September 2, 2019 / 3:51 PM / 16 days ago

Motor racing: Hamilton relishing many more battles with Leclerc

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton is looking forward to many more battles with Charles Leclerc after the young Monegasque took his first Formula One victory in Belgium on Sunday and ended Ferrari’s win drought.

Formula One F1 - Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium - August 31, 2019 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in third position REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Leclerc, the Italian glamour team’s youngest winner at 21, won from pole position on an emotional afternoon at Spa overshadowed by the death on Saturday of French F2 racer Anthoine Hubert.

A chasing Hamilton finished second for Mercedes, stretching his overall lead to 65 points, with Ferrari’s four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel only fourth.

“He (Leclerc) has been really unlucky in quite a few races this year. It could easily have been the third win (for him) today,” Hamilton said.

“So there’s a lot more greatness to come from him and I’m looking forward to seeing his growth and racing alongside him. It was fun today, trying to chase him. He was just a little bit too quick.”

Monza, Ferrari’s home race, is next up on Sunday and the Italian team can hope for a triumphant homecoming in front of their passionate fans.

Team boss Mattia Binotto warned it would still be tough, however.

“The best way to approach Monza would have been to win many races before and not only Spa,” he told reporters.

“But...we proved that our package is competitive here at Spa, and we maybe expect to be competitive in Monza as well.”

Leclerc’s win at Spa-Francorchamps came in the 13th race of a 21-round season and was Ferrari’s first since Kimi Raikkonen, now at Alfa Romeo, won the U.S. Grand Prix last October.

The sport’s oldest and most successful team had been favourites to win in Belgium, with their car aerodynamically suited to the high speed track’s fast sweeps and flat-out blasts, and will be fancied again for Monza.

The layout of the historic track near Milan, with long flat-out straights mostly broken only by fast chicanes, should suit Ferrari even more than Spa.

They have not won at home since 2010 but Leclerc’s breakthrough, with the Monaco anthem sounding out for the first time, will have sent expectations soaring.

“Last year, coming to Monza was probably one of the best experiences in my life,” said the Monegasque, who raced for Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) in 2018.

“The support I had, even though I was not a Ferrari driver, was unbelievable. I imagine the welcome will be...probably even more now.”

Memories of last year, when Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying but Hamilton won for Mercedes, serve as a warning, however.

“We will need to be perfect there,” said Binotto.

Editing by Alan Baldwin and Ed Osmond

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