FORMULA ONE will return to the Spa circuit this week 12 months on from it claiming the life of young racer, Anthoine Hubert.
The Frenchman was killed in the smash at the top of notorious Raidillon hill when he struck a tyre barrier and his Formula 2 car was spat out into the path of Juan Manuel Correa’s car.
The two collided and while Hubert succumbed to his injuries, Correa was left fighting for his life after striking the wreckage at over 150mph.
The sport was plunged into mourning and for British racer, Callum Ilott it was especially tough.
The 21-year-old from Cambridge was teammates with Correa while he was incredibly close to Hubert, as the two had raced as team-mates in 2016 and 2018.
In an emotional conversation with Ilott, who is currently leading the Formula 2 championship, he told SunSport: “To have both your team-mate and your former team-mate involved in an accident like that…
“One passing away and the other being very close to… it was very hard to take.
“The way I made peace with it was analyse the situation and understand it was a one in a trillion accident.
“There are lessons to be learnt. I took away my personal views.
“I changed my outlook and spent some more time with my family, because you never know when things can change.”
Ilott recalls the moments before and after Hubert’s death and says that upon learning of his former team’s death, he was reduced to tears.
I drove back to the pits and you realise ‘s***, what’s happened’. I caught the end of the impact and I couldn’t piece it together.
He added: “I was coming up the hill at Eau Rouge and I could see in the distance there was a big cloud of brown grass and dirt.
“I was the first person to stop in front of the crash and there was so much debris that I could not even tell how many cars were in the accident.
“I could see my team-mate was upside down and because you are in racing mode, you see everything but you don’t understand what happened.
“I drove back to the pits and you realise ‘s***, what’s happened’. I caught the end of the impact and I couldn’t piece it together.
“It was not until 30 minutes after the race I saw a video of the accident and I knew it was not good. It is not easy to walk away after one of those.
“At 6.45pm, we got the official statement and everyone in the paddock was upset.
“I was crying, Anthoine was a team-mate of mine and a close friend.
“I still don’t believe it. Even to this day, even though I have made peace with it, you don’t think it can happen in a race to you.”
Ilott went to visit Correa in hospital soon after the accident and the Ecuadorian-American racer will be invited as a guest of honour this weekend, where there will be tributes for Hubert.
He says he has since used his friend’s passing as a form of motivation to achieve his goal of reaching F1.
He is currently top of the championship driving for the Virtuosi Racing team and upstaging big names, such as Mick Schumacher, the son of Michael, and Giuliano Alesi, whose dad is former F1 driver, Jean.
They are all part of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) but it is Ilott – who does not have the same family racing history or sponsorship clout as the others – is leading the way.
And he hopes that should he win the F2 title this season, he will get his shot in F1 with the Italian team or with their sister outfit, Alfa Romeo.
He said: “Everything is going to plan. I am focused on doing my best each weekend and really cannot do any more.
“Hopefully those things will come. At the end of the day, the F1 team makes the decision and you have to fit in, but it is funny how the tables can turn.
“In some people’s eyes I might not have the motorsport background or leverage that some people think, but look at Lando Norris, George Russell and Alex Albon, they all came in to F1 with talent.
“When you get to this level, every one is good, so you have to stand out and this year, I have tried hard to do that.”