It was a race weekend marked by a tragedy none saw coming. It was a race that Ferrari seemed poised to win ever since young gun Charles Leclerc clinched the qualifying on Saturday. And finally, it turned into a moment absolutely surreal for the Prancing Horse as Charles Leclerc’s first race win came at the behest of perfect team synchronization, orchestrated by Vettel giving up the lead of the race to hand his younger teammate a victory.
To his credit, Charles Leclerc’s first race win came at the back of a clinically controlled race, especially in the dying stages of the Grand Prix as Lewis Hamilton seemed determined to cut the gap to the race leader. The Mercedes driver, who had been a little over 5 seconds behind his Ferrari counterpart had drastically cut the lead to being a little over a second but Leclerc continued unaffected, his mind absolutely focused on winning.
Charles Leclerc’s first race win comes amid duress
We know how in the past Charles Leclerc had been denied a likely victory at Bahrain when engine trouble came calling. We also saw Verstappen spoil his party in Austria. But Charles wasn’t going to give it away, despite the feeling of being chased by someone like Hamilton being no less intimidating than being trailed by a deadly shark in the wide-open seas.
But all said and done, their long wait to take the checkered flag has now ended with Ferrari ending on top at a track that was besieged by the sad passing of young driver Anthoine Hubert just a few hours ago. And in giving a perfect tribute to his close friend, Charles Leclerc’s first race win came at a track he has so loved, a historic venue where the likes of Jim Clark secured a maiden race win (of the career) in 1962 and also the venue of Michael Schumacher’s first-ever Grand Prix victory.
Opening lap drama
Seconds from the start, as Leclerc and Vettel filed unscathed into the first corner and began heroically with both Mercedes’ in hot pursuit as some bit of dramatic action took place elsewhere, in the middle of the grid.
While Kimi Raikkonen, a four-time winner at the venue approached the tricky right-hander, hitting the apex hard in the process, he was contacted by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, both drivers seemingly unaware of each others’ presence at around La Source.
Dubbed clearly a racing incident, the event compromised the contest for both the Alfa Romeo and the Red Bull. While Verstappen retired in the next few seconds, Kimi, suffering severe floor damage as a result, plunged to the rear-end of the grid, while the incident brought out the safety car.
For the next four laps, the drivers continued minus any overtaking and from the onset of Lap 5, the racing resumed with Leclerc formidably in the lead.
Further down the grid, there were huge driver shake-ups courtesy the Max-Kimi opening lap incident. McLaren’s Lando Norris moved up to seventh while both Renaults, that had begun comfortably outside the top ten were already up and running among the points.
No dearth of action in the midfield
A massive moment of the race, it could be said was when birthday boy Carlos Sainz Jr. ran into engine trouble, retiring barely a few minutes into the Grand Prix. Furthermore, Alex Albon would make swift progress, penetrating the midfield by Lap 7, despite having begun from the back of the field.
Throughout the race, Antonio Giovinazzi, in the other Alfa Romeo drove solidly with preciseness you’d liken to an experienced marksman, even managing to pass Norris on Lap 20. But poor luck would devoid him of any points in the conclusive stages.
It was a race that saw several cars pass the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, the master of late-braking, as the Australian wilted under tyreware, eventually finishing fourteenth. But Nico Hulkenberg, axed by Renault for 2020, seemed determined to leave an impression as he registered some impressive passes, first on Raikkonen, later on the Toro Rossos, and eventually, on Sergio Perez of Racing Point.
Vettel gives up place to let Leclerc dominate
On Lap 27, with another 17 to go, Sebastian Vettel was firmly in control of the proceedings which is when Ferrari’s “switcharoo” came into place.
As the gap between the two drivers was a little over half a second, the German allowed Leclerc to lead and would soon pit, emerging behind the two Mercedes of Hamilton, then second, and Bottas, then third.
But while Vettel managed his tyres excellently in the end, completing the race on the fourth spot, it wasn’t going to be that easy for his teammate to keep Hamilton at distance.
What if the race would’ve gone on for another 2 laps?
In the end, it could be said that the faster straight-line speed of the SF90 ensured Charles Leclerc’s first race win, finally ending Ferrari’s 2019 string of woes that saw them anywhere but on the top step of the podium in twelve straight appearances.
That told, one also wonders what might have happened if the Grand Prix would’ve had two more laps. Wouldn’t Hamilton have gained and finally made the move on Leclerc to win?
For now, what one knows is that as the two arch-rivals head into Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, Mercedes would be thirsty for a comeback while Ferrari would be massively relieved.
This one is for Anthoine Hubert!