12 months ago motorsport lost one of its shining talents that appeared destined to one day make it all the way to Formula 1.

Anthoine Hubert was killed in a high-speed crash during the Formula 2 feature race at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. He was just 22 years of age.

Racing had always been in Anthoine’s blood. Born in Lyon, France on September 22, 1996, Hubert was given his first taste of motorsport by his father Francois, an amateur rally driver. 

Hubert began his karting career at the age of 10, and within just four years he was competing in a number of the most prestigious karting events in the world, racing against the likes of Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly.

In 2013 on his first attempt, Hubert would take out the French Formula 4 championship, giving his racing career key momentum which propelled him into Formula Renault and European Formula 3, before his move to GP3 in 2017. 

In only his second season, he would take the title with two wins and 11 podiums, and a consistent points score in all but four races.

His incredible rise to talent would attract the attention of the Renault F1 team, who would sign the youngster to their Sporting Academy, and then promote him to Formula 2. 

Hubert would go on to take a brilliant win on the legendary streets of Monaco and a meaningful victory on home soil at Paul Ricard, emphasising his skill and talent and his potential for a championship battle in the 2020 season. 

Sadly, Hubert would miss out on this opportunity when his life was cruelly cut-short in tragic circumstances on 31 August 2019, casting a dark shadow over the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and rocking the motorsport community in the process.

In memory of the young Frenchman, F2 has announced it has permanently retired the use of car number 19 in the championship, and a special logo created incorporating Hubert’s initials and an element of his helmet design will feature on all F3, F2, and F1 cars this weekend.

A mention must also go out to Juan Manuel Correa, who continues to recover from the severe leg injuries he sustained in the accident that almost cost him his own life.

The Ecuadorian-American racer is targeting a return to the F2 grid for 2021 and is present in the paddock in Belgium this weekend, saying he feels it is a way for him “to close a chapter, but more importantly to Anthoine.”

Hubert’s horrific crash at Spa will always serve as a stark reminder of the dangers drivers still face, even in this present day where safety is so paramount.

For all the precautions and improvements that can be made, the risk of a freak accident happening remains present. The warning “motorsport can be dangerous” is present on the back of tickets and around all of the circuits the F1 circus visits.

Both drivers will be on the minds of everyone in the paddock 12 months on from the accident, which deeply affected a number of F1 drivers including Hubert’s close friends Leclerc and Gasly and Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, who took part in the F2 race.

“There’s definitely a bit of lingering, overshadowing emotion coming back here,” Latifi said in Thursday’s F1 press conference.

“I was in the race and immediately after all the events had happened for sure there was a thought of knowing that it could have been any one of us in that race had things unfolded differently.”

Gasly, who grew up racing alongside Hubert in the same school and lived with his fellow countryman from the age of 13, described his close friend’s death as being the “toughest part” of a difficult 2019 season that included him being dropped by Red Bull just weeks before and an attempted burglary.

The AlphaTauri driver admitted he is finding it difficult to come to terms with the loss of Hubert upon returning to the track and was seen laying some flowers at the scene of the accident at the top of the hill at Raidillon as a mark of respect.

“You never know how you will react,” Gasly told Crash.net in an exclusive interview.

“I was a bit worried about going back but since arriving in the paddock I must say it is difficult because when you are away, you are busy.

“Going back to the track to realise this - I don’t want to believe it really happened. 

“It’s very tough and unfortunately there is nothing we can do now to get him back and we just try to dedicate to him.

“I feel the need to do extremely well for him because I’m lucky enough to live the life he wanted.”

Speaking about some of his fondest memories of Hubert, Gasly added: “I have tons of good memories I could tell you.

“We were in the same sports school, in an old sort of castle with no hot water. A bit rough in style and then we were spending the whole day together, from breakfast till 10pm in the night.

“We were racing together and we had our moments, we had a couple of clashes on track as well but I think we had the respect for each other. There was the competition every single day for everything we will do.

“I always wanted to beat him and [it was the] same for him. I think I did beat him more than he beat me [laughs]… But at the end of the day I just loved that the competition was always there, whether we were training or at school.

“He was a very smart guy and always had good marks, very intellectual, good knowledge and he was giving 100 percent of himself to everything. That’s something I always respected in him.”

Leclerc took his maiden F1 win one day after Hubert’s accident and dedicated his triumph to his friend.

The Monegasque admitted in a Ferrari preview ahead of this weekend’s event that it will be “difficult” to return a year later.

"Spa-Francorchamps has a special place in my heart.

"While it is here that I took my first win, it is also where we lost our friend Anthoine last year. He will be in our thoughts."

We can only wonder what Anthoine would have achieved if he had been given his dream opportunity in Formula 1, but for now the paddock will come together to cherish his life and memories.

 

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