Pierre Gasly reflected on the death of his friend Anthoine Hubert and the Dutchman Dilano van ‘t Hoff on Thursday. The Frenchman organized a special event at Spa-Francorchamps for this. A report from the Ardennes.
Gasly is normally a cheerful guy, who laughs a lot with contemporaries like Max Verstappen. But on Thursday in the soaking wet, gloomy Ardennes, sadness seems to predominate. Dutifully he speaks to the press, talking unusually softly and with a straight face.
The Norman drove into the main entrance earlier in the day. The letters on the sign above the road are iconic: Circuit Spa-Francorchamps. It has a double meaning for Gasly. He arrives at the circuit that the Frenchman counts among his favourites. It is also the place where his best friend Hubert didn’t stand a chance in a violent accident in 2019. 22 years old, talented, Formula 2 driver, full of ambition, died too early. It puts Gasly in a dilemma.
“I’m an emotional guy. And I link locations to emotions. I’ve had the worst feeling of my life in this place. At the same time it’s one of my favorite circuits. So it’s very contradictory. I’ll also never forget what I felt when my parents told me the news here.”
Danger is part of racing, something the Alpine driver also accepts. Even then it won’t be easy. The fatal crash of Dilano van ‘t Hoff at the beginning of July forced everyone to face the facts again, including Gasly. “They are things you have to live with, and it is also life as it can be: sad.”
Pierre Gasly before the start of his special run for Hubert and Van ‘t Hoff. Photo: Getty Images
‘For me this is much bigger’
Gasly felt he should do something special four years later to commemorate his friend Hubert. It will be a run on the circuit, at running or walking pace, according to everyone’s own choice.
“I am especially happy that I can organize something like this. It may be a small moment for the people who participate, but it is much bigger for me. It really has meaning. Everyone knows how close I was with Anthoine, and he was quite part of Alpine for a long time, so everyone was there to organize this for him and to commemorate him.”
At first it was only intended for Hubert, but when Van ‘t Hoff died in an accident at the beginning of July, the driver from the Formula Regional also became the subject of the commemoration. Like Hubert, Van ‘t Hoff was not a Formula 1 driver, but that is precisely Gasly’s point. It is one world that the Frenchman would like to involve.
“Let’s honor these heroes,” an emotional Gasly shouts through the megaphone. Photo: Getty Images
The world together
That distance can sometimes seem large on the Formula 1 circuits. The royal class has huge shelters in a closed area, while a little further on the Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams apparently work on the cars in tents in a backyard. But that’s appearance. All drivers have gone through those classes, mechanics have started there and even team bosses like Christian Horner and Fred Vasseur first acted at a lower level.
Gasly wants everyone involved. “The racing family needs to come together, Formula 1, Formula 2 Formula 3, it doesn’t matter, to remember racing talents we lost too soon. At the end of the day this is just a small circus with a few hundred or maybe a thousand people traveling the world together traveling and living a unique life. It’s really different from what other people do and I love to come together in such a way.”
Gasly with Juan Manuel Correa, who was seriously injured in Hubert’s fatal crash. Photo: Getty Images
Silence for Hubert and Van ‘t Hoff
With a megaphone in hand, Gasly welcomes all participants. It’s raining cats and dogs in the Ardennes, but that doesn’t bother him. The straight is full of people, who, led by the Alpine driver, head towards Eau Rouge and Raidillon. That is the place where Hubert died. Gasly carries bunches of flowers, the first of which is placed with the tire pile that Hubert bounced in the path of the onrushing Juan Manuel Correa.
There is a pause, also by drivers who drove in Formula 2 at the time, just like Hubert. Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu, for example, is also present.
Flowers on the spot where Dilano van ‘t Hoff died. Photo: NU.nl/Joost Nederpelt
Stare in disbelief at a bunch of flowers
Further on, the mood is different. Eighteen-year-old Van ‘t Hoff died here less than a month ago. Several team members of his team MP Motorsport stare in disbelief at the bunches of flowers. An arm around the shoulder, emotions are still fresh.
The rain has been appropriated in an inappropriate manner. These were the circumstances in which the driver from Dordrecht was rammed hard in the side. And it brings that horrific incident even closer.
A few hundred meters separate the places where two young boys lost their lives. Ahead, fireworks shoot into the sky, set off by fans at the campsite. The mood is good there, looking forward to the races this weekend. It is the contrast that motorsport carries with it. But the circus just goes on, with everyone’s approval. Including gasly. “I still love this circuit, and driving on this track.”
Timetable GP Belgium
Friday 28 July 13.30-14.30: Free training
Friday 28 July 5-6 pm: Feature race qualifying
Saturday 29 July 12:00-12:44 pm: Sprint shootout
Saturday 29 July 4.30-5.30 pm: Sprintrace
Sunday, July 30, 3:00 PM: Race