Emotional victory in Belgium first step on path to Charles Leclerc achieving greatness

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As Charles Leclerc jumped out of the seat of his iconic Ferrari to celebrate a maiden victory in Formula One, the emotion of a devastating weekend was worn across his young face.

The sheer delight of a race win, sprinkled with a sense of loss following the horrible accident that claimed the life of Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert on Saturday.

At just 21, Leclerc has grown accustomed to loss.

He is the godson of Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015, following a crash in the Japanese Grand Prix 10 months earlier. His father died two years ago, just days before Leclerc won the Baku GP2 race.

The joy of victory in Belgium was no doubt balanced by the despair of losing a friend he’d known for more than a decade.

His first French Championship race was with Hubert back in 2005 and the pair had remained friends since. Hubert was killed following a horror 170mph crash during a Formula 2 race on the same track.

It’s at sad times like this that the motorsport community draw together, and although it is hard to focus and enjoy the race weekend itself, the show goes on.

Leclerc’s epitomised that with his professional manner before and after the race, his composure behind the wheel and admirable words in triumph after the race.

The Monaco native comfortably brought his Ferrari home ahead of a chasing Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. And as he said on the Ferrari team radio after the race, his first win was the culmination of a lifelong dream, but impossible to enjoy given the circumstances.

Despite the sombre atmosphere around Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, it was clearly a bittersweet moment to secure a first win and a relief for Ferrari to soar to their first victory since Kimi Raikkonen’s win in the US Grand Prix last October.

Leclerc was relatively unchallenged throughout the race, though he was fortunate that Ferrari gave Sebastian Vettel team orders to give Leclerc the lead on lap 27.

The strategy was perfect given Leclerc had favourable race speed. For the next few laps, Vettel did a stellar job to hold Hamilton back and allow Leclerc to stretch his advantage to 6.9 seconds.

Though his superb defending did help Leclerc to victory, it proved to be another disappointing day for Vettel, who finished fourth despite starting from second on the grid.

Vettel is now 21 races without a win – ironically his last win came at last season’s Belgian GP. Leclerc has one victory in just his 13th race for Ferrari and only his second season in F1.

Some F1 enthusiasts may suggest Leclerc is making Vettel look average. But that’s a measure of how talented he is and how he continues to improve with each race.

He has beaten his more experienced team-mate Vettel in five of the last seven races, and outqualified the elder statesman in six-successive races.

As ever, it bodes the question as to whether Leclerc should be the number one driver at Ferrari for the remaining races this season?

It’s too early to say after just one victory.

Vettel is one of the best drivers of this era with four champions wins, but Leclerc is clearly getting better as each race weekend passes.

The German is fourth in the championship and a commanding 99 points behind Hamilton. Leclerc, meanwhile, is fifth and would have won in Bahrain in March had his car not lost power with 12 laps remaining.

Leclerc needs more time and if he keeps it up this level of performance then he will definitely become the Scuderia’s premier driver at some point over the next year or two.

Vettel fought hard to try and match Hamilton in 2017 and 2018 championships, but ultimately failed against a better competitor in the Briton. Leclerc looks a real menace and perhaps the shining hope to help steer Ferrari to a first championship since 2007.

It might not fully come together for Leclerc this year, but he looks a future world champion in the making.

For now, the focus for both Ferrari drivers should be to make a fight of this championship after the opening half was dominated by Mercedes. They won 10 times in 12 races.

A confident Leclerc and a resilient Vettel have the class and searing race craft to limit the Silver Arrows’ excellence.

Next week presents the ideal opportunity at the home of Ferrari in Monza.

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