Charles Leclerc stood on the top step of the podium for the first time in his Formula 1 career as he took victory at the Belgian Grand Prix, holding off a late charge from Lewis Hamilton at Spa-Francorchamps, with Valtteri Bottas completing the podium.
There was drama on the opening lap when Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen banged wheels, with the Alfa Romeo briefly getting on two wheels, while the Dutch driver was left with steering damage, sending him into the barrier a couple of corners later.
There was also damage for Daniel Ricciardo early on as he got tagged from behind by a Racing Point, while Carlos Sainz was in the pits early after struggling to get off the line, and the Spaniard pulled off the track after a couple of laps, extending the safety car period.
Hamilton briefly got ahead of Vettel for second before the safety car was deployed, but the Ferrari driver responded immediately to regain the place. The two battled again as racing resumed, with Vettel locking his tyres to give the reigning champion an opportunity, but the German had enough pace to maintain the position.
Vettel was the first of the front runners to come in for new tyres, and put in a series of fastest laps to put himself ahead of Leclerc after the Monegasque driver came in for his stop. Hamilton pitted one lap after Leclerc, but a slow stop meant he rejoined the track well behind the Ferrari drivers.
Leclerc’s fresher tyres meant he quickly closed the gap to his teammate, and the pitwall instructed the four-time champion to let his teammate past, handing Leclerc the lead again. With Vettel starting to struggle on his tyres, Hamilton was soon on his rear wing as well. The German held up the Brit for a couple of laps, but Hamilton’s newer tyres eventually helped him get the better of Vettel.
It looked like Bottas would also put the pressure on Vettel, but Ferrari decided to bring him in for newer tyres, dropping him behind the Finn, but giving him a chance to secure the bonus point for fastest lap.
Hamilton appeared to be closing the gap to Leclerc in the final couple of laps, with the leaders also having to pass backmarkers, but a late yellow flag, caused by Antonio Giovinazzi crashing out of the points into the tyre wall, helped Leclerc hold on for the win.
Lando Norris was denied a career-best fifth as his McLaren ground to a halt just after crossing the start/finish line on the last lap, but having got over the line ensured he was classified ahead of all cars that had been lapped.
Alexander Albon marked his first race for Red Bull with an impressive fifth, catching Sergio Perez on the last lap after starting at the back of the grid with an engine penalty.
Speaking at the end of the race, Leclerc dedicated his victory to F2 driver Anthoine Hubert, who died following a crash in yesterday’s F2 feature race.
1 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
5. Alexander Albon (Red Bull)
6. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
7. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
8. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
9. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)
10. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
11. Lando Norris (McLaren)*
12. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
13. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
14. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
15. George Russell (Williams)
16. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
17. Robert Kubica (Williams)
*Norris broke down on the final lap but was classified 11th having completed more laps than those 12th and lower.
Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
Max Verstappen (Red Bull)