Fifteen minutes before the start of the race, the grid fell silent in remembrance of Formula 2 driver, Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a crash in the Formula 2 Feature Race at Spa. In addition to this tribute, there was a standing ovation on lap 19 for Hubert’s car number 19.
The show then went on. Off the start, Lewis Hamilton overtook Sebastian Vettel on the inside of La Source before Vettel retook the position with the slipstream on the Kemmel Straight.
Further behind, Max Verstappen made contact with Kimi Raikkonen at La Source, sending the Finn onto two wheels and breaking his own steering. Verstappen crashed into the barriers at Radillon and brought out the safety car. Cue groans en masse from the Dutch fans.
“I braked maybe a little too later than those in front,” Verstappen said afterwards. “Kimi did his normal line and we touched. The track rod was broken after that.”
Our other retirement this afternoon was Carlos Sainz, whose McLaren just kept stalling.
Vettel was the first of the frontrunners to pit and it was a further seven laps before his teammate, Leclerc, made his pit stop. During this period, Vettel was setting fastest laps and was within a pitstop of Leclerc. Leclerc came out behind Vettel once he’d pitted.
Once everyone had made their pit stops, Hamilton found himself in third position as his Mercedes team made yet another strategic error. His teammate Bottas was running out of contention in a lonely fourth.
All the while, Leclerc was catching up to Vettel at around a second a lap. Vettel was told by the team to let Charles past and he duly obliged, letting the Monegasque driver through on the main straight.
Sebastian’s job now was to keep Hamilton behind him so that Charles could extend his lead out front. Vettel was helped in his task by the straight line speed advantage that Ferrari had down the Kemmel Straight. Eventually, Hamilton made the inevitable overtake on Vettel for second position but Vettel’s defence meant the gap Hamilton needed to overhaul was 6.6 seconds.
The gap between Leclerc and Hamilton stayed at 6.6 seconds for several laps before beginning to close in the final few laps. While Hamilton closed up significantly in the closing stages, Leclerc was able to hold on for his maiden win in Formula One.
“This one is for Antoine,” Leclerc said on his team radio. “It feels good but it’s difficult to enjoy on a weekend like this.”
This was such a deserved victory for the Monegasque driver. It feels like it has been a long time coming but this is only his 13th race for Ferrari and his 34th in Formula One overall.
My honourable mention for this race goes to Alexander Albon who started at the back of the grid after taking engine penalties but was able to finish in fifth. This was despite the Thai driver getting stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg for the first part of the race before making some great overtakes once he’d pitted onto the soft compound tyre.
This was a fantastic showing from Albon in his first grand prix for Red Bull, having replaced Pierre Gasly over the summer break.
It was another race to forget for Haas as Kevin Magnussen was overtaken by most of the midfield on the Kemmel Straight. Romain Grosjean suffered the same fate.
“We couldn’t overtake because we are too slow on the straights. Then we got caught in traffic and lost all our performance,” Gunther Steiner, Haas team principal, explained. “I think we need to work on our aero. It looks like we have too much drag and not enough downforce.”
From an Australian perspective, Daniel Ricciardo had a very bad day at the office. Ricciardo made a pit stop at the end of lap one after getting caught up in the carnage at La Source. He was then stuck on the medium tyres for the rest of the race and was a sitting duck for anyone who fancied an overtake.
This weekend has been one that I’d like to forget to be honest with you. The death of Anthoine Hubert has served as a chilling reminder that all drivers in all forms of motorsport put their lives at risk every time they get into the cockpit.
However, we move on as motorsport always does and the Formula One circus moves to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza for the Italian Grand Prix next weekend. Ferrari have another chance to get a pole position and a victory too.
The last time a Ferrari won at Monza was in 2010 when Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag.
Classification (44 LAPS)
1. Charles Leclerc: 1:23:45.710: 25pts
2. Lewis Hamilton: +0.981s: 18pts
3. Valtteri Bottas: +12.585s: 15pts
4. Sebastian Vettel: +26.422s: 13pts
5. Alexander Albon: +81.325s: 10pts
6. Sergio Perez: +84.448s: 8pts
7. Daniil Kvyat: +89.657s: 6pts
8. Nico Hulkenberg: +106.639s: 4pts
9. Pierre Gasly: +109.168s: 2pts
10. Lance Stroll: +109.838s: 1pt
11. Lando Norris: +1 LAP: 0pts
12. Kevin Magnussen: +1 LAP: 0pts
13. Romain Grosjean: +1 LAP: 0pts
14. Daniel Ricciardo: +1 LAP: 0pts
15. George Russell: +1 LAP: 0pts
16. Kimi Raikkonen: +1 LAP: 0pts
17. Robert Kubica: +1 LAP: 0pts
18. Antonio Giovinazzi: Crashed on lap 44 but still classified
DNF: Carlos Sainz (Lap 3)
DNF: Max Verstappen (Lap 1)