SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Crouching with his hands locked and head bowed, Formula One driver Pierre Gasly lay flowers at the spot where his friend Anthoine Hubert died last year after a horrific crash on the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix.
“I just had these images and footage in mind that I wish would have never happened,” Gasly said. “For me it’s just very hard to accept he’s not with us anymore.”
The 22-year-old Hubert died during an F2 race, following a 160 mph (257 kph) collision with U.S. driver Juan-Manuel Correa’s car. They accelerated uphill and when Hubert struck a tire barrier at the top of notorious Raidillon hill on the Spa circuit, his car bounced backward and was speared by Correa’s at full impact.
Gasly, who drives for the AlphaTauri team, knew Hubert since their junior karting days and shared an apartment with his fellow Frenchman during their teenage years.
On Thursday morning Gasly walked to the spot where he lost his friend.
“I just have these images that come back in my mind, things I don’t want to accept or struggle to accept,” he said. “I have thousands of memories. I was lucky to grow up with him, my first season when I was nine I started to race against him. From the age of 13 until I was 18 I spent basically from 7:30 at breakfast in the morning until 10 p.m. in the evening, every single day together.”
Gasly said the competition with Hubert always pushed him to be better.
“If he was doing 15 push ups, I will do 16, then he will try 17. If we played PlayStation we would spend hours on it just to beat each other,” Gasly recounted. “I truly know that I would never have achieved what I did without growing with him, because we were pushing each other so much.”
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc earned his first F1 race victory at the Belgian GP last year and dedicated it to Hubert.
“Last year was very difficult on the Saturday night, we all learned about Anthoine passing away. I remember speaking with Pierre … and Pierre telling me ‘You need to win for Anthoine,'” Leclerc said. “I managed to do it which was very special, but also very difficult as it was the first time I experienced driving around the same track where you lose a close one (friend).”
Correa, who recovered from an induced coma after suffering severe injuries to his lungs and right leg in the accident, came to the Spa track to pay his respects to Hubert.
“I felt there was a way for me to kind of close the chapter, but more importantly to pay my tribute to Anthoine,” Correa said. “I haven’t been able to do so properly from Miami. It’s just been something I had pending. I got the invitation from F2, and I took it in a heartbeat … But it’s also going to be a very emotional weekend for me.”
The 21-year-old American hopes to be racing again next year.
“I have still quite a few surgeries left to go,” he said. “But the whole metal thing around my leg should be gone by the end of this year.”
In memory of Hubert, F2 has retired the No. 19 and a minute’s silence will be held before Saturday’s F2 race and Sunday’s F1 race.
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