Charles Leclerc dedicated his maiden 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.
A minute's silence was held to honour the late French racing driver Anthoine Hubert before Sunday's scheduled Formula Three race at the Belgian Grand Prix. Hubert, 22, was killed in a crash during Saturday's Formula Two race at the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps circuit. A minute's silence was also held before the start of the Formula One Grand Prix. Hubert's family stood holding his racing helmet at the front of a large group of racing team members and others during the brief reflective ceremony. The scheduled F2 race was cancelled.
Other special tributes to the Renault-backed driver are being organised by fans through messages on social media. These include a round of applause to honour Hubert on lap 19 of the Grand Prix race, marking a memory of his racing number. An official schedule said a video tribute to the Frenchman is to be broadcast on screens at the sprawling 7.004-km track in the Ardennes forests. Hubert was killed in a devastating multi-car collision on the second lap of the F2 race on Saturday evening.
He had lost control of his car and hit the barriers before American Juan Manuel Correa unavoidably crashed into him at around 250 kph at the Raidillon corner. Hubert's Arden car was demolished in the accident and he died from his injuries 90 minutes later. Correa, 20, broke both legs and suffered a spinal injury. He was transferred to hospital in Liege for surgery and was reported to be in a stable condition. Correa's Sauber team said: "Juan Manuel remained conscious until just before the operation. While keeping Juan Manuel in your thoughts and prayers, please also pray for the well-being of Hubert's friends and family."
In an updated statement on Sunday, the team said he was resting in intensive car and his parents were at the hospital. "We are continuing to support them at this tragic time. The team sincerely thanks the Spa-Francorchamps marshals and safety teams for their speedy response and care at the accident scene yesterday."
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the remaining traditional racing circuits in Europe that have been in use since the start of the F1 world championship in 1950 and has retained a reputation for speed and danger despite many moderations. It was designed in 1920 and first used for a car race in 1922.