After the season Scuderia Ferrari has been having this year, you could almost have predicted that once their first victory arrived it was certain to be a dramatic moment. No one could have foreseen that Charles Leclerc’s maiden Formula 1 weekend would have concluded in such a distressing and emotional manner following the tragic loss of Anthoine Hubert at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. It is so easy for us all to overlook the danger associated with any motor racing, the danger is clear to see though – it is written right there on the ticket.
‘Motor racing is dangerous…you attend the circuit at your own risk’. This is the warning given to the patrons and they are not the ones strapping themselves to a rocket at over 300kmph whilst also battling for race victories; best of the rest; finishing in the points or just hoping to get their car to the finish. On Sunday, each driver on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps grid and many others around the world, as shown by the minute of silence preceding the opening round of the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone, showed that they were ‘RACING FOR ANTHOINE’. This pledge was indicated by a sticker adorning the vehicles, race suits or drivers’ helmets. To a man they did indeed race for Anthoine Hubert and what a tribute Sunday’s Formula 1 race was in the picturesque Belgian countryside.
It is so tempting to always look at the front of the grid for where the ‘excitement’ lies. However, do not overlook the skill of every racer battling it out for pole in Spa during Saturday’s Formula 1 qualifying. There were just over 5 seconds between the time recorded by George Russell in Qualifying 1 and that of Charles Leclerc in Qualifying 3. The motor racing pundits always say how much of a gulf that is and such a huge deficit. However, when you consider that Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is just over 7km in length….5 seconds is nothing. Every racer pushes themselves to the limit and tries to maximize the potential of their car and in doing so, every time they step foot into the place they find the most joy, they also take their life in their hands and find the most risk.
Ahead of Sunday’s race, at the time of an impeccable tribute for the 22-year-old Formula 2 Frenchman, Anthoine Hubert’s mother held Charles Leclerc’s face in her hands, as she had done to many a racer encountered on the grid at that time, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. A kiss of luck for the Monégasque; a kiss of thanks for continuing to compete and show the world what it is to be a racer just like her son was; a kiss of best wishes to stay safe.
Charles Leclerc’s Fan Page would later take to Twitter sharing photos of the moment saying:
‘A strong woman – Anthoine Hubert’s mother. We wish her all the strength in the world during this difficult time.’
This blessing from such an incredible woman at a time when her world had irrevocably changed spoke volumes and history followed with Charles Leclerc almost destined to cross the line ahead of the rest.
Pierre Gasly also later shared that he had spoken to Leclerc beforehand:
“I told Charles before the race, please win this race for Anthoine, as we started racing in the same year, Charles, Anthoine and myself, and Anthoine won the French Cup in 2005. We raced for so many years and knew each other.”
These words from Gasly echoed what was seen throughout the paddock. The racing community is a family and you grow up with your family members. Prior to the race, George Russell had posted a photograph from one of his previous victories at Silverstone during the GP3 series. There on the podium alongside him was a smiling Anthoine Hubert and the words to accompany this beautiful moment captured in time were ‘I can not believe it. RIP my friend.’
You did not have to look hard on social media to find such tributes one of which was the fan initiated plan of a standing ovation at Spa for lap 19 – the race number of Anthoine Hubert – and when the lap came the crowd responded as one creating an almighty sound, a sound which could be clearly heard over the roaring engines navigating the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps including the sector of Eau Rouge into Raidillon where tragedy had struck the day before.
This was an applause of tribute, this was an applause of thanks, this was an applause acknowledging that we know Anthoine Hubert has joined the list of so many to have been claimed over the years through motorsport. Our thanks go to all those who put their life on the line to entertain us and what an entertaining spectacle Sunday’s race was. The spectacle shall continue throughout the season as with every form of motorsport, will the risk.
To conclude this tribute, which no motorsport journalist ever hopes to have to write, the final words are left for race victor Charles Leclerc: