The real star of the Belgian Grand Prix was Hubert's mother

By Jonathan McEvoy Time of article published Sep 2, 2019

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Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium - History will record that the star driver of this Belgian Grand Prix held in the shadow of death was first-time Formula One winner Charles Leclerc.

But that is not entirely true. That award goes to Nathalie, mother of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert, the 22-year-old Frenchman who perished at Eau Rouge corner on Saturday evening. She was not here when he was declared dead at 6.35pm. She was at home near Paris.

She then drove to Spa, a five-hour journey through the twilight and tears until she arrived in a night-time Ardennes forest, so that in front of the TV cameras and amid motor racing’s mourning luminaries and functionaries she might hold her boy’s pink and white crash helmet on Sunday.

She performed the ritual on the grid with her other son, Victhor, at the centre of a horseshoe of bowed heads that included Ferrari youngster Leclerc, a close friend of Hubert, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the grand prix cast.

On the grass verge stood the F2 drivers, friends and rivals of the dead man. They all dreamed of making it on to the F1 grid one day, but not in circumstances like these. Mick Schumacher was among them. His thin, pursed lips betrayed a hint of emotion as his father Michael’s occasionally did when he was still Superman.

It was impossible to discern Nathalie’s countenance, for sunglasses hid her eyes from the world. Father Francois had been here when the horror unfolded and Juan-Manuel Correa drove right through the middle of his son’s Arden car at 257km/h. But he lay in the shadows while the helmet was borne.

Sir Jackie Stewart was out there on that pre-race grid. He has stood in churches and at race tracks, among distraught widows and grieving mothers, all over the world. Here he was again, aged 80, amid a sadness that has rarely fallen on a younger generation.

The death of Francois Cevert, his team-mate and friend, brought forward by one race the Scot’s decision to retire in 1973. He has devoted decades to saving racers’ lives and I asked him what he made of Saturday’s fatality.

"It is very sad," he said. "But it is something motor racing, unfortunately, must accept. It was a car losing control and another unavoidably driving into the side of it. It was a motor racing incident. It was not because the barriers or the car were not up to the job.

"It says on the other side of the ticket: motorsport is dangerous." That acceptance, widely held here among the fraternity, is why the Belgian Grand Prix had to go on.

Earlier in the day, a similar vigil was performed on the grid before the F3 race, the series Hubert won last season. It was then that Leclerc, a friend and contemporary dating back more than half their lifetimes, embraced Nathalie. He was visibly upset.

After his victory, Leclerc dedicated the triumph to Hubert, saying: "We lost a friend first of all. It is very difficult in these situations. I want to dedicate this win to Anthoine. We have grown up together and my first race when I was seven was with Anthoine."

Several of us did not know Hubert well at all and had to rely on the testimony of others to learn of the cheery, smiley figure behind black-rimmed glasses. But Leclerc knew all this for himself and that made his victory from pole all the more remarkable for its serenity.

He was not distracted when on lap 19 - the number Hubert’s car carried - the crowd stood and applauded. The memorials at Spa were writ large, from the black armbands team personnel wore to the words ‘Racing for Anthoine’, or similar, on each livery.

FIA president Jean Todt wrote a note of sympathy to the family, delivered to them by the hand of a mutual friend. At Renault, where Hubert was a member of their young driver academy, the pain was intense. Alain Prost, who carried the mortal remains of his great rival Ayrton Senna on his last earthly journey at the funeral that brought Sao Paulo to a standstill, did some interviews in which his crumpled face told of his hurt.

"I pushed him in the academy, we were talking very often," said Prost. "He was a nice kid, very intelligent, very clever, very curious. There are no words. He was too young to die."

There were no guarantees that Hubert would have made it to F1 but he had tested with Renault earlier this year. Leclerc, his Monegasque pal who lit the way, did not celebrate on the podium afterwards. He lifted the trophy in one hand and pointed to the sky with the other. Not a drop of champagne passed his lips.

Leclerc, a 21-year-old who has already lost his father, Herve, and his pal, Jules Bianchi - the last F1 driver to die in a racing accident - deserved his maiden win at the 34th attempt for his fortitude in life as much as for having come agonisingly close to victory several times already this season.

He kept his nerve as Hamilton closed in. Valtteri Bottas, third, slipped 65 points behind his championship-leading Mercedes team-mate.

Such was the preceding tumult that every time a car hit the buffers, deep breaths were inhaled. First, when Red Bull’s Max Verstappen found the barriers at the top of Eau Rouge, of all places. He walked away. Right at the end, Antonio Giovinazzi pranged his Alfa Romeo. "I’m OK," he said.

They usually are.

Daily Mail

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