Jules Bianchi (1989 – 2015)

Following shock news reports, the world lost a true icon in the world of racing one month ago. Jules Bianchi sadly passed away on the 17th July 2015, coming just 9 months after a racing accident which had left him with severe head injuries. Jules’ death comes just 21 years after the former Formula 1 racer, Ayrton Senna, lost his life in the 1994 San Morino Grand Prix, following an accident whilst on the track.

This came as a shock to the racing world, and it had also shocked me, because I hadn’t realised just how bad his head injuries were until they announced his death.

This tribute article will take a look back on Jules Bianchi’s life as it unfolded, and will also include the highlights of his career up until his death.

Jules Bianchi (3rd August 1989 – 17th July 2015)

Jules Bianchi was a French motor-racing driver who had raced for the Marussia F1 in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Jules Bianchi had previously raced in the Formula Renault 3.5, the GP2 Series and Formula Three, and was also a Ferrari Driver Academy member. He had entered Formula 1 as a practice driver in 2012 for Sahara Force India, and in 2013, Bianchi had made his debut in driving for Marussia, finishing 15th in his opening race in Australia, and ended the season in 19th position without scoring any points.

His best result that year was when he came 13th at the Malaysian Grand Prix, and in October 2013, the team had confirmed that he would drive for the team the following season. In the 2014 season, Jules Bianchi had scored both his and the Marussia’s first points in Formula One at the Monaco Grand Prix.

On the 5th October 2014, during the Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi had lost control of his Marussia in damp and dismal conditions, and had collided with a recovery vehicle, suffering from a diffuse axonal injury as a result of the accident. He had immediately underwent emergency surgery and was placed into an induced coma, and had remained comatose until his death on the 17th July 2015. Jules Bianchi is the first Formula 1 Driver since 1994 to be killed as a result of an accident during a race event since Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Jules’ Personal Life

Jules Bianchi was born in Nice, in France, to Philippe and Christine Bianchi. He had two siblings, his brother, Tom, and his sister Melanie, and had been in a long-term relationship with his French girlfriend, Camille Marchetti. In later times, media reports had also referred to a German girlfriend, Gina, who had moved to Nice.

Jules Bianchi was the grandson of Mauro Bianchi, who had competed in GT Racing during the 1960s and also three non-championship Formula One Grand Prix in 1961. He was also the grandnephew of Lucien, who had competed in 19 Formula One Grand Prix’s between 1959 and 1968, and won the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans, before dying during Le Mans testing the following year. Jules Bianchi’s favourite racing driver was Michael Schumacher.

Jules’ Early Career

Jules Bianchi’s exposure to motorsport had started at around 3 years of age through karting, and he was facilitated by the fact that his father had owned a kart track. Since the age of 17, Bianchi was professionally managed by Nicolas Todt.

Formula Renault 2.0

In 2007, Bianchi had left kart racing and had raced in the French Formula Renault 2.0 for SG Formula, where he had finished as the champion with five wins. He had also competed in the Formula Renault Eurocup where he had one pole position and one of the fastest laps in three races.

Formula 3 Euro

In late 2007, Jules Bianchi had signed with the ART Grand Prix to compete in the Formula 3 Euro Series, and in 2008, he had won the Masters of Formula 3 at Zolder, and had also finished third in the 2008 Formula 3 Euro Series season.

Jules Bianchi had continued in the F3 Euroseries in 2009, and had also leaded ART’s line-up along with the rookie team-mates, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrien Tambay. With eight wins, Bianchi had sealed the title with a round to spare, at Dijon-Prenois. He had then added a ninth win to the final round at Hockenheim. He had also driven in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series at Monaco, after the SG Formula had acquired the cars that were formerly run by Kurt Mollekens.

GP2

Jules Bianchi had driven for ART in the subsequent GP2 Asia season and the 2010 GP2 season, and he had competed in three of the four rounds of the GP2 Asia championship. In the main series, Bianchi had taken two pole positions and a number of points positions before he was injured in a first lap crash at the Hungaroring.

In the feature race, Jules Bianchi had spun into the path of the field, exiting the first corner, and was struck head-on by Ho-Pin Tung, sustaining a fractured second lumbar vertebra in the process. Bianchi was fourth in the drivers’ championship at the time of his injury. Despite the initial pessimistic injury assessments of the severity of his injury, Bianchi had recovered to take part in the next round of the championship.

Jules Bianchi had remained with ART for 2011, and was later partnered by the 2010 GP3 Series Champion, Esteban Gutiérrez. There, he would star in the first two rounds of the 2011 GP2 Asia Series, holding off Romain Grosjean for victory in the feature race and gaining fourth in the sprint race, but was later penalised. He had finished as the runner-up to Grosjean in the drivers’ championship. In the main series alone, Jules Bianchi had finished third in the championship, behind Grosjean and Luca Filippi.

Formula Renault 3.5

Jules Bianchi had opted to switch to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series for 2012, following his one-off appearance in the category in 2009, and he signed for the Tech 1 Racing team, and was partnered with Kevin Korjus, and later on with Daniel Abt.

Jules Bianchi’s Formula One Career

Ferrari & Sahara Force India (test roles)

In the August of 2009, Jules Bianchi was linked by the BBC and other various media outlets to the second Ferrari Formula One seat that was occupied by Luca Badoer during Felipe Massa’s absence. Jules Bianchi had tested for Ferrari at the young drivers test at Circuito de Jerez for two of the three days over the course of the 1st & 2nd December 2009.

The other drivers that were tested on the 3rd December had included Daniel Zampieri, Marco Zipoli & Pablo Sánchez López as the top three finishers in the 2009 Italian Formula Three Championship. Bianchi’s performance in this test had led to him becoming the first recruit of the Ferrari Driver Academy and signing up to a long-term deal to remain at the team’s disposal.

On the 11th November 2010, Jules Bianchi was confirmed by Ferrari as the team’s test and reserve driver for the 2011 season, which would replace Luca Badoer, Giancarlo Fisichella and Marc Gené, as well as confirming that he would test for the team during the young driver test in Abu Dhabi over the 16th & 17th November. Bianchi had carried on his GP2 racing, as Formula 1 allows the test and reserve drivers to race in parallel in other competitions. On the 13th September 2011, Jules Bianchi had tested for Ferrari at Fiorano, as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, with the fellow academy member and Sauber F1 driver, Sergio Pérez.

Jules Bianchi had completed 70 laps and had also recorded the quickest lap time of 1:00.213. For the 2012 Season, Ferrari had loaned him to the Sahara Force India team, for whom he had driven in nine Friday free practice sessions over the course of the year as the outfit’s test and reserve driver.

Marussia F1 – 2013

On the 1st March 2013, Marussia had announced that Bianchi was to replace Luiz Razia as the race driver, after Razia’s contract was terminated, due to sponsorship issues. Jules Bianchi had qualified 19th for the Australian Grand Prix, also out-qualifying his team-mate, Max Chilton, by three-quarters of a second. Jules Bianchi had overtaken Pastor Maldonado and also Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap, and he had eventually finished 15th on his debut.

He was 19th on the grid again in Malaysia, 0.3 seconds away from Q2, but Bianchi had fallen behind the Caterhams at the start of the race, but moved up the order after the pit stops, eventually going on to finish 13th, ahead of his team-mate, and both the Caterhams. As of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Bianchi had beaten his team-mate in all of the qualifying sessions and also all races that both of them had finished. In the Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi and Charles Pic of Caterham were given the ten-place grid penalties for receiving three reprimands over the season, and at the race, his race had ended early after a collision with Giedo va der Garde.

Marussia F1 – 2014

In the October of 2013, Marussia had confirmed that Jules Bianchi would stay at the team for the following season, and after starting the season off with struggles in Australia, in which he was not classified, Jules Bianchi had overcome the odds to score his, and his team’s first World Championship points by finishing 9th at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Out of the nine races that Bianchi and Chilton had completed without retiring, during the 2014 season, he was the quicker driver in eight of them, establishing his status as the first driver. Chilton had retired twice, and Bianchi five times, with three of Bianchi’s retirements being due to mechanical failures.

Just days before his fatal accident, Jules Bianchi had declared himself “ready” to step into the Scuderia Ferrari race seat should the team need him amid the looming departure of Fernando Alonso.

The 2014 Suzuka Accident

The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix was held on the 5th October 2014, under intermittent heavy rainfall that was caused by the fast approaching Typhoon Phanfone and in fading daylight. On the 43rd lap of the race, Jules Bianchi had lost control of his car and had veered right towards the run-off area on the outside of the Dunlop Curve (turn seven) of the Suzuka Circuit. He had collided with the rear of a tractor crane tending to the removal of Adrian Sutil’s Sauber after Sutil had spun out of control and crashed in the same area a lap before.

The spectators’ video footage and photographs of the accident had revealed that the left side of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia car was extensively damaged and the roll bar was destroyed as it slid under the tractor crane. The impact as such showed that the tractor crane was partially jolted off the ground, causing Sutil’s Sauber, which was suspended in the air by the crane, to fall back to the ground. The race was then stopped altogether and Lewis Hamilton was declared the winner.

Jules Bianchi was reported to have been unconscious after failing to respond to either a team radio call or the marshals. He was treated at the crash site before being taken by ambulance to the circuit’s medical centre. Since there was no possibility of transport via helicopter, due to the precarious and dangerous weather conditions at that stage, Bianchi was further transported by ambulance for 32 minutes, under police escort. The nearest hospital destination available was the Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in Yokkaichi, which was some 15 km (9.3 miles) away from the Suzuka circuit.

The initial reports by his father, Philippe, to the television channel, France 3, were that Jules Bianchi was in a critical condition with a head injury and was undergoing an operation to reduce the severe bruising to his head. The FIA had subsequently said that the CT scans had shown that Bianchi had suffered a “severe head injury” in the crash, and that he would be admitted to intensive care following the surgery.

Among his first hospital visitors immediately after the Grand Prix were Marussia’s CEO, Graeme Lowdon, and the team principal, John Booth (the latter staying by Jules Bianchi’s side even after the inaugural Russian Grand Prix), as well as Ferrari’s team principal, Marco Mattiacci, and the Formula 1 driver, Felipe Massa.

On the 6th October, Pastor Maldonado and the manager, and also the assistant manager that he shared with Bianchi – namely, Nicholas Todt and Alessandro Alunni Bravi, respectively, also visited the hospital. Bianchi’s parents had arrived later that day, and were joined three days later, by their other children, Mélanie and Tom, as well as Jules’ best friend, Lorenz Leclerc.

The family had released a statement the next day, expressing their appreciation for the outpouring of support from the public, and for the presence of the Professor, Gerard Saillant, the President of the FIA Medical Commission, and the Professor, Alessandro Frati, the neurosurgeon of the Sapienza University of Rome, who had travelled to Japan at the request of Scuderia Ferrari. They had also provided a medical update, which confirmed that the injury Jules Bianchi suffered from was a diffuse axonal injury, and that he was in a critical, but stable condition.

The initial media reports made in October 2014, which were said to be based on the information obtained from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) documents, claimed that the speed at the moment of the loss of control was recorded at 212 km/h (132 mph), and that the impact had generated 92 g0 (900 m/s2). This data was sourced from Jules Bianchi’s g-sensors in his earplugs, however, it was then understood that these earplugs had slipped out at that crucial moment.

The subsequent calculations in July 2015 had indicated a peak of 254 g0 (2,490 m/s2), and the data from the FIA’s World Accident Database (WADB) – which sources the information from racing accidents worldwide – also indicated that Bianchi’s impact had occurred 2.61 seconds after the loss of control, at a speed of 123 km/h (76 mph) and at an angle of 55 degrees. According to Andy Mellor, the Vice President of the FIA Safety Commission, this is the equivalent of dropping a “car 48 meters to the ground without a crumple zone”.

The Team & Driver Reactions

Following the Russian Grand Prix, Marussia’s CEO, Graeme Lowdon, had confirmed that the team would return to a two-car operation for the remainder of the season, however, the team had entered administration prior to the next race, the United States Grand Prix. The team’s financial backer, Andrei Cheglakov, had later revealed that Jules Bianchi’s crash was a key factor in the Russian’s decision to end his financial support of the team and quit Formula One.

After the 2015 Australian Grand Prix in March, John Booth, who is now the team’s principal of the newly established Manor Marussia F1 team, paid tribute to Jules Bianchi’s point performance at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, since the prize money that was won had enabled the team to stay in Formula One. In addition, coinciding with the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, Manor Marussia had continued to show support for Jules Bianchi with the use of special red wristbands that had the inscription: “Monaco 2014 P8 JB17”.

The FIA’s Reaction & Investigation

Following Jules Bianchi’s accident, the FIA had began an investigation and had also considered the appropriate changes to the safety procedures, such as those at the Brazilian Grand Prix, where the location of a tractor crane serving the Senna S chicane was altered.

The FIA had also released its initial findings at a special conference, which was held during the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on the Saturday after the Japanese Grand Prix’s weekend. Among many other things, it was quickly revealed that Bianchi had slowed down at Suzuka’s Turn 7, but without disclosing by what margin or the speed of impact, and that the journey to the hospital by ambulance took only an extra 37 minutes relative to the helicopter, without any adverse effects on Bianchi’s condition.

Furthermore, the FIA had confirmed ongoing research into closed cockpits for the Formula One cars, with the possibility of fitting protective skirting to all recovery vehicles, as well as ways to slow down cars in the crash zones more effectively than double yellow flags. With respect to the latter, the FIA had moved to quickly consider the introduction of a virtual safety cars – or VSC system – which was then effectively tested during the season’s final three Grand Prix in the United States, Brazil & Abu Dhabi – based on the Le Mans racing “slow zone” arrangement that did not neutralise the race proceedings as much as the safety car periods. The following week, the FIA had reportedly emailed all of the teams to request that they retain any information that was related to Jules Bianchi’s Suzuka accident, for exclusive use by an accident panel, established by the FIA to investigate Jules Bianchi’s accident.

A week later, the FIA had announced a review panel that would investigate the cause of the accident, which was made up of former driver and team principals, and published its findings four weeks later. The report had found that there was no single cause of Bianchi’s accident. Instead, the contributing factors were found to have included the track’s conditions, the car speed and also the presence of a recovery vehicle on the circuit.

The report itself had also made several suggestions to improve safety when recovering the stricken vehicles – which were subsequently introduced for the 2015 season – before concluding that it would have not been possible to mitigate Jules Bianchi’s injuries through the changes to the cockpit design. The report had also revealed that the fail-safe for the car’s brake-by-wire system had failed, and despite this, Marussia was found to not be responsible for the accident.

For the 2015 season, while on safety grounds, the FIA had also implemented the measures to alter the start time of certain Grand Prix’s by requiring that it is not less than four hours before either sunset or dusk, except in the case of official night races. In July 2015, Peter Wright, who is the Chairman of the FIA Safety Commission, was quoted as saying that a closed cockpit would have not averted Bianchi’s head injuries, while the Vice President, Andy Mellow, had also confirmed that attaching impact protection to the recovery vehicles was not the feasible solution.

Jules Bianchi’s Medical Treatment & Updates

The first family update which followed Jules Bianchi’s emergency surgery was made by his father in the week beginning the 13th October 2014. Jules Bianchi was reported to be in a “desperate” condition, with the doctors describing his survival as a miracle. Even so, his father had openly stated that he had drawn hope from Michael Schumacher waking from his coma. Marussia had also issued regular updates on Jules Bianchi’s condition, while rejecting the initial speculation about their role in the accident.

While he was hospitalised in Yokkaichi, Jules Bianchi had remained in a critical, but stable condition, and had also required a medical ventilator. He was taken out of his artificial coma in November 2014 and had began to breathe unaided, making his relocation to France for admission at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice (fr) (CHU), possible. There, Jules Bianchi had remained unconscious and in a critical condition, but more accessible to his family for their daily vigil. On the 13th July 2015, Jules Bianchi’s father had publicly conceded as becoming “less optimistic” as a consequence of no significant progress, and the lapse of time since the accident.

Death

Jules Bianchi sadly passed away on the 17th July 2015, aged just 25, from his injuries which were sustained at the time of his accident in Suzuka 9 months prior. His death had made him the first Formula 1 driver to be killed by injuries sustained during a Grand Prix since Ayrton Senna in 1994.

In their official statement, Jules Bianchi’s family said:

“It is with deep sadness that the parents of Jules Bianchi, Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie, wish to make it known that Jules passed away last night at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Nice. Jules fought to the end, as he has always done, but yesterday his battle ended. We feel an immense and indescribable pain.” – Jules Bianchi’s Family

The funeral service was held at the Nice Cathedral on the 21st July 2015. Jules Bianchi lies at rest in his native city.

Tributes

The widespread tributes had followed from fellow past and present drivers, such as Bernie Ecclestone, the French President, François Hollande, and other sports personalities. The Manor Marussia team had also published a statement on their Facebook page, and they described Jules Bianchi as, among other things, “a magnificent human being” and a “shining talent”.

The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had announced that it had felt a responsibility “to never relent in improving safety”. The FIA President, Jean Todt had also announced that race number 17 would be retired from the list of those available for Formula 1 Drivers, as a mark of respect.

While he paid his respects, Luca di Montezemolo had also stated that thanks to the GP2 experience and the fine performance with Marussia and in test sessions, Jules Bianchi was the racing driver that Scuderia Ferrari had chosen for the future, even while he was described as being a would-be replacement for Kimi Räikkönen.

Chilton had dedicated his maiden Indy Lights pole position and race win, which he had scored on the same weekend as Bianchi’s death, to his former Marussia team-mate.

A one-minute silence was held on the grid before the start of the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix in Jules Bianchi’s honour, and also in the presence of his family surrounded by the current drivers. The commemorative stickers on the helmets and the cars were the other leading tributes at that race. The race winner, Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, had dedicated his maiden Hungarian win to Jules Bianchi and his family, acknowledging that the Frenchman would have been a part of the team in the future. Daniil Kvyat had also dedicated his maiden podium finish as did the third-place runner-up, Daniel Ricciardo.

This tribute article comes to an end, I will miss Jules Bianchi, not just for how much of an impact he had on the racing world, but also the impact he had on me and everyone else as well. You will be missed dearly Jules, but you will never be forgotten for the wonderful legacy you’ve left behind. We miss you, but you are always remembered in our hearts forever.

Alex Smithson

4 thoughts on “Jules Bianchi (1989 – 2015)

    1. I can’t imagine how you must have felt seeing the accident unfold. The thing to think about now is that he is at peace, and he is no longer suffering. He has left behind not just a legacy of his own, but he has left a mark in the positive way on the world of racing. We miss you Jules Bianchi.

      Alex Smithson

      Liked by 1 person

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