The 2019 FIA Formula 2 Championship will be remembered in respect of Anthoine Hubert, who tragically succumbed to his injuries he sustained in a serious high-speed crash at Spa-Francorchamps during the feature race.
His unfortunate passing brought the Motorsport community together as they remembered the Frenchman through that Belgian Grand Prix weekend and beyond. Renault Drivers’ Academy, the programme Hubert was apart off, remembered him with their drivers paying tribute to their comrade whilst Hubert’s F2 team, BWT Arden, continued to race in Monza with a sole car, racing for Hubert.
Months have passed since the tragic events on the 31st of August and is still in the thoughts of the drivers, teams, and members of the Motorsport community. Tributes have been displayed throughout F2, with stickers of “Racing for Anthoine” on the cars, to the Renault Academy drivers switching designs to Hubert’s pink design back in Sochi.
Hubert entered Formula 2 as a GP3 Series champion, but lost out on big seats and was left with Arden, a team that finished 9th in the teams’ standings of 2018. But Hubert’s rookie season within F2 was impressive, so impressive that it sparked interest from various of top teams within the series to sign him on for 2020, despite the small budget he carried. According to Renault, Hubert’s future for 2020 within F2 had already been signed and decided.
He was a part of a band of upcoming stars along with the likes of Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, and Pierre Gasly. Whilst the three made it into F1, Hubert was inbound to join them in the future. After his success in GP3, Hubert partnered up with the Renault Drivers’ Academy for the 2019 season.
We’ll never know what the future could of hold for Hubert and what he could have achieved in the future. F1 was a potential, having started completing test programs with Renault alongside Guanyu Zhou and Max Fewtrell.
As his friends, family and the Motorsport community remember Anthoine, we remember the memories and stories surrounding the young French star, and one of his greatest and happiest moments would be his victory on home soil this year at Circuit Paul Ricard. Little we knew at the time that it would prove to be the Frenchman’s last win and his last podium.
Hubert’s second victory in the series was completed in a dominant performance on home turf, having delivered a strong performance in the feature race to put himself in a strong position for the sprint race. Finishing eighth in the first race put him on reverse grid pole for the Sunday race, a chance to claim victory for the second round in a row.
Going into that weekend, Hubert had just clinched his first-ever F2 win around the streets of Monte-Carlo, one of the toughest circuits in the world, pipping Carlin‘s Louis Delétraz on the line on the final lap. Hubert in that race turned into a reverse grid pole into a win, but Monaco is a track where overtaking was very limited and where any mistake is punished by contact with the barrier. All was needed from Hubert was to keep it clean and leave no gap for Delétraz to take. Luckily enough, he did just that.
In the next round, however, France would prove to be a fair more different challenge than Monaco. Paul Ricard is open, there are places to overtake and it was hot that summer weekend, meaning the tyres would have to work harder than usual over the course of the sprint race. With no pit stops to throw in the mix, the challenge was there.
Hubert prior to racing at France, introduced a special tribute helmet design to F1 legend, fellow countryman and his Renault mentor, Alain Prost. Hubert dreamt of achieving a home podium, around on from his first race win in the Principality of Monaco – 152 km away from Paul Ricard.
“It’s my home race; the one I’m most looking forward to this season! I like the track, the French atmosphere and the region,” said Hubert in a preview prior to his home race.
“We are on a great curve of improvement with the team with still many things to learn and to improve. We will try to make another step forward in France and get some big points again and, why not, a podium! It would be great to stand there one year after winning in GP3!”
A year prior to racing in F2, Hubert was victorious on home soil in the GP3 Series. But the victory came hours after the race when the stewards disqualified initial race winner Dorian Boccolacci, a fellow French driver, after founding his car breached a technical infringement.
The win was also Hubert’s first in GP3, having spent a whole season in 2017 winless. He stepped onto the top step of the podium for real at Silverstone, winning the first race. He would go on to win the series as it merged into the new FIA Formula 3 Championship in 2019.
Hubert’s aim for a home podium looked in trouble when in Practice and Qualifying, the Frenchman struggled with engine issues, preventing him from setting a fast lap. He was left with a fifteenth place grid slot for the feature race on Saturday.
“I did not have any grip and we didn’t have any rhythm. In qualifying, an engine problem prevented me from having a second run, but I couldn’t have done much better anyway,” said Hubert on his website.
“Just like during the winter season, I was under the impression that I had done a pretty good lap, but I had no grip and I found myself very far behind the leaders.
“I knew that this was not the end of the story however, because we are generally better in race trim, but still it was necessary to find more performance.”
Indeed, the story wasn’t over in France. Hubert with 15th place on the feature race grid was in a position where he could use the alternative strategy to his favour, snatching some points or even a strong grid slot for Sunday’s sprint race.
For the start, Hubert got off away strongly, passing Trident‘s Ralph Boschung immediately. Hubert’s start was so strong, he soon started squabbling with the likes of UNI-Virtuosi Racing‘s Luca Ghiotto & ART’s Mazepin before they reached the opening turn.
Hubert’s luck continued as he managed to avoid the both PREMA drivers’ of Mick Schumacher and Sean Gelael colliding at Turn 3. By the time the red flag was brought out on the opening laps, Hubert sat in 11th place for the restart.
After the restart of the race, Hubert’s objective for the feature race was simple: keep the pace consistent, look after the tyres and follow the strategy. Everything went according to plan for the Arden driver – even briefly lying in fourth when the frontrunners on the soft tyres made their stops.
But an issue started to occur for the Hubert during the feature race – his radio wasn’t working properly. According to Hubert, the lack of radio communication meant he wasn’t sure where he was in terms of track position, whether he was in prime position or not. Luckily for Hubert, he was on track for a position to bring home some valuable points.
By Lap 20, Hubert behind the likes of Juan Manuel Correa and Jordan King made his stop but encountered trouble when his right rear tyre took time to come on. Hubert rejoined in eleventh place. But with fresh rubber, can put the hammer down. He did exactly that, passing Giuliano Alesi, Ghiotto and Nobuharu Matsushita in ten laps to claim eighth place – enough for reverse grid pole for the sprint race.
“As we have done a lot this year, we lost about 4 seconds in the pits. In addition, my radio worked really badly and I was not sure of my position. But I felt that there was a good shot to play for 8th and I gave everything I could to catch the drivers who were in front of me,” said Hubert after the feature race.
“It was hot and it was a case of quit or do the double, because between 8th and 9th place, there is a huge difference in terms of prospects for a weekend in F2!
It was the second sprint race in a row that Hubert would start the race from first place, and another opportunity to clinch victory on home soil. But the temperatures were at its hottest over the weekend, meaning the tyre degradation would be higher than usual. As well as the heat, the French circuit was packed, with grandstands filled ahead of his home race.
Even with the challenge ahead, Hubert was focused. With his first win already ticked in the box, he had the chance to clinch it again, this time around a Paul Ricard Circuit that presents overtaking opportunities – unlike the closed streets of Monte-Carlo. This was Hubert’s moment to shine on home soil.
The start of the race was executed from Hubert, pulling away in the run towards Turn 1 ahead of both King and Jack Aitken. His lead casually grew going into the opening two sectors whilst the rest of the pack squabbled for position. However, by the end of the first and approaching towards the final corner, Hubert soon found Aitken all over his rear mirrors.
Aitken in the Campos managed to deliver an outstanding opening lap, enough to sniff a challenge for the lead of the race against Hubert by the end of Lap 1. Hubert was aware of the pressure from his fellow Renault Academy driver but kept his head focused as he remained in the lead of the race.
The pressure from Aitken was as similar to Delétraz’s back in Monaco, only this time the challenge was more difficult and the more stakes were on the line. Paul Ricard is not like Monaco. Overtaking is possible in some corners or down the two DRS straights and the competition is against a well-established race winner, unlike a driver who was also seeking his first.
But Hubert used a valuable trait to keep Aitken at bay on the opening laps of the sprint race: Consistency. The Frenchman used this alone to ensure that he kept his pace ahead of the Campos, whilst trying not to use any of his tyres. He already had shown this at Monaco and throughout his title-winning season in GP3 in 2018, managing to finish in the top four in 13 out of the 18 races that season.
Hubert was able to keep ahead of Aitken, just as the Anglo-Korean driver started to drop off, losing second to the Sauber Junior Team of Correa and Virtuosi of Zhou. Hubert felt comfortable in his pink machinery, driving away from DRS range and keeping a consistent pace, enough for his Pirelli rubber to take under the scorching French sun.
Hubert’s pace remained on par with the rest of the field. Even in the latter stages of the race as the tyres began to degrade, Hubert still kept the gap to Correa above two seconds. He even attempted a shot at going for the fastest lap of the race, worth an extra two points if achieved, but the Carlin’s of both Matsushita and Delétraz put an end to any bid for Hubert.
Rather than continuing chasing for those two extra points, Hubert kept to his consistent pace, ensuring that he doesn’t let his guard down and allow a mistake to occur. But after 21 laps of racing at the front, it was all over.
Victory was achieved.
Hubert clinched the sprint race win, beating Correa by 2.202 seconds for the win. His second win in the series was achieved and for the second round in succession, stood on the top step of the podium.
His dream of achieving a podium finish on home soil came true, with an extra flavour of victory added to it as his fellow countryman cheered and applauded Hubert for his victory. As a representative of Renault, this would be their highlight as hours later during the Formula 1 Grand Prix, their works teams could only managed eighth place at best with Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.
The win marked a special day for Hubert as he celebrated with his Arden team. It was a strong day for rookies and Correa and Zhou joined Hubert for the podium. In the walk down to the main podium – located halfway through the pit lane, Hubert grabbed a French flag, carried it with him and waved to the crowd with the tricolor of France sporting behind him.
Hubert’s win wasn’t just a case of sheer dominance in a sprint race and showcasing his overall pace. It was his and Arden’s ability to display that under poor circumstances, they can fight back, turn things around and bring home a result.
Arden for long has been a team present in the junior categories but in Formula 2, they have been a team short of success compared to the likes of DAMS, ART and PREMA. They occasionally grab wins but often find themselves towards the rear end of the team’s standings every season.
But Hubert’s presence in the team brought some fresh new air that Arden could become those giant-killers once again in F2. A combination of a team that forever was chasing its rivals and a driver who was talented, but lacked a budget to join said, big teams. It gave Arden the hope they needed in the series.
Hubert had now won at races he wanted to win at the most: Monaco and on home soil in France. Which track would he love to grab his first win at? Hubert didn’t care where. He won at both locations.
“In Monaco, I was asked if it was the best place to secure my first win and I said that Castellet would have been very nice too,” said Hubert. “There is no difference, I won at two rounds where I was most eager to do so!
“This victory is very rewarding in terms of management, performance and control. I managed my two-second lead by responding to Correa as quickly as he tried to get back on me. I tried to secure the fastest lap of the race too, but when Matsushita took it from me, I preferred not to take any chances because a mistake can easily jump in your face without warning at Le Castellet.
“The greatest pride comes from our ability to turn things around when the weekend started off so poorly.
“We worked well as a team and to finish with a win and 19 points when we were at the lower end of the pecking order on Friday night, it’s fantastic and it shows how great everyone is working together.”
It was a race filled with joy as the series saw three promising rookies stood on the podium together. Hubert, Correa & Zhou all showcased their abilities throughout 2019 up to that point, and it was only a matter of time these three rookies would find themselves at the front.
Whilst it may have been in a sprint race – where the grid order is determined by the result of Saturday’s race, all three had to fight against veterans of the series to get there. And they achieved it. The win marked a happy time for both Formula 2, Hubert, Correa and Arden.
However, little did we all know that after this race, it would be the last time we would see Hubert on the podium. The last time Arden won an F2 race under their current entry. The last time we would have Hubert and Correa on the rostrum together.
What followed 69 days after the sprint race at Paul Ricard was one of the darkest days in the series, Motorsport, and in sport in general. On the 31st of August at Spa-Francorchamps. The feature race was underway in F2 until the beginning of the second lap. Where a high-speed serious accident occurred between Hubert, Correa, and Alesi. The conclusion of what transpired we all know by now. It would turn out to be the last minutes of Hubert in a race car, and more sadly most of all, his presence.
The tragic passing of Hubert hit many within the paddock and Motorsport community. The world was robbed of a bright and aspiring generational talent, weeks after being on top of the world in front of his home supporters. It proved to be the last time Hubert would win a Grand Prix.
A happy event in which Hubert was celebrating his home win like he won a championship again, reflects now as the last time we would see him take the top honours. Months after the win and weeks after Hubert’s passing, it would prove to be Arden’s final win in F2 as they would depart from the series as part of an entry buyout from HWA Racelab. It proved to be the last time Arden would win a Grand Prix in F2, for now at least.
Arden wouldn’t score another point again after the summer break and assigned F2 veteran Artem Markelov to end the season in the second Arden car, representing in the number 22 car, instead of Hubert’s 19 – which was retired for the season.
As the 2019 season concluded, Hubert finished in the top ten of the drivers’ championship and scored all of Arden’s points, beating Prema and Trident. In that season alone, Hubert was the only rookie to have won a race twice.
The tragic passing of Hubert and the injuries Correa suffered created a cloud over F2 in the week after Spa, but the series did what both drivers would have wanted: Continue racing. Whilst they grieved and paid their respects, they raced for them that weekend and throughout the 2019 season.
When reflecting on the sprint race in France in 2019 as part of this feature, previous emotions presented a sense of happiness for Hubert and Arden. A team and a driver who found each other’s way and came out on top together, in front of Hubert’s home crowds. But now when writing this, it only leaves sadness that it would be the last time the two would taste success together, and independently.
Whilst the moment upon reflection now brings a sense of sadness or happiness for Hubert. There was one particular moment that caught attention when reflecting and one that has stuck with ever since reflecting on that race. It was Anthoine’s emotions and reaction when ‘La Marseillaise’ – the French national anthem started playing on the podium.
During the anthem, Hubert placed his hand on his heart as the fans waved the tricolors of France to the anthem. To Anthoine. Hubert smiled, whilst trying to keep his emotions in as the anthem played in his honour.
It showcased the passion and love he had for his country. Athletes often display this during the anthem of victory or before matches are played. But racing drivers never fully show their passion for their country when an anthem is played, not often on the podium or before a Grand Prix.
This is often rarely seen from the current generation of drivers, which in turn made this scene felt more emotional for the viewer, upon reflecting now. It made it more meaningful now for Anthoine. His dream of wanting a home podium came true. But that day presented more than just a podium. A home win in front of his home fans.
Reflecting on that moment now months after the events at Spa, you can’t help but smile for him, but also shear a tear for him too.
The memories of Anthoine Hubert will live long into Motorsport, friends, and family, as well as the drivers, teams, and people who were fortunate enough to know met and work with Hubert. Even as the sport continues to move on, with Arden now HWA, Renault continuing its Academy with Hubert in mind and Formula 2 continuing to remember him, Hubert will still race with us in our hearts.
Forever and always. Racing For Anthoine ❤️