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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Lewis Hamilton backs Charles Leclerc for 'greatness' after Ferrari driver's first win at Belgian Grand Prix

Defending champion is predicting more success for the Italian team at their home race at Monza this weekend
Charles Leclerc, centre, celebrates on the top step of the podium after winning the Belgian Grand Prix. EPA

Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Charles Leclerc is destined for greatness after the Ferrari driver clinched his first grand prix win at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Hamilton finished second behind Leclerc on Sunday, and the Mercedes-GP driver is expecting another tough challenge from the 21-year-old and his teammate Sebastian Vettel when F1 heads to Ferrari's home track Monza for the Italian Grand Prix this weekend.

"Ferrari are going to have a happy weekend at Monza," said the defending five-time champion and current series leader.

"They are so much faster than us and Monza is all straights ... We will do our best, but it is going to be a tough job to match them."

Hamilton increased his lead in this year's title race to 69 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who came home third, and was quick to praise Leclerc for his performance under pressure.

"He did a great job," said Hamilton. "Even if we had different strategies, it would have been hard to have beaten him. He deserved to win."

Leclerc performed with grace and humanity on and off the circuit during a race weekend that saw him move within 12 points of Vettel in the drivers' standings.

He has now out-qualified Vettel at six races in succession, leaving the German battling to retain his status as Ferrari's lead driver.

On Sunday, Vettel was asked to pull over and allow Leclerc to pass mid-race on his way to finishing fourth. It is now more than a year since his last win, incidentally in Belgium.

"I think his results speak for themselves really," added Hamilton, referring to Leclerc, who has delivered five podium finishes in his last seven outings.

"It's not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari ... and then to be continuous from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive a four-time world champion is not easy to do.

"He's been really unlucky in quite a few races this year. Could easily have been the third win today.

"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, trying to chase him. He was just a little bit too quick."

While Leclerc finally seized a victory, another young driver impressed by finishing fifth. Red Bull Racing rookie Alex Albon climbed from 17th to secure a strong result in his first race following promotion from Toro Rosso.

"I've been very impressed with Alex's performance and he put in a great recovery drive in his first race," said Red Bull team chief Christian Horner.

"I had some good fun out there and I enjoyed this race a lot," said Albon. "I started off the weekend very nervous and if you had told me I'd finish the race fifth I'd be very happy, but I'm a bit more relaxed now."

Updated: September 2, 2019 03:46 PM