Charles Leclerc said his first victory in Formula 1 at the Belgian Grand Prix is a dream come true, although tempered by the loss of former rival and friend Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a Formula 2 crash on Saturday.
Starting from pole position, Leclerc led the first stint and then held off late pressure from Lewis Hamilton to take the first victory of his F1 career, and also Ferrari’s first win of the season. Having raced Hubert in karting and junior categories, Leclerc recalled their shared dreams of reaching F1.
“It’s very difficult to enjoy this first win with the situation we’ve had yesterday, but overall it means just a dream come true,” Leclerc said. “Since I was a child I’ve been looking up to Formula 1, dreaming to be first a Formula 1 driver, which happened last year, then driving for Ferrari this year, and then the first win today.
“It’s a good day, but on the other hand, losing Anthoine yesterday brings me back to 2005, my first ever French championship. There was him, Esteban (Ocon), Pierre (Gasly) and myself. We were four kids that were dreaming of Formula 1.
“We grew up in karting for many, many years, and to lose him yesterday was a big shock for me, but obviously for everyone in motorsport, so it was a very sad day. As I said, very difficult to enjoy it fully today. Hopefully in two, three weeks I’ll realize what happened today.”
Although he lost his father just days before racing in F2 in Azerbaijan two years ago, Leclerc admitted it was difficult to race at the same venue where Hubert was killed less than 24 hours earlier.
“I guess for everyone, but for me it was definitely the first situation like that where we lose someone on-track that you need to race the day after,” he said.
“It’s obviously quite challenging to then close the visor and go through this exact same corner at the same speed you do the day before, but that’s what you need to do at the end. So yeah, that’s what I tried to do today.”
Leclerc had come close to winning on two occasions this year already, with a reliability issue costing him in Bahrain and Max Verstappen passing him in the closing laps in Austria, but the 21-year-old insisted he was not affected by those results when Hamilton began to close in at Spa.
“I wasn’t more nervous,” he said. “I start to get used to being in that situation where I am first and being chased by someone who is quicker. Obviously I knew it was Lewis and I could not afford to do any mistakes, because he would take the opportunity. But apart from the last lap, he was never really close enough to try something. I was just trying to focus on my own job and finish the race.”