Charles Leclerc Takes Emotional Maiden Win at 2019 Belgian GP
After being denied almost certain victory twice already in his first year at Ferrari, Charles Leclerc has finally taken his maiden Grand Prix win at the 2019 Belgian GP, though he was unable to relish in it as much as he might have hoped before the weekend.
The mood was indeed somber on Sunday; the day before, Anthoine Hubert had passed away after a high-speed crash during the feature Formula 2 race. Hubert had been a childhood friend of Leclerc’s, the two having grown up in the racing world together.
Leclerc qualified on pole position and remained uncontested throughout most of the race, in part thanks to his teammate Sebastian Vettel’s stalwart defense of Lewis Hamilton, which dampened the latter’s post-pit momentum and prevented him from ever having a real shot of catching and passing Leclerc in time for the checkered flag (another lap, Hamilton mused, would probably have been enough for him to deny Leclerc that maiden win).
Before the race, Hamilton also noted that Hubert’s death was a reminder that despite all of the safety advancements that have been made in F1 and throughout other motorsports, racing drivers still put their lives on the line when they get behind the wheel.
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In his team radio message after the race, Leclerc seemed unable to bring himself to celebrate. “On the one hand, I have a dream since I was a child that has been realized, and on the other hand, it has been very difficult,” he said. “We have lost a friend first of all, and it’s very difficult in these situations so I would like to dedicate this win to him.”
“We have grown up together and my first ever race I did when I was seven with Anthoine, so it’s such a shame what happened,” he added. “I can’t fully enjoy my first victory but it is a memory that will live with me forever.”
Hubert’s death marked just one of several personal losses Leclerc experienced in recent years. His friend and godfather Jules Bianchi died from injuries suffered in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, and his father passed away two years ago. Incredibly, Leclerc competed in the Formula 2 race in Baku the day after and won it.
Lando Norris, another young driver, had been set to finish fifth at the 2019 Belgian GP, which would have been his best result in his rookie season, but engine failure forced him to retire on the last lap. Alexander Albon, still getting used to his new Red Bull racing suit, inherited the position after having started 17th on the grid. He was very quick in the second half of the race, though
Pierre Gasly, also a childhood friend of Hubert’s and just as visibly emotional as Leclerc, also finished in the points during his first race back at Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen, his former rival in the Honda-powered Red Bull and a favorite at Spa — Dutch fans traditionally flock to the race to watch him — crashed out of the first lap after breaking his suspension against Kimi Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo.
The sport has no time to rest before the next race, which takes place in the heart of Italy in Monza this very Sunday. Ferrari are favored to win there again, and it will be a test for Honda to see how far its power unit has come in 2019.
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