Tue, Sep 03, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Leclerc’s victory is a fitting tribute to Hubert, Wolff says

AFP, SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff on Sunday congratulated Charles Leclerc on his maiden Formula One victory and said it was fitting that he did so in tribute to his late friend Anthoine Hubert.

The 22-year-old French 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 that 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,” Wolff said. “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 might have caught and passed Leclerc, whose tires 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 said that 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,” the Italian team boss said. “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 favorites at their home Italian race at the 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,” he said.

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