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The day Ferrari bounced back: Revisiting the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix

Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Sameena Khan

Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The summer break is finally coming to an end, which can only mean one thing: the return of Formula 1. What a better place to do it than a legendary venue, which has one final shot to prove its worth. That is, of course, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. A team also wants to bounce back from a difficult first half of the season. That team is no other than Ferrari; there is no better place for the Scuderia to make a comeback.

Let's turn the clock back a bit to 2019. Covid is still a few months away, and McLaren is re-emerging as a midfield contender. Daniel Ricciardo is struggling with his Renault, Alpha Tauri is named Toro Rosso, Rich Energy is sponsoring Haas, and Mercedes is still dominant in F1. Mercedes closest competitor, Ferrari, who was challenging them for both championships, was a mammoth 150 points behind going into Belgium. If they wanted to challenge Mercedes once more, they had to act fast.

Thankfully for them, Spa played to their car's strengths. Until this point, the Scuderia had come close to winning, but something always came between them and crossing the chequered flag first. An engine issue for Charles Leclerc in Bahrain, a controversial penalty for Sebastian Vettel and a hard-charging Max Verstappen in Austria meant they had gone winless since Austin 2018.

Credit: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The weekend got off to a good start, with the red cars topping both Friday practice sessions. Meanwhile, Mercedes were finally showing signs of weakness, as Lewis Hamilton missed an hour of practice with throttle issues. Things didn’t improve for Hamilton in third practice, as he crashed at turn 12, breaking the suspension in the process. While the silver arrows were floundering, Ferrari was unstoppable, scoring their third consecutive one-two in final practice. They would retain the momentum heading into qualifying, securing the first row for the first time since Bahrain. Like Bahrain, it was Leclerc leading Vettel, with the two Mercedes cars ready to pounce in the second row.

Before Ferrari and Leclerc could start celebrating, a crash in Formula 2 saw Juan Manuel Correa hospitalised and the death of Antoine Hubert, a friend of Leclerc's and other young drivers. Sunday’s race saw one minute of silence before the start and a standing ovation on lap 19, the same number Antoine raced with.

Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But the show must go on, and that is precisely what happened. As the lights went out, Leclerc went into turn one unchallenged. At the same time, Vettel managed to repass Hamilton after the Kemmel straight in a move identical to the one he pulled off a year earlier. A collision between Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen brought out the safety car for about four laps. Still, it wasn’t enough to upset Leclerc’s rhythm. Instead, the two Mercedes focused on chasing down the other Ferrari of Vettel. The German fought valiantly, even letting Leclerc past to not hold him up. Still, in the end, he fell behind both Mercedes after making an extra pit stop. After getting past Vettel, Hamilton, who couldn’t match the Ferrari’s pace all weekend, was starting to close in on Leclerc.

Entering the final lap, Lando Norris stopped, Alex Albon overtook Sergio Pérez, Antonio Giovinazzi veered off track, and Leclerc and Hamilton were separated by less than a second. Try as he might, however, the Mercedes could not deny Leclerc his maiden F1 win and the Scuderia’s first in ten months. It was an emotional day for Ferrari and Leclerc, who dedicated his victory to his friend Antoine.

Ferrari finds itself in a very similar position this year. After a first half of the season full of lost opportunities, the prancing horse will need to prove it still has what it takes to win and try to get back into the championship fight. Whether or not that will happen, however, remains to be seen.

Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images


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