Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, both friends and old karting rivals of the late Anthoine Hubert admit that it has been difficult for them to return to Spa a year after his fatal Formula 2 accident.
Leclerc dedicated his maiden Formula 1 victory in last year’s Belgian Grand Prix to Hubert, while Gasly described him as one of his “best mates”.
Both were asked today about their return to Spa and the memories it brought back, with Gasly also laying flowers at the scene of the accident in tribute to Hubert.
Here’s what the pair had to say about Hubert, in their own words.
On returning to Spa…
“Last year was very difficult. On the Saturday night, we all learned about Anthoine passing away and on the Sunday I remember speaking with Pierre. We were all good friends, with Esteban [Ocon] and Anthoine, we all grew up together and Pierre told me ‘you need to win for Anthoine on Sunday’.
“Obviously I wanted to do that too, and I managed to do it, which was very special but also very difficult.
“In between sessions in karting, every driver used to play together and that’s the first memory I have of Anthoine” :: Charles Leclerc
“It was the first time I experienced driving around the same track where you lost a close one or a driver.
“It was very difficult. Coming back here doesn’t change that, for sure.
“It’s difficult and it will be difficult to drive on this track tomorrow, having this in mind, but it doesn’t change my targets for the weekend, which is to do the best I can in the car.”
On his memories of Hubert…
“I have a lot of memories with him, some very good moments, some others, we have been fighting and it didn’t end well, but that are very good memories now.
“Probably the first memory I have with Anthoine was my first-ever French championship [karting] race, where there was Esteban, Pierre, and Anthoine.
“As soon as I put one foot in the paddock, I just had these images that come back into my mind and things I don’t want to accept” :: Pierre Gasly
“Anthoine won that race, I was second until the last corner after I crashed with Esteban. But these are memories that I will always remember.
“Karting was very good days, especially days when we were that young. In between sessions, every driver used to play together and that’s the first memory I have of Anthoine and probably one of the best.”
On returning to Spa…
“Well I was a bit worried because you never know how you’ll react. I must say, this morning it’s been quite hard and strange.
“Spa is my favourite track and I always came here with great memories from my first win in single-seaters in Formula 4, from [Formula Renault] 2.0 and GP2, and the different wins I had here.
“This year is a different story because as soon as I put one foot in the paddock, I just had these images that come back into my mind and things I don’t want to accept – or I struggle to accept.
“Even during the track walk, I was thinking…I just struggle to realise it really happened. Unfortunately, that’s just the truth, the reality, and it hasn’t been easy.”
On visiting the scene of the crash…
“He was one of the guys I’ve spent most of my time with during my childhood. We were rivals, but at the same time, I truly know that I would have never achieved what I did without growing with him because we were pushing each other so much whether it was on track or off the track.
“It just made me a better athlete, made me a better driver and always pushed me to deliver more, find more within myself. He’s been part of my self-development as a person and as a driver and I can only be grateful for that.
“If he was doing 15 push-ups, I would do 16, then he will try 17” :: Pierre Gasly
“He’s someone we talked really often [about] with my friends, because we had a lot of common friends, and during the track walk I just had these images and footage in mind that I wish had never happened. Unfortunately, that’s just the danger of our sport. It’s just hard to accept.
“Even doing this felt wrong, I’m doing this special helmet and dropping these flowers and thinking I was with him again. After Budapest last year I had Sunday dinner with him and we shared a nice moment with his girlfriend and another friend and this was the last time I saw him.
“He was one of the first ones to send me a text when Red Bull decided to put me back in Toro Rosso and it is just very hard to accept he’s not with us anymore.”
On his memories of Hubert…
“I have thousands of memories of Anthoine. I was lucky to grow with him, from my first season of karting when I was nine I started to race against him and then from the age of 13 we both decided to leave our homes to go in the school that the federation built for us drivers.
“We were the only three French drivers to make the move. There was Anthoine, another French driver and myself. From the age of 13 until I was 18, I spent basically from 7.30 breakfast in the morning until 10pm, each single day together. We were in the same classes, we were training together, we were racing together.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) August 27, 2020
“It’s difficult to pick only one [memory], but there was consistent competition when we were in the class, when we were training together.
“If he was doing 15 push-ups, I would do 16, then he will try 17. If we play PlayStation, we’d spend hours on it just to beat the time of each other, on Gran Turismo or Formula 1 game, also with a couple of other drivers from the age of 15, 16, 17.
“There are a lot of things that I can’t say on TV, but I have fantastic memories and we had some really good times. Especially in Budapest, but only my friends can remember that one.
“He was a very smart guy, very dedicated in everything he was doing and that’s why I had a huge respect for him.”