Formula 1

Mika Hakkinen – Charles Leclerc’s victory was no fluke, expect him to challenge at Monza

September 3, 2019January 6th, 2022

CHARLES Leclerc’s victory in Sunday’s Grand Prix was inevitable, such has been the strong pace and performance of the 21-year-old Monegasque since joining Ferrari at the beginning of the year.  He would have won the Bahrain Grand Prix had his Ferrari not suffered an engine failure, while there were other opportunities, notably in Austria where he lost the lead to Max Verstappen three laps from the end of the race. 

If you were allowed to choose a Grand Prix track at which to win your first race, Spa-Francorchamps would be a good choice.  As a driver’s circuit, with long, flat-out straights and fast, demanding corners, I always loved it.

However, Charles will never forget this victory partly because of the context since he dedicated the win to French Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert who lost his life in an extremely violent accident on Saturday. 

When we remember that Charles is the godson of Jules Bianchi, who died as a result of injuries received in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, it is worth reflecting on the fact that the young Ferrari ace has had to endure some very difficult moments early in his career.  His composure on Sunday was impressive to watch, and he will build on this success.

It took me seven years to win my first Grand Prix, in Jerez at the end of 1997.  It gave me so much confidence at a time when McLaren was making strong progress with the car, and in 1998 I was able to win eight races and my first World Championship title.  That’s the thing about winning your first race – it gives your career momentum.   You suddenly realise what it takes to win in Formula 1, and how all the hard work comes together. 

I expect Charles to win many more races for Ferrari, so we will remember this year’s Belgian Grand Prix as the start of something special.  He really dominated teammate Sebastian Vettel at the weekend, taking pole position by 0.7s – a huge margin.  In the race, Sebastian had to take a different strategy and was later instructed to let Charles overtake him as his young teammate was on much fresher tyres.  None of this can have been easy for the 4-times World Champion.   

Sebastian remains a top-class driver, but in Charles Leclerc, he has a very quick teammate who has now won Ferrari’s only Grand Prix of the season so far.  If this was tennis, you would say ‘Advantage Charles’.

Anthoine Hubert’s fatal accident is a timely reminder to the Formula 1 community.  Many people think the sport is ‘too safe’ but any high-speed accident can have potentially serious consequences.  We can never have 100% safety, and we will always have accidents when drivers are taking risks, wheel-to-wheel.

There was no challenge from Max Verstappen in Spa, for example, due to the first-corner collision with Kimi Raikkonen.  It was the kind of accident that is very easy to have at La Source hairpin, and even though Kimi’s Alfa Romeo was knocked into the air and Max’s damaged car crashed into the wall at the famous Eau Rouge, neither driver was injured.  

Kimi’s teammate Antonio Giovanazzi was uninjured in a high-speed accident at the end of the race, but that outcome should never be taken for granted.   This is why the continued work of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, is so important in relation to safety.  

Looking ahead to next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, the Ferrari was so quick at Spa I expect it to be similarly strong on home ground.  The long, high-speed nature of the Monza circuit will really suit the red cars.  Sebastian will be fighting to re-establish his position in the team, but Charles will be feeling really positive after winning in Belgium.  It will be fascinating to watch.

It was great to see Lewis Hamilton push Charles all the way to the finish line in Spa, and he said after the race that he wished he has two or three more laps in order to challenge for the win.  Lewis knows he has to keep pushing because Mercedes has only won two of the last five Grands Prix.  The German team knows that it cannot afford to relax.

Meanwhile, it is great to see Valtteri Bottas confirmed as Lewis’s teammate for 2020, taking their strong partnership into a fourth season.  Stability is always a good thing to have, and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff knows that the combination of Lewis and Valtteri is one of the strongest and most experienced line-ups in the sport.  It is also a partnership that works well together and, in the face of strong opposition from both Ferrari and Red Bull, Wolff clearly feels that the one thing Mercedes does not need to change are the drivers.