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By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer
Charles Leclerc revealed on Sunday – on the best way to his Formula 1 victory that was long overdue – the strength of personality and psychological toughness that is an indispensable part of the make-up of a grand prix driver.
The 21-year-old took a win – in the Grand Prix under intense pressure from Lewis Hamilton – that should have come before the backdrop of the death and raced against for much of his young life.
Among his opponents was Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in an accident of horrific violence in Saturday’s Formula 2 race at the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit After Leclerc took part in his first ever motor race.
Leclerc said – of themself, Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly and also Mercedes book Esteban Ocon -“we had four kids dreaming of F1 and now we’ve grown up together. To lose him was a very big shock for me and everybody else in motorsport and an extremely sad day”.
It even took the shine off what should’ve been one of the happiest times of Leclerc’s life. To say the very least.
“it’s very tricky to delight in this very first win with the scenario that we had yesterday. Overall it means a fantasy come true. Since a kid, I have been looking up to F1, dreaming of being first a Formula 1 driver, that occurred and later driving for Ferrari this season and also the first win now.
“This is a good evening however on the other hand losing Anthoine yesterday brings me straight back into 2005, my very first French (karting) championship was him. It’s very difficult to appreciate it completely today but in a couple of weeks I shall realise exactly what happened now.”
Coping with these types of events is part of the work description to get a racing driver, as explained in my article. However, that doesn’t mean it is trivial or easy.
It is not the very first time he’s suffered a loss of someone near him in his career. As is well recorded, he was the godson of the previous driver Jules Bianchi, who suffered head injuries in an accident five decades ago.
Leclerc has described many times how the departure of Bianchi – that, at only eight years old than him, was like a big brother, and who was instrumental in directing him during his formative years at the game – just made him more determined to succeed.
However, it’s one thing to state , and quite another to actually go out and do this, and risk your life at precisely the exact same action that killed someone so close.
Following the race, on Sunday, Leclerc, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas provided some insight.
“For everyone, I guess, but for me it was the very first situation like that where we lose somebody on a course in which you need to rush the day after,” Leclerc said. “It’s obviously rather challenging to shut the visor and proceed through this exact same corner at exactly the identical speed you did earlier, but this is what you have to do in the end.”
Hamilton said:”You compartmentalise it, then proceed, get into and do your own work. In the racer’s along with an athlete’s point of view, you switch into a zone, and it is fairly easy to change in that zone”
“When you visit the zone,” Bottas added. “There are not any distractions.”
Their answers delivered understandably in the circumstances, and were brief and subdued. It pays not to have to talk about it too much, particularly when the wounds are so raw, the feelings are tangled and conflicted.
On Saturday,” Hamilton had submitted an eloquent message on networking, the way it can never be safe, and underlining the risks of their profession. After the race, his team boss Toto Wolff explained the background into the world winner’s decision to do that.
“It is quite tricky to relate to what’s occurring in a car if you haven’t ever driven a race car at such speeds,” Wolff said.
“Whether it is in junior formulae, all the way to F1, in GT cars, or prototypes, it is still a’ gladiators’ sport. It is about courage, skill, risk-taking. But by way of a camera lens you will never realise exactly what it feels like.
“We were lucky enough for several years to not have these types of injuries and perhaps forgotten how hazardous the game is. And that is what Lewis wanted to express. I can relate to this.
“If you drive towards Eau Rouge using 260-270km/h, which resembles a 90-degree corner and you just take it level, it’s beyond understanding that these men do what they do and it can end fatally, like it did yesterday.”
Leclerc would surely not have chosen such situation for his first triumph, and he could probably have done with an easier race, for this was won, even against the competition.
Ferrari had dominated qualifying, their prodigious straight-line speed easily making up to their comparative weakness in comparison to Mercedes from the corners of Spa’s middle industry.
But their use was inclined to make matters difficult in the race, and, as anticipated, an assault was mounted by Hamilton on the red automobiles that very nearly came off.
Hamilton remorselessly turned up the pressure on the German, that struggled with his pace and his or her heirs as Leclerc built a small lead at the first 10 laps over Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton’s proximity forced Ferrari into pitting Vettel sooner than they may have desired, and from that moment his race was given the tyre management of Ferrari.
It gave Vettel the on-track lead when Hamilton and Leclerc pitted a couple of laps later, also Leclerc wondered if – yet – a triumph would slip through his hands, following releases in Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Austria.
However, it soon became evident that Vettel was in no fit condition to maintain off him. Ferrari ordered him to let his team-mate go, as Leclerc closed in close to a second a lap .
Still Vettel was able to have a hand in his team-mate’s triumph. He was able to hold off Hamilton to four laps, giving an opportunity to construct a little advantage to Leclerc.
Had either Vettel not held Hamilton back as long as he had Mercedes pitted Hamilton on precisely exactly the identical lap like Leclerc, or did, the entire world champion may have won the racegiven up was finished by him around Leclerc’s tail. However, the Monegasque did only enough.
“If you’d have granted me a second and third in Spa,” Mercedes team boss Wolff explained,”I’d have taken it ahead of the race because we understand that our bundle in comparison to Ferraris using the straight-line speed is inferior.
“Having said that, if we’d optimised our race, which you may simply do post-race by being super-intelligent and saying what might have been, maybe we could have pitted one or even 2 laps earlier. The pit stop might have been a bit faster and we’d have been for the last two laps at their own gearbox.
“However there are so many ifs which I am satisfied with third and second.”
Traditionally, there is a win that themselves are actually announced by an F1 driver as a true contender in F1. For Leclerc it is different. That came long ago.
It’s been evident that this is a man who was likely to become a major portion of F1 over the next ten years. His debut year for Sauber last year was exceptional, and his ability is obviously still raw in some specific aspects, and although he’s made a few mistakes, his next at Ferrari’s white-heat pressure was no less .
Many suspected thus it’s proved and that he would give a run for his money this season to Vettel.
Leclerc has out-qualified that the champion for the previous six races. Over the season up to now he is quicker than Vettel over one lap on ordinary by 0.13secs. He has three pole positions into Vettel’s one, and now he has become the very first Ferrari driver to win a race.
Admittedly, Vettel ought to have won in Canada, but due to his mistake and following punishment, but had his season gone differently this might have been the third or maybe fourth victory of Leclerc.
He is slowly but surely putting himself as the lead driver, a situation that’s extremely embarrassing for Vettel, given standard standing and his success in the game of Ferrari. And Vettel faces a significant task sustaining his position.
As the year has progressed, the respect between Leclerc and Hamilton has been apparent. Leclerc clearly equaling Hamilton for his talent and his achievement. And Hamilton, who’s treated the younger man has not troubled to hide his respect for Leclerc’s talent and potential.
“His results speak for themselves, actually,” Hamilton stated. “It is not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari, contrary to a four-time world champion, God knows just a little more expertise. To always from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive that a four-time world champion isn’t simple to do.
“He’s been very unlucky in quite a few races this season. Could easily have been the third win today. So, there’s a great deal more greatness to come from him and I’m looking forward to racing along with him and seeing his expansion. It was fun now, trying to chase him. He was only a little bit too fast.”
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