Correa returns to Spa one year on from crash, drivers honor Hubert
Juan Manuel Correa returned to the F2 paddock at Spa as he updated on recovery while he and F1 drivers paid tribute to Anthoine Hubert.
Together, as the paddocks of F1 and its feeder series' embark on a weekend of racing at Spa-Francorchamps, they are reminded of the tragic crash that took place in the F2 feature race at last year's Belgian GP. It was an accident that saw one of those involved - Correa - have his racing career put on hold, and one other involved - Hubert - lose his life, the anniversary of which is fast approaching.
Now well on the road to recovery from his injuries, not the least of which was severe damage to his leg and lungs, Correa has returned to Spa for the weekend, as he intends to pay tribute to the late Hubert, to whom he was a peer. "It’s one year since the crash happened," he said on Instagram Live.
"I felt there was a way for me to kind of close the chapter, but more importantly to pay my tribute to Anthoine. I haven't been able to do so properly from Miami. It's just been something I had pending. I just felt that coming out here this weekend, I got the invitation from F2, and I took it in a heartbeat. I'm happy to be here, I'm happy to see all the people from the paddock again. But it's also going to be a very emotional weekend for me."
The Ecuadorian-American, like many other drivers in similar situations - IndyCar's Robert Wickens among them - competed in ESports racing during lockdown, and Correa hopes to return to competition in real life shortly - even as early as December, he teased.
"It’s been going quite well," said Correa. "I've been recovering really quickly, pushing a lot with that racer mindset, always doing more than necessary, but it's worked out well. I'm actually looking for a comeback next year, so earlier than we thought initially, but it's looking good.
"I have still quite a few surgeries left to go, but the whole metal thing around my leg should be gone by the end of this year, which means I can jump in a car, maybe as early as December," summed up Correa.
Joining Correa, in acknowledging Hubert, were numerous F1 drivers. Last year's Belgian GP winner, Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, as well as the Frenchman's close mate AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, were two that were particularly affected by the incident.
Charles Leclerc: "Last year was a very difficult on the Saturday night, obviously we have all learned about Antoine Hubert passing away. I remember speaking with Pierre, we were all good friends with also Esteban [Ocon] and Antoine. We all grew up together, and Pierre telling me you need to win for Anthoine on Sunday, and I obviously wanted to do that too, and I managed to do it, which was very very special, but also very difficult as it was the first time I experienced driving around the same track where where you lose a close one or a driver, on the same track, so it was very difficult.
"And coming back here doesn't change that. For sure, it's it's difficult. And it will be difficult to drive again on this track tomorrow, having this in mind. But that doesn't change on my targets for the weekend, which is to do the best I can in the car. I have a lot of memories with him. Some very good moments, some others that we've been fighting and it didn't end well, but that's are very good memories now, looking back at it.
"But probably the first memory I have with Anthoine was my first ever French chairmanship race, where there was again, Esteban, Pierre and Anthoine. Anthoine won that race. I was second until the last corner where I crashed with Esteban. But these are memories, that I will always remember. Karting were very good days, especially once when we were that young, in the between sessions every driver used to play together. And yeah, that's the first memory I have of Anthoine and probably one of the best."
"Well, I have thousands of memories from Antoine. I was lucky to grow with him. So from my first season in karting, when I was nine, I started to race against him. And then from the age of 13 we both decided to leave our homes to go in that school that the Federation sort of built for us drivers, and we were only three French drivers to make the move and there was Anthoine Hubert, another French driver and myself.
"And from the age of 13 till I was 18 I spent basically from 7:30 at breakfast in the morning till 10pm in the evening each single day together. We were in the same classes, we were training together, we were racing together, so it's difficult to pick only one. But, I mean, the competition there was... consistent competition, whether when we were in the class, when we were training together... if he was doing 15 push ups, I would do 16, and then he would try 17, and then if we will play PlayStation, we'll spend hours in it just to beat the time of each other, on Gran Turismo or the Formula 1 game.
"And then yeah, there was also a couple of other drivers from the age of 15-16-17, and there are a lot of things I can't say on TV, but you know, I have fantastic memories and we had some really, really good times. Especially in Budapest, but only my friends can remember that one, and yeah, you know, he was a very smart guy, very dedicated in everything he was doing. And that's why I had huge respect for him.
"I was a bit worried, because you never know really how you react to that [going back to Spa], and I must [say] this morning it's been quite hard and strange because Spa is my favourite track and I always came here with great memories from my first win in single seater in Formula 4, [races in Formula Renault] 2.0 and GP2, and this year is different story, because as soon as I put one foot in the paddock, I just have these images that come back in my mind, and things I don't want to accept or I struggle to accept and even during the track walk, I just struggle to realise it really happened and unfortunately that's just the truth, the reality. And yeah, it hasn't been easy.
"Now, obviously, he was I think one of the guys I spent most of my time [with] during my childhood and we were rivals. I actually know that I would have never achieved what I did without growing with him, because we were pushing each other so much, whether it was on track or off the track, that it just made me a better athlete, made me a better driver, and [this competition] always pushed myself to deliver more, find more within myself and... It's been part of my self development as a person and as a driver.
"I can only be grateful for that. He is someone we talk really often with my friends [about], because we had a lot of common friends, and, as I say, like during the track walk I just have these images and footage in mind that I wish would have never happened. And yeah, unfortunately, that's just the danger of our sport and it's just hard to accept.
"Doing this special helmet and dropping these flowers and thinking I was with him. Again, after Budapest last year I had Sunday dinner with him, and we shared a nice moment with his girlfriend and another friend, on Sunday night after Budapest, and this was the last time I saw him. He was one of the first ones to send me a text when Red Bull decided to put me back in Toro Rosso. For me it is just very hard to accept he's not with us anymore."
"I think every driver always really looks forward to racing at Spa. Obviously it’s going be an emotional weekend following the tragic incidents of last year. Sort of definitely overshadows your excitement of driving what is one of the best circuits on the calendar but nevertheless we will be going out there racing in honour of Anthoine Hubert and I’ll be driving as quick as I can to put on a show for him, as we always do."
"There’s definitely a bit of lingering, overshadowing emotion coming back here. As you said, I was in the race and kind of immediately after all the events that happened, for sure, there was a thought knowing it could have been anyone of us in that race, just had things unfolded differently. So yeah, definitely different.
"Even on the track walk this morning, walking up the hill, I definitely had a glance over to the bare of Eau Rouge and you do have those thoughts that kind of come back a bit. As George said, I think everyone is definitely going to be racing in his honour. Normally it’s a track that does make for some quite good racing, exciting racing, so I’m very much looking forward to getting to drive a F1 car on a full race weekend, as I got to drive here last year in the FP1 and enjoyed that quite a lot."
Here's collection of photos from Spa-Francorchamps of drivers honouring Hubert including Correa and Gasly's special helmet: