A trio of Formula 1 Grand Prix winners watched from court-side as the NBA hit Paris, even challenging two basketball icons to a game of pick-up on Friday.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, 2023 Alpine signing Pierre Gasly and his new team-mate Esteban Ocon descended on the French capital to witness a showdown between the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls put on a clinic as basketball’s grandest show returned to Europe for the first time since 2020, beating the Pistons 126-108 with Zach LaVine the driving force.
The French F1 duo and their Monegasque pal were joined at the Accor Arena by a host of celebrities, including music powerhouse Pharell Williams and retired World Cup winner Gerard Pique.
Pre-match a series of videos emerged on social media of Gasly and Leclerc in action, having been tempted into a pick-up match by Joakim Noah and Tony Parker.
La victoire est en jeu, alors ça se la donne évidemment, même en exhib'. pic.twitter.com/5eIOgkXCHV
— Florian Benfaïd (@FloBnf) January 19, 2023
Although both men have retired, the NBA all-star duo were on-hand to ensure Leclerc – dubiously listed as 1.8m tall online – and Gasly (1.77m) didn’t get any ideas about a career-change.
The five most entertaining drivers on the F1 2023 grid
Where are they now? The F1 2008 grid for Lewis Hamilton’s dramatic first title
F1 2023 predictions: Which driver will win each team-mate battle in 2023?
Perhaps they should have roped in Ocon, the tallest man on the Formula 1 grid at 1.86m.
Leclerc had just arrived from the peaks of northern Italy’s towering Dolomites mountain range, having enjoyed a training camp alongside his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.
The Monegasque driver is gearing-up for another title tilt, starting on March 5, having finished a distant second to Max Verstappen last season.
Leclerc posted a series of stunning shots to his Instagram from epic hikes across snow-covered mountain landscapes. The Ferrari star has been enjoying some off-season rock climbing to help him get in shape for a demanding 23-race season, too.
Meanwhile, Ocon has been welcoming his countryman Gasly to Alpine. The French team will field and all-native driver line-up for 2023 and hope to build on an impressive fourth-place in the Constructors’ Championship last season, edging season-long British rivals McLaren.
Gasly moves across from Alpha-Tauri, leaving the Red Bull programme after a long stretch.
Tension between the two Frenchmen stemming back to the junior formulas has been a major talking point in the 2023 build-up but Gasly has already rubbished concerns that either drivers holds a grudge.
“To me, it’s a topic which is way too much talked about,” Gasly told Autosport.
“We get on well. OK, we are not best friends, but we get on. We did some events, we speak to each other, and when I look down the paddock, the relationship between other teammates, I think there are definitely [some] worse than us.
“If you want to discuss about me and Esteban, you can probably talk about the relationship between 60% of the guys down the paddock. So no, we’re fine.”