In heartbreaking scenes at Spa, Belgium, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc drove for the memory of his good friend Anthoine Hubert. Leclerc would hold his head high at the end of the race after beating home Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas. The win would make the Monagesque just the third youngest driver ever to win a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Team mate Sebastian Vettel drove a wingman’s drive, doing his best to keep both Mercedes drivers from heading Leclerc, and would finish 4th.
Leclerc was clearly emotional at the end. “It’s a good day, but on the other hand, as I said, losing Anthoine yesterday brings me back to 2005, my first ever French championship. There was him, Esteban, Pierre and myself. We were four kids that were dreaming of Formula 1. We grew up in karting for many, many years, and to lose him yesterday was a big shock for me but obviously for everyone in motorsport, so it was a very sad day.”
Leclerc had lead the race from start to finish, bar a section where Vettel would lead after Leclerc had pitted for a swap of rubber, before the German was called in for the same. lap 27 was when Ferrari called the drivers and advised that Vettel would pull over to allow a clearly faster Leclerc through. It would take until lap 32 before Vettel would be passed by Hamilton, having done enough to hold the championship leader at bay and make it difficult for the Briton to head an emotionally charged Red Bull driver. Vettel would pit two laps later, having done his job.
Leclerc’s pace helped him avoid a first lap collision between Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen. The result was seeing Verstappen’s run of top five finishes come to an end and his legion of fans groaning in disappointment. Raikkonen’s severely damaged Alfa barely held together but did so to see him greet the chequered flag for 16th. Verstappen immediately blamed the more experienced river for the impact, however replays would show that Raikkonen’s line, to front and left of Verstappen, was clean and proper. Verstappen was at the extreme right of a tight right hander and would seconds later be clipped by another car, breaking the already weakened left hand steering rod. This left Verstappen’s car with nowhere to go but straight ahead into the barriers.
Daniel Ricciardo was tagged by Lance Stroll in almost the same spot at the same time, and would be pitted immediately. Ricciardo would finish 14th after running as high as 7th on lap 35. A strange decision from Renault would have the Australian on rubber that had been swapped during the safety car period. With just four laps to go the Australian would lose five places.
Perhaps the drive of the day was from newly promoted Alexander Albon. Starting from 17th, in his debut race for Red Bull, the 5th he would ultimately finish shows immediate promise for the rest of the season. He could also consider himself lucky to have made it to the end as Sergio Perez and he were queried by stewards due to a final lap incident. Albon’s pace was measurably quicker than Perez, and an overtaking move saw Perez perhaps surprised by that and his move forced Albon to the grass. Albon would also put a hard pass on Ricciardo on lap 35, going out wide on the left side of the Australian, carrying pace into a sweeping right hander.
The stewards and drivers were satisfied that it was a racing incident, and Perez would hold onto his 6th. “In the end Albon was very strong so there was no chance to hold him. It hurts to lose a position on the last lap, but he did a good job.” said Perez.
Albon had pitted at the halfway point of the race, and says that the car’s nature immediately changed. “We pitted a little bit earlier than I’d like then the car came alive and felt really good. Straightaway it felt like ‘okay, we can make some moves and of course overtaking is easier when you have a fast car under your seat,” he said.
Disappointment for Carlos Sainz with a stall on the grid, and a stall in pit lane. Although he was able to fire the engine of his McLaren back into life, he would retire the car shortly after and just as the safety car period from Verstappen’s crash was about to end.
Pierre Gasly managed to get home in 9th. 11th was looking to be his finishing place, but Lando Norris and Antonio Giovinazzi retired within sight of the finish. Gasly, in his return to Toro Rosso, would tangle with Kevin Magnussen throughout the race, with the occasional banging of wheels bringing the pair close to damaging their respective vehicles. Magnussen would finish a lap down in 12th.
Hamilton would continue to close on Leclerc until Giovinazzi crashed on the final lap. Norris would also fail to finish on the final lap, with the team revealing after the race the car had been suffering power loss in the closing laps. Norris would bring the car to a halt on the main straight. Daniil Kvyat drove an unremarkable race to finish 7th, ahead of an equally quiet Nico Hulkenberg in 8th. lance Stroll impressed for 10th, marking a rare double points finish for Racing Point. Romain Grosjean, tipped to be booted from Haas at the end of the season, kept his nose clean to finish 13th. George Russell to little to distinguish himself to finish 15th.
The sombre feeling of the day was exemplified by the podium presentation. No champagne was sprayed, interviews were short, and the teams would pack up and prepare for the next race at Monza this coming weekend.