Charles Leclerc secures pole for Belgium Grand Prix as Ferrari dominates Mercedes

Press Association Sport 21:35 31/08/2019
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Charles Leclerc thrashed Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel to claim pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.

Leclerc beat Vettel to the front slot of the grid by a mighty 0.748 seconds as Ferrari locked out the front row.

Lewis Hamilton finished third, just 0.015secs adrift of Vettel, with Valtteri Bottas fourth in the sister Mercedes. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished fifth.

Hamilton’s hopes of participating in qualifying hung in the balance for two hours after he crashed out of final practice.

The world champion lost control of his Mercedes through the right-handed turn 12 and slammed into the barriers.

Hamilton emerged unscathed from his cockpit, but the Briton sustained extensive damage to the front of his car.

As qualifying started, Hamilton’s mechanics were still working on fixing his machine when they were handed a lifeline after Robert Kubica’s caught on fire following an eye-catching engine failure.

The session was suspended for 10 minutes, affording Hamilton’s crew the additional time to complete their repairs. Hamilton left his garage when Kubica’s Williams was removed from danger before safely booking his spot in the second phase of qualifying. Drama over.

Hamilton was in a class of one before the sport’s summer break, winning eight of the 12 rounds, and establishing a commanding lead of 62 points over Mercedes team-mate Bottas.

But the resumption of his campaign has not been straightforward. On Friday, he suffered a throttle pedal failure before his uncharacteristic accident on Saturday morning. For much of the weekend, he has not been able to match Bottas either, but the Englishman found the pace required to beat the Finn and put his Mercedes in a position to threaten Ferrari.

“Final practice was terrible for me because you know how hard the guys work to build those parts and how hard they work to put the car back together,” he said.

“My guys are faultless and I tried to pay them back with a good qualifying session. I am grateful I am third. I am going to give it everything tomorrow and hopefully give these guys a good race.”

The Scuderia have not won this year, but their car works well at the high-speed Spa-Francorchamps track and the Italians will now be firm favourites to take the chequered flag on Sunday.

It has been 12 months since Vettel last tasted victory, dominating at this venue a year ago. But the four-time world champion will have to usurp his team-mate for a much-needed win.

Leclerc has impressed this weekend and, after an engine failure denied him victory in Bahrain, before Verstappen’s fine fightback drive in Austria prevented him from winning in June, the Monegasque will be hoping it is third time lucky as he bids to open his grand prix account.

McLaren have enjoyed a resurgence this season, but the British team have not been up to scratch in Spa.

Lando Norris finished 12th, while his team-mate Carlos Sainz failed to make it out of Q1. The Spaniard qualified 17th.

The London-born Thai Alex Albon will start from the back of the field after he was penalised for a Honda engine upgrade on his Red Bull debut.

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Renault confirm Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo line up for 2020

Press Association Sport 16:20 29/08/2019
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Esteban Ocon will join Renault next season after signing a two-year contract.

The 22-year-old Frenchman, who has spent this year on the sidelines after he was dropped by Racing Point, replaces Nico Hulkenberg and will team up with Daniel Ricciardo in 2020.

Ocon’s move to Renault was confirmed following Mercedes’ decision to retain Valtteri Bottas.

Ocon, the Mercedes reserve driver, had been in contention to race alongside Lewis Hamilton before Bottas was kept on for a fourth consecutive year.

“I am pleased that a team with big ambitions has entrusted me with the opportunity to once again demonstrate my skills at the highest level of F1,” said Ocon.

“It is a responsibility I take very seriously. The confidence they have in me to help the progression of the team is a very positive pressure and I look forward to giving the best of myself.”

Ocon began his career with Manor and then raced at Force India for two years before he was replaced by Lance Stroll following his fashion billionaire’s father Lawrence’s takeover of the team.

Ocon, who has a best finish of fifth from his 50 race starts, had then been due to join Renault only for the move to fall through following Ricciardo’s surprise switch from Red Bull.

Renault have struggled this season, and are sixth in the constructors’ standings ahead of the final nine rounds.

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “Over his F1 career Esteban has experienced the highs and lows of the sport, and fully understood the need to seize every possible chance.

“Esteban has shown his ability to score points, has great professionalism on and off the track, plus his recent experience as reserve driver to the current world champions will be a valuable asset to the development of our entire team.”    

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Mercedes retain Valtteri Bottas alongside Lewis Hamilton for 2020

Press Association Sport 14:28 29/08/2019
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Valtteri Bottas has been confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate at Mercedes for next season ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The Finn, who turned 30 on Wednesday, has seen off the team’s French reserve driver Esteban Ocon, and British rookie George Russell, to get the nod alongside Hamilton for 2020.

Team principal Toto Wolff has decided to take up the option on keeping Bottas for a fourth consecutive season.

Mathematically, Bottas is Hamilton’s closest challenger for a sixth world championship, having won twice this year.

But the former Williams driver is 62 points behind his team-mate with only nine rounds remaining. His second place in the championship is also under threat from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen following the Dutchman’s impressive campaign.

Bottas last tasted victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April, and failed to take advantage of Hamilton’s poor showing at last month’s rain-hit German Grand Prix when he crashed out.

He then finished a disappointing eighth at the last round before the summer break in Hungary following contact with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

The season resumes in Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday, with Hamilton looking to edge closer towards a sixth world championship which would move him to within one of Michael Schumacher’s record.

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