After what appeared like an endless summer break, F1 is back, and what a place to do so, Spa-Francorchamps! 7.004 Km (4.352 mi) of nothing but pure goodness, the circuit is located in the Belgian Ardennes countryside.
Max Verstappen was the first to take on the track, closely followed by everybody else for the first installation laps after the summer break. After a few minutes, it was Bottas who set the first timed lap, a 2:04.174. in the meantime, Hamilton reported loss of power and pitted for a check. After about a third of the session, a VSC was deployed as the engine cover on Lance Stroll's Racing Point blew off at the end of the Kemmel straight. Immediately after the VSC ended, Verstappen did a 1:45.803 lap. At the end of the session, it was Sebastian Vettel who did the fastest lap of the session, a 1:44.574. He was followed by teammate Leclerc, Verstappen, Albon, and Bottas the top five.
The session started with both Haas cars followed by both Williams cars doing their respective installation laps, setting lap times immediately afterwards. As happened during FP1, the Ferrari showed a bit of an advantage over everybody else with Charles Leclerc setting the fastest lap of the day, a 1:44.123, followed by Vettel. At the end of the session Sergio Perez's Racing Point stopped with flames coming out the back. His latest spec Mercedes engine let go, he was forced to go back to an older spec engine for the rest of the weekend, and the session ended under a red flag with just over a minute to the end.
Practice 3 started with clear skies, 26°C air temperature and 34°C track temperature. It took almost half session for every driver to set lap times. At the time it was Vettel leading the pack with a 1:44.657. With 28 minutes to the end of the session we had a red flag as Lewis Hamilton went into the barriers at turn 12, breaking the front wing and suspension of his Mercedes W10. It took more than 18 minutes to recover the car, and with a bit more than 12 minutes to the end, the session was resumed with most cars taking to the track. Charles Leclerc did the fastest lap, a 1:44.206, followed by Vettel and Bottas.
Fantastic job from the Mercedes mechanics repairing Hamilton's W10 on time for qualifying. The had to replace both front corners (suspension and wheel assemblies), nose, barge boards and floor.
The session started as usual, until Robert Kubica's Mercedes engine exploded. He had to stop with flames coming out the back of the FW43. The session was red flagged to recover the car. The session was restarted and it was Leclerc who continued his good form, setting the fastest lap of the weekend so far, a 1:43.587. and with just 0.43 seconds left in the session, Antonio Giovinazzi's Alfa Romeo stopped on the road down to Eau Rouge, bringing out the second red flag. Lots of people were caught out, especially Gasly, Sainz, Kvyat, Russell, and Kubica, whom did not went on to Q2.
Everybody came out to the track, except Giovinazzi, out of Q1 when his engine let go. At the end it was Leclerc again setting the fastest lap, a blistering fast 1:42.938. Out were Grosjean, Norris, Stroll, Albon, and Giovinazzi.
The lights went from red to green and Q3 started. Lots of traffic during the first batch of timed laps. Everybody went out at the same time for the last laps. At the end it was Charles Leclerc who got pole position for the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix. His third pole in Formula 1. He was followed by Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Perez, and Magnussen.
Sadly, just after F1 Qualifying and during the Formula 2 feature race on Saturday afternoon, driver Anthoine Hubert, passed away after a high-speed accident with Juan Manuel Correa at the beginning of the Kemmel straight. He was 22 years old.
The grid was very mixed up as there were many penalties applied with Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Stroll, Albon, Giovinazzi, and Kvyat receiving them. Robert Kubica did not set a time on Saturday's qualifying but was allowed to start last from the pit lane.
Just before the Belgian National Anthem, the F1 grid held a minute of silence in honor of Anthoine Hubert. It was a touching moment.
The race started and there were contact between Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen at La Source. Verstappen went out at Eau Rouge, ending his race and bringing out the Safety Car. Raikkonen was able to get to the pits and get a new nose for his Alfa Romeo, getting out in 19th. Ricciardo and Sainz were also into the pits for repairs. Sainz's McLaren pulled over on the run-off area at the Bus Stop chicane. Safety Car continued on track.
The race was re-started on lap 5 and the Ferrari started pulling out up front with Leclerc and Vettel exchanging fastest laps between them for several laps. Leclerc continued setting fastest lap after fastest lap.
On lap 15, Vettel came into the pits for medium tires (yellow). And on lap 19, the fans got up and applauded as tribute to Anthoine Hubert who had the number 19 on his car.
Leclerc came into the pits on lap 21 for his tire change, coming out in fourth, behind Vettel. Hamilton came in by next lap, kind of a slow stop as he was stationary for 3.6 seconds, coming out in fourth behind Leclerc. Bottas came in on lap 23, and after the stop the positions were Vettel, Leclerc, Hamilton, Bottas, and a very distant Norris in fifth.
On lap 27, Ferrari ordered Vettel to let Leclerc trough, Vettel complied on the main straight. Next lap, Vettel asked the team if they were going to pit again as he thought his tires would not last to the end. And on lap 32, Hamilton passed Vettel at the end of the Kemmel straight. Two laps later, Vettel came in for softs (reds), coming out in fourth, 18.4 seconds behind Bottas. Somewhere else on the track Albon was able to pass Raikkonen for 8th after an amazing battle between the two of them.
What fantastic we were having but on the last lap, Antonio Giovinazzi crashed into the barriers from P9. Driver was ok. And with this victory, Charles Leclerc becomes the 108th Grand Prix winner in Formula One history. Hamilton and Bottas completed the podium. Vettel did the fastest lap of the race, finishing fourth, and Alex Albon a surprising fifth after Norris, who held that position the whole GP retired on the last lap.
Emotional weekend for young Charles Leclerc.