In the days to come, many words will be written about Jules Bianchi and with good reason. Many, much better, tributes and more insightful and well-said columns from those who knew him and those who travel with the Formula 1 circus will be forthcoming.
Regardless, my thoughts on Jules Bianchi are those of a fan and offered from the perspective and obtuse nature of one being out of range. However, I am still just as moved and saddened by the tragic loss of Jules Bianchi who died from yesterday from injuries sustained during the Japanese Grand Prix nine months ago.
Jules Bianchi was the first driver in the Ferrari young driver development plan and in my mind, he was destined to find a home at the Scuderia eventually—if not in 2016. He was a terrific talent and coming into focus as a driver for the future of the series.
From France, Jules participated in Formula Renault, Formula Three, Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 with varying levels of real success including a championship. Always racing at the sharp end of the race, Bianchi was a rising star and Ferrari knew it having selected him as their young driver for the development program.
As a driver in the Ferrari program, he participated in numerous Friday sessions and was loaned out to Sahara Force India and eventually signed to drive for the Marussia F1 team.
Bianchi gave Marussia their greatest moment as a team by securing 9th in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix. This secured 10th place in the championship and garnered millions in prize money that the team desperately needed.
For me, Jules Bianchi represented something very special—the resurgence of French drivers in the F1. France has long been absent from F1 with no grand prix and no drivers for years but with Bianchi, Jean-Eric Vergne and Romain Grosjean, the French were showing that the passion for motorsport is alive and well despite not having a grand prix.
Arguably the original home of grand prix racing, the new class of French drivers were of the traditional French DNA showing the courage, passion and noble character that had defined French racing culture in past decades.
As a Jacques Laffite turned Alain Prost fan, I was elated to see French drivers coming back to the front of F1. Jules Bianchi was, in my mind, the next French F1 driver to really make a mark. Bianchi was a French driver that demanded our attention and cautioned peers that he may be a force to be reckoned with.
Ultimately, Bianchi signaled that France is very much a contender and very much focused on F1 again. Bianchi’s success would have surely been instrumental in re-building French interest in racing and even a possible grand prix.
Was he a future champion?
It’s hard to know but what we can say about Bianchi is that he had all the earmarks of what you look for in a future champion. How do we know?
We often measure a driver by two main features—their ability to beat their teammate and their ability to place better than the car they are in actually deserves.
We’ve seen this from Fernando Alonso in a Minardi, Kimi Raikkonen in a Lotus, Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren, Jenson Button in a Honda, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen in a Toro Rosso, Senna in a Toleman, Schumacher in a Ferrari (late 90’s) and a Jordan, and Bianchi in a Marussia.
There is nothing easy in driving a car that has little hope of placing well and yet somehow making it stick, making the difference, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and forcing it to the front. True champions and drivers on top of their game do just that.
I have no doubt that Bianchi was heading toward a fruitful career in F1 and as Ferrari currently debate on who will replace Raikkonen in 2016 as the car seems to be coming on song, the timing may have been just right.
Safety in F1
The FIA initiated immediate changes to the series as a result of Bianchi’s crash in Japan and we’ve seen the Virtual Safety Car already this year with good effect.
There is no way to remove the risk of motorsport 100% and while the FIA have reacted to the Bianchi crash, it seems it was a culmination of factors that led to the incident not least of which is the speed at which Bianchi was traveling as he raced under double-yellow flags but then I would expect that from a true racer.
Regardless, it had been since 1994 with Senna’s untimely death that F1 has seen a death in the series. This past year as has seen two with Bianchi and Maria de Villota. Both were drivers for Marussia and both died from injuries sustained in crashes.
Speculating on what may have come to pass is one thing but in the end, we offer our deepest condolences to friends and family of Jules Bianchi. He’ll be missed by many and least of these is the entire nation of France and French racing as a whole in my estimation.
I know my words are hollow sympathy for the Bianchi family but please know that your son was a terrific talent, destined for success and an inspiration to fans all around the world…including this one. Rest in peace, Jules, you will be sorely missed.