The Formula 1 community may stretch far across the globe, but it can also be a tight-knit bunch akin to family, and that makes any death tough to stomach. Unfortunately, 2019 had three of them.
Charlie Whiting, Niki Lauda, Anthoine Hubert. Three very different figures in the motorsport world, all gone too soon.
First it was Whiting, who at 66, fell victim to a pulmonary embolism just days before the first race in Australia. F1’s race director, he had made the near-impossible job of refereeing the sport his own, and even after a full season of Grands Prix, it feels strange to race without him.
Then in May, the remarkable story of Lauda came to an end aged 70, nearly 43 years after his infamous crash at the Nurburgring. Whether as a driver, personality or executive, there was no one quite like him, and he will be forever remembered as a titan of the sport.
Lastly, there was Hubert. The 2018 GP3 champion, the 22-year-old Frenchman was killed in a collision with Juan Manuel Correa during the Formula 2 feature race on Saturday of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. His life cut far too short in a day and age where motorsport in safer than ever, his death was a stark reminder of the risks still present.
Niki Lauda and Charlie Whiting have been ‘in my life’ since I started following this sport in the early seventies. Niki much more prominent but Charlie always there in the background making the big calls. More permanent than most things in my life.
I also had the privilege of meeting both, more than once, during my tenure at Dubai Autodrome as Comms Manager albeit far too brief.
Charlie’s passing in Melbourne came out of the blue and really floored out community and he has left a formidable gap in the paddock and especially those who worked close to him. It would have been interesting to see how Charlie would have handled some of the more contentious incidents during the course of a season packed with them.
One could argue that Niki was lucky to have had two lives. The incredible tale of the 1976 F1 season is fundamental to his incredible legacy. He defied death went on to live another four decades. Eventually, Nurburgring took its toll and after the lung transplants his fall from health was swift and the inevitable expected, but when it came it was big in emotional impact and his parting left a void in many lives.
Arguably, cruellest of all was how Anthoine Hubert was robbed of life in horrific circumstances during the Formula 2 Feature race at Spa-Francorchamps. It was a wake-up call, on the world stage, for anyone who thought this sport is too safe. It is not.
The only light from that weekend was the fact that Juan Manuel Correa and Giuliano Alesi did not also perish on that horrible Saturday. (Paul Velasco)