Formula 1 comes to Belgium this weekend for the seventh round of the season on the legendary Spa-Francorchamps track. Its seven kilometres boast some of the best corners in the world, most famous of which is the climb up Eau Rouge-Raidillon. Thursday morning it was shrouded in autumnal mist, very different to the suffocatingly hot conditions experienced in Spain a fortnight ago, when track temperature hit 50 degrees. By the late morning, the sun finally put in an appearance burning off the low clouds and bringing some colour to the scene, even if it never got hotter than 20 degrees.
A year ago. The main topic of the first press conference of the weekend was the subject of what happened in Saturday’s Formula 2 Feature Race a year ago at Spa. On the second lap, Anthoine Hubert and Juan Manuel Correa were involved in a terrible accident as a result of which, the Frenchman lost his life and the American was seriously injured. Anthoine was a particularly close friend of Charles’ who went on to take his maiden Formula 1 win the following day. “Win number one in this category is always memorable, but in this case it was particularly special. I remember the tears in the paddock on that terrible afternoon,” said the Monegasque driver. “The next day, after the minute’s silence on the start grid, Pierre Gasly came up to me and said ‘you have to win for him.’ The fact that I managed it and then to be able to dedicate the race to him made it unique. In my heart, I have so many memories of Anthoine, both at the track and away from it. I particularly remember our time in karts, when there was us two and also Pierre and Esteban Ocon. I recall our first race, which he won and I came second. We were always together, if not fighting on the track then somewhere, even a car park to play football. They were particularly carefree years.”
Difficult moment. Like Charles, Sebastian was also wearing a pin featuring a star and the number 19 in memory of Hubert as he too spoke about the talented youngster who raced with the Renault Sport Academy. “We all love this track, but all of us, as we came through the gate, thought about Anthoine. He was much loved and very promising. I think we all still recall the dark atmosphere on that Saturday night. My first impulse, on the wave of emotion was not to race, to not even want to get in the car. Naturally, after a while the emotion gives way to logic and when you put the visor down you automatically leave those thoughts outside the helmet and out of your mind. We are still very sad about what happened and we feel for his family. Unfortunately, while motorsport can let you experience some amazing feelings, it can also be terrible when things like this occur.”
Performance. From a performance point of view, Seb and Charles both asserted the Belgian race would be a difficult one. “We will struggle in the first and third sectors,” said Leclerc. “But after all, we know that this season, we are struggling more than a year ago. Once again it will be important to get the most out of the car, right from free practice. On such a special track, with so many variables in play, starting with the weather, I hope that in the race some opportunities will come our way.” Seb spoke about his approach to this race and the next ones. “I have confidence in the work the team is doing and I think it is vitally important, especially this season, not to make any mistakes. My aim is to enjoy my last few races with the team and to have no regrets when the year ends.” I have faith in the mechanics and engineers,” he concluded. “And I’m sure the team feels the same about me, so everything is in place for us to do our best together. Among the many things that will change during the course of a year, I think it’s the people I will miss most.”
Programme. As from Friday, the visors come down and all thoughts will turn to lap times and the car and tyre performance. The free practice sessions start at 11 and 15 CET. On Saturday the final hour in preparation for qualifying takes place at 12 with the grid deciding session at 15. Then on Sunday 30 August, the 65th Belgian Grand Prix gets underway at 15.10.