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.

"I can't get much closer guys," admits Hamilton. "We're looking at options," he is told.

As Stroll pits, Albon nips past Magnussen at La Source. All previous moves on the Dane have taken place on the Kemmel Straight, so that was a new one.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 15, as Ferrari goes for the undercut. Perez also pits. The German rejoins in 5th and the Mexican 13th.

"This is critical," Hamilton is told as opposed to the usual "Hammer-time".

Rather than pit however, Hamilton stays out. Unlike Grosjean who pits from sixth.

Vettel passes Norris heading into Les Combes to take 4th.

Perez and Gasly do a Hakkinen/Schumacher as they pass Raikkonen on the Kemmel Straight, going either side of the Alfa Romeo.

A new fastest lap from Vettel (47.087), as Hamilton says his tyres are "OK".

A cheeky move sees Hulkenberg pass Raikkonen for 14th.

Magnussen is now under intense pressure from Gasly, the end result inevitable. Moments later, Hulkenberg also sweeps past the Haas.

"You are 19s behind Charles," Vettel is told, "you are in the race."

Norris pits from 5th at the end of lap 19, the Briton rejoins in 7th but is soon back to sixth after passing Giovinazzi.

"Mode box," Leclerc is told, as Norris passes Kvyat for 5th.

Sure enough, Leclerc pits at the end of lap 21, rejoining in 4th behind his teammate. Now leading, Hamilton posts a PB (48.746).

"This will be box, box," Hamilton is told. The Briton subsequently stops and 23.497s later rejoins in fourth following a slightly scrappy stop.

Meanwhile, Gasly is given a warning for moving under braking.

Bottas pits next time around, as Leclerc posts a new fastest lap (46.664). Bottas rejoins in 4th, 5.8s down on his Mercedes teammate.

As Albon pits, Magnussen remains the only driver to start on the softs who has yet to stop. The Dane is currently 14th.

Not for the first time, Hamilton is questioning his team's strategy. The Briton posts a new fastest lap (46.859) as he closes to within 6s of Leclerc.

"Let Charles by this lap," Vettel is told. The German subsequently slows on the pit straight to allow his teammate through.

Vettel warns that his tyres will not last until the end, as Hamilton closes to within 2.2s.

In 8th, Ricciardo has Grosjean and Gasly hard on his heels.

"They're gonna walk all over us," warns Vettel.

As Hamilton hounds Vettel Hungary-style, will the German play the team game and hold up the Briton?

Indeed, he does. Using the speed advantage of the Ferrari on the straights, and then dropping back on the twisty bits.

At the end of lap 29, Giovinazzi makes his first stop of the day, leaving the Williams pair as the only drivers still to stop.

Bottas is told that Hamilton is struggling to pass Vettel and burn up his tyres.

Hamilton is all over Vettel, but the German is in no mood to surrender. Having failed at Bus Stop, he finally nails the German at Les Combes courtesy of a tow from the SF90.

As Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Kubica all pit, Albon passes Gasly for tenth.

As Hamilton sets about closing the 6.6s gap to Leclerc, Bottas closes in on Vettel. With a 35s advantage over fifth placed Norris, pitting the German is a no-brainer.

Indeed, at the end of lap 33, the German pits, switching back to softs.

Leclerc leads Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Norris, Perez, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Albon and Gasly.

A brilliant, bold move sees Albon nail Ricciardo - himself a pretty good overtaker - in T8.

Interestingly, the gap between Leclerc and Hamilton remains 6s.

A mistake sees Vettel miss the chicane at the top of the hill.

Ricciardo, who is still on the same tyres he fitted at the end of lap 1, has Gasly, Giovinazzi and Grosjean in hot pursuit.

As Vettel posts a new fastest lap (46.409), Grosjean is told that the cars ahead are on old rubber. "I'm sorry dude," he replies, "but there's no chance, I've been doing this for thirty laps."

Albon passes former teammate Kvyat for 7th. The Red Bull driver's next target is Perez, but he's 9.2s up the road.

There is little Ricciardo can do when Giovinazzi makes his move, the Australian's single point for tenth now under serious threat from Gasly. Indeed, moments later the Toro Rosso is through.

Having given Leclerc some breathing space, Hamilton now picks up the pace and in no time at all is 2.886s down on the Ferrari.

Meanwhile, Albon is just 4s down on Perez, while Ricciardo is passed by Hulkenberg and Stroll.

Norris is told to be "really careful" with his front right.

Leclerc and Hamilton wind their way through the back-markers, the Ferrari appearing to struggle for grip. Ferrari is aware that when Vettel's tyres went off it was dramatically quick.

As they begin the final lap, Hamilton is just 1.613s down on the leader, while Albon is 0.879s down on Perez.

Hulkenberg passes Gasly for tenth.

Late drama as Giovinazzi is off at high-speed and in to the barriers at Turn 11, while Norris has stopped on the pit straight, the Briton heartbreakingly losing out on a certain 5th having seemingly stopped at the start of the final lap unnoticed.

As Leclerc holds off Hamilton to take the win, Albon passes Perez to take fifth, a brilliant start with his new team for the Thai driver.

That said, the move is under investigation after Albon took to the grass in his efforts to pass the Racing Point.

Despite the obvious joy in taking his first win, Leclerc, who has experienced his own fair share of tragedy in recent years, keeps the celebration muted. Climbing from his car, having gestured to the sky, he points to the sticker on its flank in tribute to his fallen colleague.

It's fitting that on a day the sport mourns the loss of one young talent, another claims his first victory, and in the case of Charles Leclerc surely the first of many.

Not the thriller we had hoped for, but it had its moments, and while Ferrari clearly has the advantage in terms of grunt, it still has some way to go in terms of aero.

Another solid result for Mercedes, which sees both drivers on the podium, while Albon's Red Bull career surely couldn't have got off to a better start.

A good result for Racing Point, which, like Toro Rosso, gets both cars in the points, while McLaren must be wondering what on earth it has done wrong to so offend Lady Luck, the Woking team bookending the race with retirements, Norris' late issue particularly heart-breaking.

Then again, over the years that is something we have learned from this sport of ours, never take anything for granted.

Not least the fact that it remains dangerous.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spa, here.

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 01/09/2019
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