Had it not been for a large patch of standing water at the Dunlop Curve, or the positioning of a large recovery vehicle attending to Adrian Sutil’s stranded Sauber, Formula 1 may not be talking about the first fatality for 21 years.
But such was fate on that Sunday afternoon, 5 October 2014 at the Suzuka Circuit, that we must unbearably face this gut-wrenching fact.
Jules Bianchi’s tragic and untimely death, caused as a result of severe head injuries sustained after hitting said recovery vehicle is a stark reminder that disaster lurks round the corner everywhere we go. For this fate to happen to anyone is heartbreaking enough, let alone a 25 year-old with an unquestionable desire and humility, a warm omnipresent smile and an undeniable amount of talent and potential.
Born in Nice on August 3 1989 to parents Philippe and Christine, Jules was destined to be a racing driver. It was in his blood. Great-uncle Lucien famously scored a podium finish at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix. He too would lose his life doing what he loved, after a crash preparing for the Le Mans 24 Hour race the following year.
His Grandfather Mauro also raced, in GTs and then in three non-F1 championship events.
After starting in Go-Karts at the age of six, Bianchi quickly found success and by 17, he partnered with Nicolas Todt who would manage him until his accident.
He left karts at 17 to join French Formula Renault with SG Formula. He won the title comfortably from nearest rival Mathieu Arzeno with five wins. From then, the route to the top was beckoning with increasing pace.
Bianchi then joined ART in Formula 3 Euroseries. It was then beginning of a successful relationship for the team run by manager Todt. Winning the Zolder F3 Masters in his debut year, he went on to take the title in 2009 with a round to spare.
The same year as his breakthrough F3 triumph, Bianchi was signed up to the Ferrari driver academy programme. Here he got his first taste of F1 machinery and in the coming years would test for the Scuderia on numerous occasions.
Two seasons in GP2 then followed and although he never won that series, he left his mark for F1 bosses in impressive fashion in 2011. His now famous battle with Racing Engineering’s Christian Vietoris for the lead of the Silverstone feature race is testament to the skill and respect Bianchi showed throughout his career. Running side-by-side in an at-the-time slower car and always fighting back proved the tenacity of the Frenchman.
It was this tenacity that was so evident three years later in his battle for life.
A year in Formula Renault 3.5 and Bianchi was once again fighting for the championship. Losing out controversially to Dutchman Robin Frijns, Bianchi was nevertheless rewarded with race seat in Formula One with Marussia alongside Britain’s Max Chilton.
Starting your career at an noncompetitive team is always difficult, particularly when you have talent in abundance like Bianchi. Still, the smile would never disappear for he knew a good job done would reap rewards down the line. He had Ferrari’s backing and then chairman Luca di Montezemolo has since revealed that Bianchi had indeed been selected to drive for the team when the opportunity was there. He was their hope and their project. Ferrari would teach him and the Niçois would deliver.
A year on and Marussia finally scored their first championship points, courtesy of Bianchi’s 9th placed finish in the Monaco Grand Prix. The exaltation of their first points in their history and an estimated bonus of $30 million for the 2015 season made sure Bianchi’s name went down in history.
But alas, the exaltation was replaced with sheer agony and fear come October, The details of his horrific crash have been reported and repeated and need not be divulged once more. Bianchi suffered a difuse axonal injury – the most severe brain trauma the human being can suffer. The chances of survival are slim in most cases, and those of any meaningful recovery even lower still.
The fact that Bianchi was able to battle so hard for these arduous nine months was another sign of the true fighter that lay within the Frenchman. Fighting right until the end like he always did, Jules Bianchi will always be remembered for his outgoing personality, his fantastic smile, his fierce competitiveness, his respect on and off the track among his peers and his immense speed and talent.
A true racer has been lost. F1, as Bernie Ecclestone says, must never let this happen again.