The ending of the Belgian Grand Prix was a little closer than everyone first expected, with Leclerc taking a first career victory in Formula 1 over Hamilton by 0.981 seconds. The Ferrari driver was struggling to hold on to his fractionally older medium tyres in the final few laps, but managed to stand firm despite the traffic and a late opportunity at the Bus Stop chicane for Hamilton.
Vettel gambled on undercutting Leclerc for the lead by stopping on lap 15 of 44 for a fresh set of medium tyres, while his team-mate and the two Mercedes drivers extended their first stints. Vettel paid for his alternate strategy later on, having to let Leclerc past for the lead in a choreographed move on lap 27 and being overtaken by Hamilton at Les Combes shortly afterwards. By the time Bottas reached the rear of the Ferrari, Vettel decided to take a scrubbed set of softs to try and make huge gains towards the end.
He didn’t manage it and had to take fourth place, but the role he played in defending from Hamilton allowed Leclerc to build up a comfortable margin that ultimately decided the race in his favour. About time too, it was Ferarri’s first win of the season.
Speaking to Sky F1, Vettel said:
“[I’m happy] for the team. Obviously for myself I’m not happy. I didn’t have the pace. I was struggling to stay on top of the tyres which normally is not a problem at all. So it was a tough race. Obviously from some point onwards, from the first lap onwards, it was clear we won’t be in the fight. So all I could do by then was serve the team. I was struggling in the corners so that allowed him to get close and then I couldn’t hold him off for a very long time. I tried to obviously make him lose time in order to give Charles a cushion. In the end there was just enough so I did the job.”
Leclerc expressed his gratitude to his team-mate, admitting that the victory would have been “more difficult” without his stoic driving in the mid stages of the race. Vettel also managed to secure the fastest lap of the race on his soft tyres at the end, meaning that Ferrari has taken five points out of Mercedes’…100+ point lead.
Still, every little helps.