums.

A new fastest lap from Leclerc (49.004) as he extends his lead to 2.655s.

In quick succession, Magnussen falls victim to Stroll and Kvyat.

As Leclerc improves to 48.917, Ricciardo is setting an impressive pace in 14th.

Gasly pits at the end of lap 13, the Frenchman rejoining in 17th.

Giovinazzi passes Magnussen in the F1 equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.


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