F1Weekly podcast # 802

CLARK AND NASIR SEND THEIR CONDOLENCES TO THE HUBERT FAMILY AND THE ENTIRE MOTORSPORTS COMMUNITY

The death of fun-loving but fiercely professional 22-year-old Renault protege Anthoine Hubert at Spa has robbed the world of a very special person and racing driver, whose career had only just turned around
The last year and a half was a whirlwind for Anthoine Hubert, and he was finally starting to force people take him seriously as a future Formula 1 driver before his death at Spa this weekend.

“That’s one hell of a talent lost,” one person close to the fallen driver said in the wake of the tragedy. But he was so much more than just “talent”.

Always greeting you with a “hey mate” in the paddock, 22-year-old Hubert was a social butterfly. A smile always partnered his black-rimmed glasses and he was forever making jokes in the paddock. Even if he was too busy to stop and chat, he made sure to acknowledge you – on Saturday he roared past on his bicycle but still stuck out an arm for a high-five.

Speaking of bicycles, they were the theme of the last conversation I had with him. As well as keeping sharp with karting in the summer break, he’d also just been on a training camp with Renault where he’d done 438 miles of riding in six days. I’d replied that that’s why I like journalism, so I can eat a lot and sit behind my computer screen. He quipped he didn’t blame me and asked if he could do it too.

Just after the tragic announcement of Hubert’s passing, Roberto Firmino lashed home a third goal for Liverpool Football Club and the irony of the timing was not lost of me. Anthoine would have been the first person in the paddock I would have headed to, to point out my team was fantastic and unbeaten this year. Since Liverpool had beaten Lyon in a pre-season game – Lyon being the place of Hubert’s birth on September 22 1996 – football had been a light-hearted needling point between us.

Despite Hubert’s easy-going and fun nature shining through in the paddock, when the helmet was pulled over his head, a dictaphone shoved under his nose or a meeting called with his engineer, the smile disappeared and an insightful and serious driver greeted you with a steely and fierce look in his eyes. No one could ever deny his determination.

Hubert was introduced to motorsport from a young age as his father, Francois, was a clubman rally driver in France with – admittedly – limited success. But Anthoine was hooked and the almost mandatory FIA-level karting followed.

He was a champion his first year in a racing car as he roared to success in French Formula 4 in 2013. He beat future ADAC GT and Spa 24 Hours winner Jules Gounon on the way to the title, with eventual SMP World Endurance Championship LMP1 driver Matevos Isaakyan also in the field.

Two years in Formula Renault Eurocup followed, 2015 proving to be a race-winning campaign as Hubert took fifth in the championship, and then ’16 was a disappointing season in European Formula 3 with Van Amersfoort. He was eighth in the standings, but well beaten by teammate Callum Ilott.

In 2017 he made the jump to GP3 with ART Grand Prix but brought up the rear of the team’s pack behind George Russell, Jack Aitken and Nirei Fukuzumi as they swept the top four in the standings with only Hubert failing to win a race.

There was a theme developing at that point. When you look up to the end of 2017 on Hubert’s CV, it looks very average after F4 even though he at least won races in every category he contested. He’s a driver who always struggled for budget – properly struggled, but he never used it as a sob story – and that had inevitably affected his career.

It wasn’t until 2018 that he really turned his career around and began to show people what he was truly capable of.

Coming into that season, still at ART but now alongside Ilott, established GP3/F3 race-winner Jake Hughes and the well-funded Nikita Mazepin, Hubert was something of an outsider for the title.

He only won two races in 2018, but so many elements of that season added up to prove how Hubert had made a massive leap forward. The days when anyone could suggest any hint of mediocrity were put behind him on his way to his first major success.

Two victories mated to nine other podiums pushed him across the line in 2018 for the biggest achievement of his career as he followed the likes of Russell, Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon and Valtteri Bottas to become a GP3 champion. He would be the last one ever, as the series was merged into FIA Formula 3 for 2019.

Hubert’s Renault Formula 1 affiliation had begun from the 2018 GP3 season-opener at Barcelona. The idea was that if he won the title then Renault would consider making him a full-time member of its junior programme and help him grease the cogs to get a move into Formula 2 rolling.

That meant the opposite outcome was also possible. He knew at the start of 2018 that if he failed to win the title, he could be destined for GTs or another sideways step that would signal the end of the F1 dream.

But Hubert’s biggest asset was his ability to digest and adapt to data, married to working well with his engineers.

He found another level with the class act that is ART in 2018, taking an early series lead that persuaded the legendary team to throw its weight behind him. The pressure must have been intense, but in the paddock it never showed as he was always free for a chat, interview or intense football-related banter.

The amount he had grown during last year was proven when he entered F2 with the Arden team for this season. It had been second to last in the 2018 teams’ standings and he had his expectations well under control heading into the year. The squad also had a number of new key personnel to integrate after a tie-up with the HWA juggernaut, which has helped with engineering advice this year.

Play Podcast: 09-05-19f1weekly802.mp3