9/1/2019 10:28:10 PM

Leclerc's win fitting tribute says Mercedes chief

Leclerc

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium: Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff congratulated Charles Leclerc on his maiden victory on Sunday and said it was fitting that he did so in tribute to his late friend Anthoine Hubert.

The 22-year-old French racing driver Hubert lost his life after crashing in Saturday’s Formula Two race at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Leclerc claimed his first win and Ferrari’s first of the season with a polished drive to resist a late surge by Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.

Wolff said he felt the final result was right on a difficult weekend for the paddock and the sport.

"We're torn because we need to look at the race, but then a young man has lost his life and that is overshadowing everything,” said Wolff.

“We should remember him -- and in a way it's good that Charles won the race. They were close, the two Frenchmen, so everything happens for a reason."

He added that if the race had continued for two more laps Lewis Hamilton may have caught and passed Leclerc, whose tyres were badly worn.

“Overtaking on the straight is very difficult against that Ferrari, but maybe two would have done it,” he said.

"I think for us it was not really a great track. We are lacking the speed on the straight line so if that is damage limitation we have to be very, very happy with it."

Ferrari team chief Mattia Binotto admitted he was glad that the race had only been 44 laps.

"Lewis Hamilton was doing some very fast lap times and it was important somehow to keep the distance to him,” said the Italian team boss.

“Lucky for us, the race was only 44 laps! I think it was important – the first win for Charles, of course, and I am sure it won’t be the last.”

Binotto added that Leclerc’s victory exemplified his mental strength and the valuable contribution of Sebastian Vettel to the team triumph.

“We said at the start of the season that team points come first,” he said. “Charles drove very fast the entire weekend.

"We had to protect the position against Mercedes – and we had no choice at the time. I think Sebastian has been very helpful for Charles today and it's good for the team spirit."

He shrugged off suggestions that after showing dominant straight-line speed in Belgium, Ferrari would be clear favourites at their home Italian race next weekend.

“We know that Monza is long straights and speed is required -- and I think our pace here has shown that we can be competitive."

Vettel said he struggled with his tyres and overall pace, which led to him pulling across to let Leclerc pass him midway through the contest.

“I’m happy for the team, but for myself I am not happy. I didn't have the pace ultimately – I was struggling to stay on top of the tyres, which is not normally a problem at all.

The outcome left Vettel still without a win in 12 months since his last victory — at the 2018 Belgian race.

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