Charles LeClerc and Daniel Ricciardo have led tributes after the death of Charaf-Eddin Ait-Tales, a blind French fan of Formula One who endeared himself to the sport’s stars.
Charaf began to lose his vision at the age of 20, roughly around the time Michael Schumacher broke both his legs in a crash at the 1999 British GP at Silverstone.
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Inspired by Schumacher’s recovery and return to the driver’s seat, Charaf soon became a cult figure among the F1 paddock thanks to his abundant love for the sport.
A physiotherapist by trade, Charaf would close his business on Thursdays so he could devote undivided attention to every session of a grand prix weekend.
He became a presence around the F1 paddock in the years to come, frequently invited to join teams at events.
Charaf’s brother confirmed in a statement that the beloved superfan had passed away after a battle with cancer.
“It’s with my deepest sorrow that I have to inform you of the death of my beloved brother Charaf,” a statement read.
“As you may know, he was fighting against a cancer. He passed away surrounded by loved ones. Thank you to all ppl who showed support and love to him during his last fight.”
Charaf’s passing prompted an outpouring of tributes from F1 drivers past and present, with Australian star Daniel Ricciardo among them.
Ricciardo shared a picture of the pair together from his days at Red Bull Racing, describing Charaf as a ‘bright light’.
“Charaf sadly passed on the weekend. Loved when he was at the track, laughing and joking about something, mainly my terrible French,” Ricciardo wrote.
“I’ll remember him for just getting on with it with a smile regardless of the cards he was dealt through his life. Thank you for being a bright light.”
Charaf sadly passed on the weekend. Loved when he was at the track, laughing and joking about something, mainly my terrible French. I’ll remember him for just getting on with it with a smile regardless of the cards he was dealt through his life. Thank you for being a bright light pic.twitter.com/mMJLBuqgiY
— Daniel Ricciardo (@danielricciardo) March 18, 2021
Formula One tributes flow for superfan Charaf-Eddin Ait-Tales
F1 broadcaster Will Buxton, who memorably organised a ride on track for Charaf in a two-seater car during the 2018 Spanish GP weekend, was devastated.
“I’m utterly cut up and so desperately sad to hear the news of the passing of our dear sweet, passionate, wonderful friend Charaf,” he tweeted.
“One of life’s truly genuine people and the most beautiful soul. Everyone loved him. I’ll miss him awfully.”
Despite his vision impairment, Charaf knew exactly which corners were coming simply from memory.
Ferrari driver Charles LeClerc also paid tribute to the Frenchman.
“Charaf was such an amazing person. You always had a huge smile on your face every time we spoke together.
“Always so positive and always using the right words whenever I was feeling down.
“I’ll miss you, and the whole paddock will miss you. Rest In Peace my friend.”
Other F1 drivers, including the likes of 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and former Haas driver Romain Grosjean also paid tribute to the fallen fan.
One of the most passionate fans of our sport I ever met! @charafeddinF1 you will be so missed! I watched the YT piece of you getting a ride in the 2-seater @F1 car. It made me so happy to see your joy. Another reminder of the importance to enjoy the moment & special experiences. pic.twitter.com/AoVCsUdKA6
— Nico Rosberg (@NicoRosberg) March 18, 2021
Charaf was such an amazing person. You always had a huge smile on your face every time we spoke together. Always so positive and always using the right words whenever I was feeling down. I’ll miss you, and the whole paddock will miss you.
Rest In Peace my friend ❤️ pic.twitter.com/P1fAp7D7Qb
— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) March 17, 2021
Very sad news. Charaf was a true F1 lover with a unique feeling for it. Always smiling and friendly. The paddock will miss him
— Romain Grosjean (@RGrosjean) March 18, 2021
I’m so sorry to hear this! My good friend RIP, F1 community will always miss you and will never forget you. My thoughts with your family, I’ll keep our good times with myself forever. 🙏
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) March 17, 2021
The Formula 1 community will dearly miss the Frenchman’s presence when the 2021 season begins on March 29, with the first race of the season in Bahrain.
All 10 teams completed pre-season testing last week, with Ricciardo’s McLaren team hopeful they can build on a positive 2020 campaign with the addition of the race-winning Australian driver.
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