by Joe Saward.
It is with great sadness that I must report the death last night of Jules Bianchi, at the age of 25. Bianchi had been in hospital in Nice since November, having been repatriated from Japan after his unfortunate collision with a safety vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on October 5 last year.
Of all the Formula 1 racers of the modern era, Bianchi was the one with perhaps the best understanding of what motorsport is truly like. He came from a family that knew only too well about the triumphs and tragedies of the sport. His great-grandfather had been a mechanic with the Alfa Romeo factory team in the 1930s, before moving to Belgium to work with racer Johnny Claes. Bianchi’s two sons became Belgian citizens as a result of that move and both Lucien and Mauro turned to motor racing in their teens. Lucien’s first event was the Alpine Rally in 1951 when he was just 17 years old. There was not much money but Lucien did well and teamed with Olivier Gendebien he won the Tour de France Automobile in 1957.He won the event for three consecutive years. He won the Paris 1000 sports car race at Montlhery several times as well and in 1960 fulfilled an ambition by making his F1 debut, albeit in an old Cooper and then moved on to join Ecurie Nationale Belge, driving an uncompetitive Emeryson. After that experience he went back to touring cars, sportscars and rallying, enjoying successes in all of them, winning the Liege-Sofia-Liege for Citroen in 1961 and leading the London-Sydney Marathon before colliding with a non-competing car. He went on to win the Sebring 12 Hours in 1962 at the wheel of a Ferrari which he shared with Jo Bonnier and then in 1968 went back to Formula 1 as a member of the Cooper-BRM team. That same year his brother Mauro (Jules’s grandfather) was seriously injured in a fiery accident at Le Mans which ended his career and left him badly scarred. Lucien won the race with a Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40, which he shared with Pedro Rodriguez. Early in 1969 he was testing for the Alfa Romeo team when his car suffered a mechanical failure on the Mulsanne Straight and crashed into a telegraph pole. He was killed instantly. As a result of the accidents the family frowned on any active racing in the next generation but Mauro’s son Philippe ran a kart track at Antibes on the French Riviera. Jules grew up watching the racing and as soon as his feet could touch the pedals of a kart he was at the wheel. He was unable to race until he was 10 but he enjoyed a successful karting career before switching to cars and winning the French Formula Renault 2.0 title in 2007, with five victories. He moved to Formula 3 with ART Grand Prix and in 2008 won the Masters of Formula 3 at Zolder and finished third Formula 3 Euro Series. He returned to the same series in 2009, alongside team-mates Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrien Tambay and dominated, winning nine races. He moved to GP2 with ART in 2010 and later that year was named as a Ferrari test driver for 2011. He continued to race in GP2 and later the Renault 3.5 World Series and was signed to race for Marussia in F1 in 2013. He finished eighth on the road in Monaco in 2014, but dropped to ninth as a result of a penalty. Those points, however, won the team prize money for 2015 and 2016 and became the only reason that the team was able to survive its period of administration and revive this year. Alas, the accident at Suzuka followed.
Motor racing is a cruel sport, despite the best efforts that are made to try to protect the drivers from all possible dangers. Even with the knowledge of what his family had had to endure, Bianchi chose to pursue F1 as his career. He knew what he was doing. Motor racing is dangerous and the competitors know the risks that they take. The safety levels in F1 are impressive, but when one is pushing the limits there are always going to be accidents and, sadly, Jules Bianchi fell victim to one. It should be remembered that this is the first death resulting from an accident in a Grand Prix since Ayrton Senna 21 years ago at Imola.
The greatest sadness is perhaps the wasted potential – as with so many accidents in the history of the sport. Bianchi was a Ferrari young driver and if all had gone to plan he would perhaps have ended up racing for the great Italian team.
“The pain we feel is immense and indescribable,” his family said this morning in a statement. “We wish to thank the medical staff at Nice’s CHU who looked after him with love and dedication. We also thank the staff of the General Medical Center in the Mie Prefecture (Japan) who looked after Jules immediately after the accident, as well as all the other doctors who have been involved with his care over the past months. Furthermore, we thank Jules’ colleagues, friends, fans and everyone who has demonstrated their affection for him over these past months, which gave us great strength and helped us deal with such difficult times. Listening to and reading the many messages made us realise just how much Jules had touched the hearts and minds of so many people all over the world. We would like to ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time, while we try to come to terms with the loss of Jules.”
Jules is survived by his parents Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie.