Belgian GP: Charles Leclerc holds off Lewis Hamilton for first F1 win
Leclerc hangs on in Spa and dedicates victory to Hubert; Hamilton misses out after late pursuit; Vettel only fourth, Albon a fine fifth as Norris suffers late McLaren failure; Verstappen out on first lap
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 01/09/19 7:06pm
Charles Leclerc sealed his maiden Formula 1 victory after holding off Lewis Hamilton at the Belgian GP, as Ferrari finally broke their F1 2019 duck on an emotional day at Spa.
In an epic conclusion to the race, Hamilton closed to within a second of Leclerc on the final lap, but the Monegasque hung on for a milestone win from pole.
Leclerc dedicated his victory to Anthoine Hubert, the F2 driver and close friend who tragically passed away after crashing at Spa on Saturday.
"On the one hand, I have a dream since I was a child that has been realised," said Leclerc, 21. "On the other hand, it has been a very difficult weekend since yesterday.
"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.
"I can't fully enjoy my first victory but it is a memory that will live with me forever."
Leclerc secured Ferrari's first win of the season as Hamilton had to settle for second place despite a fantastic pursuit.
The Englishman, who has extended his title lead to 65 points over Valtteri Bottas, overtook Sebastian Vettel and was then gaining on Leclerc by around one second per lap in the closing stages, before the chequered flag denied him.
"I gave it absolutely everything," said Hamilton. "It was a difficult race today and I think the Ferraris were just too fast on the straights and it was very hard to keep up with them.
"Congratulations to Charles, it's his first win and it's been coming all year so I'm really happy for him."
Vettel was only fourth in the sister Ferrari and never seemed to have the pace of Leclerc, pitting early and momentarily taking the lead before obeying team orders to let his young team-mate past.
He then had to stop again after being passed by Hamilton, and finished behind Bottas who completed the podium for Mercedes.
Alex Albon was fifth after a superb recovery drive on his Red Bull debut, after Max Verstappen's race ended on the opening lap following a first-corner collision with Kimi Raikkonen.
The Thai driver's comeback from 17th on the grid included several sublime overtakes through the midfield, while his final pass on Sergio Perez was deemed legal after a stewards' investigation.
Albon also benefited from Lando Norris' cruel late reliability failure - the McLaren rookie ran fifth for most of the race but pulled up on the main straight with one lap remaining.
Pierre Gasly, the man Albon replaced at Red Bull, finished ninth on his return to Toro Rosso.
Belgian GP race result:
1. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
5. Alex Albon, Red Bull
6. Sergio Perez, Racing Point
7. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
8. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault
9. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso
10. Lance Stroll, Racing Point
Leclerc shines as motorsport mourns loss of Hubert
The mood was understandably sombre before the race after the tragic F2 events from Saturday, with Hubert close to many drivers on the current F1 grid - particularly Leclerc, who first raced against the Frenchman as a seven-year-old.
A minute's silence was impeccably observed before the race, and Hubert's mother and brother joined the drivers on the grid.
It was a fitting tribute - just like the action on the track that followed it.
Leclerc enjoyed a superb start to keep the lead from pole while Vettel, expected to be the youngster's main threat off the line, dropped behind Hamilton. He got back ahead of the Mercedes on the Kemmel straight, aided by Ferrari's power, but Leclerc crucially took control and built an early advantage over Vettel after the Safety Car, enforced by the Verstappen-Raikkonen clash.
Vettel was looking over his shoulder rather than towards the front-running Leclerc in the opening stages and pitted on Lap 16 as Hamilton closed in. His rivals stayed out, though Vettel's pace on the medium tyre meant he found himself in the lead once the top three stopped five laps later.
It was not long before Leclerc came charging, and Vettel helped his team-mate towards victory by first moving aside swiftly once Ferrari's orders arrived, before holding up Hamilton for a few laps as he looked to make ground.
In the end, that delay was costly for Hamilton as he claimed he would have caught Leclerc with the help of a few more laps.
Leclerc's victory was a long time coming after desperately unlucky near-misses in Bahrain and Austria.
"I think this is going to open the floodgates as he's already established himself as faster then Vettel," said Sky F1's Damon Hill.
Elsewhere, there was superb action in the midfield, with Albon, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo - who was also caught up in the first-lap chaos - the most impressive overtakers.
But spare a thought for Norris, who inherited fifth on that opening lap before losing it through no fault of his own on the final one. Antonio Giovinazzi also retired from the race late on.
The season continues next weekend in Monza, and Ferrari will be confident of sealing back-to-back wins in front of their home Tifosi after Leclerc's Spa masterclass.