Picture: Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA-EFE / Reuters.

Spa-Francorchamps - Charles Leclerc admitted his maiden Formula One win in Belgium on Sunday was a bittersweet triumph following the death of Anthoine Hubert, his friend and F2 driver.

The victory was Ferrari’s first of a disappointing season and sets the team up nicely for the next round on its home track at Monza on Sunday.

An emotional Leclerc, 21, said: "On one hand, this is a childhood dream realised. On the other, it has been a very difficult weekend. We have lost a friend first. It’s very difficult in this situation so I would like to dedicate my first win to him. I did my first race with Anthoine when I was seven. There were Esteban (Ocon) and Pierre (Gasly) too.

"We were four kids dreaming of F1. We grew up in karting together for many, many years, so to lose Anthoine was a big shock for me and everyone in the sport.

"It was the first situation for several of us where we lost someone on track and then we race the next day. It is obviously quite challenging to close the visor and go through this exact same corner (Eau Rouge, where Hubert died) at the same speed, but that’s what you have to do."

World champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished second, said: "You compartmentalise it, move forward, get in the car and do your job.

"From a racer’s point of view it is quite easy to switch into a zone. Charles’s results speak for themselves.

"It is not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari against a four-time world champion with more experience (Sebastian Vettel, who finished fourth, a place behind Valtteri Bottas) and continually out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive him. That speaks for itself." 

Some drivers found it harder. McLaren’s 19-year-old rookie Lando Norris, who was denied a career-high fifth-place finish when he lost power at the very start of the final lap, said: "I didn’t feel great ahead of today’s race.

"It could have been me in F2 last year. It’s when you think like that it starts shaking you. Maybe some people cope better than others. I don’t take it that well.

"At the end of the day, it is my job to race for the team. I still need to live my life, move on and do things I don’t want to do."

Anthoine Hubert's mother embraces Charles Leclerc of Monaco after a moment of silence at the Belgian Grand Prix. AP Photo/Francisco Seco.
Daily Mail