Jules Bianchi was a star in the making. He was well respected within the Formula One paddock. Out on the track he was a hard racer who fought for everything. It is therefore a true reflection of his character that after a horrifying crash at the Japanese Grand Prix last year, he would fight for his life for nine months whilst in a coma. Sadly it would not be enough and he passed away on 17th July this year. Nevertheless his imprint on the world of F1 will not be forgotten. Furthermore, his death is a chilling reminder of the devastating nature of motorsport.
Bianchi was born in Nice on the 8th August 1989 and already had racing blood in him. He was the grandnephew of former racer Lucien Bianchi who competed in 19 grand prix between 1959 and 1961 and won the 1968 Le Mans 24-hour race before being killed in testing at the track a year later.
At the age of three Bianchi started racing with karts, where he would progress through the racing ranks. His talent was clearly evident. Current Williams driver Felipe Massa recently said that Bianchi was the best kart driver that he had ever seen. He seemed destined for great things.
The Frenchman continued to climb up the racing ladder, winning the French Formula Renault championship in 2007 followed by the Formula 3 Euro Series championship in 2009. This attracted the interest of the greatest and most prestigious name in racing: Ferrari. The prancing horse signed him up to their young driver programme in 2009 and he continued to impress by finishing runner-up in GP2 in 2010 and 2011.
After being a test driver for Ferrari and Force India, Bianchi finally got his chance in Formula 1, albeit with the small Marussia team. However, he was not like most of the other drivers racing for the teams at the back. He did not bring substantial sponsorship income. He was signed because of his talent.
Bianchi found himself racing at the back for the majority of his short career in F1. Despite this, he overcame the odds to record a 9th place finish at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, Marussia’s first ever points in F1.
Ferrari always kept a close eye on their young protégé. In fact a couple of days before his tragic crash at Suzuka there had been talk in the media of him replacing Kimi Räikkönen for the following season. At Hungary last weekend, race-winner Sebastian Vettel paid tribute to Bianchi: “Merci, Jules. Cette victoire est pour vous.” In English, the Ferrari driver added: “We know sooner or later you would have been in this team.”
However, he never got the chance. On lap 43 of the Japanese Grand Prix in torrential rainfall, Bianchi crashed at the Dunlop Curve hitting a recovery tractor that was helping Adrian Sutil’s Sauber. Track marshals reported that Bianchi was unconscious and was treated at the site. The race was immediately stopped with Lewis Hamilton being declared the winner. Bianchi was sent to the nearest hospital in intensive care in a critical condition.
His impact on F1, especially Marussia would remain. His two points at Monaco guaranteed the team the necessary funds to compete in this year’s championship and following the crash, the FIA have installed new safety measures to prevent further tragedies.
Nevertheless, danger has and will always be part and parcel of F1 and motorsport in general. Bianchi’s tragic story is akin to that of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli’s who died at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2011. Furthermore, there have been the deaths in other racing categories such as Dan Wheldon and Allan Simonsen in IndyCar and the Le Mans 24hour respectively.
However it had been over 20 years since the death of a driver at a grand prix weekend. That occurred at Imola in 1994 where the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and triple world champion Ayrton Senna were tragically claimed.
The FIA have done a fantastic job increasing driver safety since the 1980s when two drivers would be killed on average each year. They have made circuits a lot safer by installing large run off areas and gravel traps. They have also modernised the cars with many safety regulations such as headrests and race suits.
Bianchi’s accident thus highlights that the authorities should never give up on their quest of improving safety. And with Michael Schumacher’s life still on the line, F1 could be set for more tragedy.
Jules Bianchi’s death serves as a warning to F1 that danger will always linger, however we must also celebrate Bianchi’s natural talent and potential as a racing driver. Therefore, it was heart-warming to see the F1 community unite at the Hungarian Grand Prix for Jules and put on a fantastic show. It is what the inherent Jules Bianchi would have wanted. That one was for him.