Remembering Jules

Nine months after his heavy accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi lost his battle for survival. The sport that had filled his twenty five years of life was also the one that had it taken away. It was the first time in over twenty years that an F1 driver had died as a result of injuries sustained over a race weekend.

It was a life that had promised much. With a solid career in the junior racing series’, Bianchi was the first driver to be recruited to Ferrari’s Driver Academy, an initiative developed by Ferrari to develop and promote young drivers. Getting valuable experience as a test driver for Force India in 2012, he moved to Marussia to race for the 2013 season. His first year was a success, regularly out-qualifying and beating his English team-mate Max Chilton.

2014 continued in similar form for Bianchi as he regularly outclassed Chilton as the quicker driver when the two men both finished in a car which was unreliable. At the sixth round of the season, Bianchi scored the first and only points in the short history of Marussia with eighth, later demoted to a ninth-placed finish, gifting his struggling team vital points which would see them survive the financial troubles that their fellow cash-strapped rival Caterham did not.

Bianchi had been more than just a fast driver. The grandson and grandnephew of professional racing drivers, both GT and F1 drivers themselves, he had racing in his blood. He was one of the more popular men in the sport, not just with fans but with rival drivers and team personnel. A kind young man who was always courteous to all who met him, his was a life that many were proud to be a part of.

During the 2009 season, he had been linked to Ferrari as a replacement for Luca Badoer, Badoer himself a temporary replacement for the injured Felipe Massa. Seen as too inexperienced at the time, he would, years later, be linked again in 2014 as is speed and talent was evident to all. Mere days before his accident which would prove to be fatal, he was asked if he felt ready. Answering in his typical calm but assured manner, he explained that his career had been leading up to the moment of driving for the Italian team.

On lap 43 of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi lost control of his Marussia in the torrential conditions, sliding off the track at an estimated speed of 76 mph and at a force of 200g. He slid under a tractor crane brought out to retrieve Adrian Sutil’s stationary Sauber car. The car struck the tractor which such force the tractor was jolted into the air and the car’s roll bar destroyed. He was brought to the local hospital some 15km away via ambulance as the medical helicopter was unable to fly in the unsafe weather. Following being placed into a coma CT scans discovered a diffuse axonal injury, a severe head injury with over 90% of patients never regaining consciousness.

A month afterwards, Bianchi’s condition became stable but remained serious. This enabled him to breath without a ventilator and be relocated at a hospital in Nice where his family lived and he himself had been born. His father spoke of his optimism for his son, stating Michael Schumacher’s waking from his coma as evidence for hope.  Many months followed the October crash with few updates. Well-wishers were always on side, with FIA president Jean Todt one of the many, aside from his parents and siblings who would come and stay at Jules’ bedside.

Jules Bianchi passed away two weeks before his 26th birthday on July 17th, 2015. Tributes poured in from around motorsport and all corners of the world. All drivers and teams carried tributes on their cars and overalls at the following weekend’s race in Hungary. Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo had stated the day after the accident that Bianchi had been a candidate for a coveted Ferrari seat in 2015. It was later revealed that the Frenchman had signed a contract to race for Sauber in 2015 campaign.

As the year ends, the first year with a Formula One death since that of Ayrton Senna in 1994, it is a stark reminder of the reality of motorsport. So many crashes had been walked away from, so many near misses, it could have been assumed that modern F1 cars were bulletproof. Safety has come a long way over the previous two decades, and such is the progress made that the 2000s was the first and so far only decade without a fatal accident in the history of the sport. However the sport can never stop in the pursuit of safety as once again it is one soul less, with a set of siblings will live their lives without a cherished brother, parents forever missing a son.

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