A dark cloud will hover over Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix after young French driver Anthoine Hubert was killed in a devastating 160mph Formula Two crash at Spa-Francorchamps.
Hubert, 22, raced for British team Arden – run by Garry Horner, the father of Red Bull boss Christian Horner – in the championship which acts as a feeder series to Formula One.
He lost control of his car on the exit of the notorious uphill Eau Rouge corner before slamming into the far-side barrier. The Frenchman flew off the tyre wall and slid across the circuit before he was hit head on by the unsuspecting American Juan-Manuel Correa.
The severity of the incident was instantly obvious. Debris littered the tarmac and the official TV feed cut away from the scene, while there were no replays of the accident.
Emergency crews rushed to one of motorsport’s most recognisable corners, but one hour and 28 minutes after the second-lap accident Hubert was pronounced dead at the on-track medical centre.
He becomes the first driver since Ayrton Senna died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix to be killed while driving in an FIA-accredited race during a Formula One weekend. Jules Bianchi, another young French driver, died in July 2015, nine months on from the brain injuries he sustained after he crashed into a crane at the rain-hit race in Japan.
Correa was airlifted to Liege Hospital, 40 miles to the north west of the circuit in the Ardennes. It is understood that the American, 20, has broken his legs and was sedated at the scene. Giuliano Alesi, the son of former Ferrari driver Jean Alesi, was also involved but escaped without injury.
A statement released by the sport’s governing body, read: “The FIA regrets to advise that a serious incident involving cars #12, #19 and #20 occurred at 17:07 on 31/08/19 as a part of the FIA Formula 2 Sprint Race at Spa-Francorchamps, round 17 of the season.
“As a result of the incident, the FIA regrets to inform that the driver of car #19, Antoine Hubert, succumbed to his injuries, and passed away at 18:35. The FIA has commenced an investigation into the incident.”
The fatal crash occurred less than an hour after Lewis Hamilton had qualified for Sunday’s race. Hamilton, who crashed out of final practice at 140mph at the Fagnes chicane on Saturday morning, is due to line up from third on the grid.
In an emotional post to social media, the five-time world champion highlighted the dangers of the sport.
“This is devastating,” the 34-year-old wrote. “God rest your soul, Anthoine. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family today.
“If a single one of you watching and enjoying this sport think for a second what we do is safe you are hugely mistaken.
“All these drivers put their lives on the line when they hit the track and people need to appreciate that in a serious way because it is not appreciated enough.
“Not from the fans, nor some of the people actually working in the sport. Anthoine is a hero as far as I’m concerned for taking the risk he did to chase his dreams. I’m so sad that this has happened. Let’s lift him up and remember him. Rest in peace, brother.”
A moment’s silence is set to take place ahead of Sunday’s race to honour a driver highly regarded in the motor racing world.
Hubert was the reigning GP3 champion and had already won twice in F2 this season. He was a member of the Renault driver academy.
Renault’s F1 team boss Cyril Abiteboul said: “Anthoine was a bright young man. His performance and conduct on and off track was that of a true gentleman and it was a pleasure and honour to have had him within our academy.
“He will be sorely missed. His spirit will remain with the team and we will race in his memory.”
Mick Schumacher, at the side of his father Michael for the skiing accident which has ensured he has not been seen in public for almost six years ago, took part in Saturday’s abandoned race.
The young German was seen staring vacantly in the pit lane moments before the news of Hubert’s death was confirmed. Mechanics of the Arden team were also seen consoling one another in the support-race paddock.
A number of the Formula One teams cancelled their post-qualifying media sessions, while an on-track music concert was also scrapped.
Charles Leclerc, a former F2 champion, secured pole position for Sunday’s race. Sebastian Vettel starts from second in all-Ferrari front row.