Leclerc takes emotional maiden F1 win at Spa

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Charles Leclerc of Ferrari poses during the awarding ceremony after the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, Belgium, Sept. 1, 2019. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc withstood heavy pressure from Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes to take his maiden Formula 1 win and Ferrari's first of 2019 on an emotional weekend at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

The racing at the Circuit Spa-Francorchamps was overshadowed by the death of France's Anthoine Hubert in a high-speed crash in Saturday's Formula 2 support race, and Leclerc's victory celebrations were decidedly muted.

"On the one hand, it's the realization of a childhood dream, but it's been a difficult weekend," said the Monegasque of his win. "This is dedicated to [Hubert]. We grew up racing together. I can't fully enjoy my first victory but it is a memory that will live with me forever."

The Ferraris' superior straight-line speed proved advantageous on the sweeping expanses of the Spa circuit, but the Mercedes appeared quicker through the twisty middle section of the track, setting the stage for an intriguing inter-team battle.

After some efficient tyre management, Hamilton overtook the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and then reeled in Leclerc towards the end of the race at a rate of around one second per lap, but the Monegasque held firm to see out the win.

"I gave it absolutely everything," said Hamilton. "It was a difficult race today and I think the Ferraris were just too fast on the straights and it was very hard to keep up with them.

"Congratulations to Charles, it's his first win and it's been coming all year so I'm really happy for him."

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third after an uneventful race, while Vettel took a distant fourth after struggling with his tyres and making an extra pit stop.

Alexander Albon ended his first race for Red Bull in an encouraging fifth place, a welcome fillip for the Milton Keynes squad after teammate Max Verstappen retired on the opening lap following contact with Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo.

Lando Norris had been lying fifth for almost the entire race, but his McLaren agonizingly ground to a halt on the final lap with engine trouble. Sergio Perez took sixth for Racing Point, and Daniil Kvyat's Toro Rosso finished seventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault.

Pierre Gasly, who Albon replaced at Red Bull, finished ninth on his return to Toro Rosso, while Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten in the second Racing Point.

Despite failing to win, Hamilton extends his lead in the drivers' championship to 268 points. Bottas sits second with 203 points, and Verstappen remains on 181 points in third place. In the constructors' standings, Mercedes have 471 points, ahead of Ferrari on 326 and Red Bull with 254.

The next race of the 2019 Formula 1 world championship is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza on September 8. 

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