Charles Leclerc dedicated his first-ever Formula One race victory at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday to his late friend, Anthoine Hubert.
The Ferrari driver led almost the entire race from pole to hold off Mercedes’ defending five time world champion Lewis Hamilton’s dramatic late charge by one second.
His landmark success came a day after the death of 22-year-old Frenchman Hubert in Saturday’s tragic Formula Two race. And Leclerc was quick to express his emotions as he steered back to the ‘parc fermee’, his steering wheel sporting a simple message ‘RIP Tonio.”
“My first victory in F1 and this one is for Anthoine,” he said on the team radio. “It feels good, but it’s difficult to enjoy on a weekend like this. But thanks guys, you are the best – it’s a dream come true.”
Leclerc said he felt he could not enjoy his long-awaited first win.
“It has been a very difficult weekend since Saturday – I have lost a friend and I want to dedicate this victory to him. We grew up together and my first race I did it with Anthoine, Esteban [Ocon] and Pierre [Gasly].
“It’s just a shame what happened yesterday. I cannot enjoy my first victory, but it will definitely be a memory I will keep forever.”
Valtteri Bottas took third in the second Mercedes ahead of last year’s winner Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari.
Hamilton’s strong finish almost carried him to within reach of a stunning late win, but the result still enabled him to enlarge his lead in the title race to 65 points ahead of Bottas. “I gave it everything that I had,” said Hamilton.
“It was a really difficult race and there Ferraris were just too fast on the straights. Congratulations to Charles for his first win – he’s had it coming all year.”
Red Bull new boy Alex Albon came home fifth for Red Bull, after luckless British rookie Lando Norris’s McLaren had stopped with one lap remaining, ahead of Sergio Perez of Racing Point, Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
Pierre Gasly came home ninth on his return to the Toro Rosso team and Lance Stroll 10th in the second Racing point.