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Taken too soon – Jules Bianchi dies

Jules Bianchi, pictured during testing in 2014, has died aged 25 (Image: Ferrari)

Jules Bianchi, pictured during testing in 2014, has died aged 25 (Image: Ferrari)

The Formula 1 community is in mourning following the passing of 25-year old Jules Bianchi on Friday night 17 July 2015. Bianchi had been hospitalised since suffering head trauma during the Japanese Grand Prix on 5 October 2014 and never regained consciousness after the crash..

In a sport that has made enormous developments in driver safety over the past few decades, it comes as a real shock that a driver can die as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during a Grand Prix. Bianchi’s death is a reminder of the inherent dangers in motorsport and the constant need to improve safety wherever possible.

Bianchi’s death marks the second tragedy to befall the Marussia F1 team, after the death of Maria de Villota in October 2013. De Villota was involved in a testing crash in July 2012, as a result of which she lost her right eye. Although she was released from hospital and resumed her public life, on 11 October 2013 De Villota suffered a cardiac arrest, which may have been related to her injuries of a year before. She was dead at just 33-years old.

It’s been 21 years since a driver died as a result of a crash on a Grand Prix weekend. The last driver to do so before Bianchi was, of course, Ayrton Senna. I remember watching Senna’s crash live on television and I remember vividly watching the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and fearing a similar fate for Bianchi. I’m sure the loss I feel in the wake of Bianchi’s death is but a shadow of the anguish his family is going through. My thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.

Jules Bianchi was a phenomenal talent. He won races in Formula 2, Formula 3, Gp2 and Formula Renault 3.5 before progressing to Formula 1, where he immediately impressed. He scored the first ever points (and only points to-date) for the Marussia F1 team when he finished 9th at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix.

As a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Bianchi was frequently speculated to be in the running for a Ferrari Formula 1 drive, which could well have happened if not for his fatal injury. Bianchi was Ferrari’s test and reserve driver in 2011 and fulfilled the same role for Force India in 2012 before making his F1 race debut in 2013 for Marussia.

Bianchi was considered by many to be a future race winner and potential world champion. In that respect, and in terms of his clear skill behind the wheel of a racing car, comparisons can be drawn with the late Gilles Villeneuve, who is considered one of the great talents of Formula 1 but died without a championship to his name.

Early on Saturday morning 18 July 2015, the Bianchi family released the following statement:

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 (CHU) in Nice, (France) where he was admitted following the accident of 5th October 2014 at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end,” said the Bianchi family. “The pain we feel is immense and indescribable. 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.”

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Bianchi deserves a Ferrari drive

Jules Bianchi tests for Ferrari in July 2014

Jules Bianchi tests for Ferrari in July 2014 (Image credit: Ferrari)

Jules Bianchi, the young Frenchman who drives for F1 backmarkers Marussia, deserves a seat in a top team. More specifically, he deserves to drive for Ferrari.

Bianchi has impressed all the way through the single seater formulae. But since making it to Formula 1 at the beginning of 2013, he has consistently demonstrated the skill and maturity €required  to merit a drive with Ferrari, the organisation that has backed his rise to Formula 1.

Bianchi is part of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, and therefore has the support of Formula 1’s most famous team as he builds his career in motor sport. While that’s a great position for any young driver to be in, it’s becoming more and more clear that the question needs to be asked: Why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari?

A Formula 1 driver in a slow car has one major aim – to beat his team-mate. To say Bianchi has beaten his team-mate at Marussia is to make a quite ridiculous understatement. Bianchi has obliterated his team-mate – Max Chilton – since the first time he sat in the cockpit of  a Marussia F1 car.

But more than that, Bianchi has put Marussia on the F1 map. Significantly, he scored the team’s first ever points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix when he finished 8th (he was demoted to 9th as a result of a penalty incurred during the race).

Today, Bianchi showed his class yet again, by qualifying 16th for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix. 16th doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but consider that Bianchi was over a second a half quicker than his own team-mate in Q1 and matched the Q1 lap time of  Sauber’s Adrian Sutil.

Whenever difficult conditions present themselves – like in today’s wet Belgian GP qualifying session – Bianchi performs extremely well. Whenever conditions are ideal, Bianchi generally outperforms his team-mate. More cannot be asked of a racing driver in any category.

Ferrari’s drivers in 2014 are Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Both are former world champions, which is very unusual for Ferrari – before signing Michael Schumacher for 1996, Ferrari had typically employed up-and-coming drivers and until signing Kimi Raikkonen for this season, Ferrari had never re-employed a former Ferrari world champion.

Jules Bianchi is the ideal driver for Ferrari. He has talent in abundance – that much is very clear. He has shown maturity and determination in his performances in Formula 1 – indicating that he would do the same for Ferrari. Bianchi is also young and has no particular achievements that demand a high salary (he’s not a world champion or even a race winner yet, mostly as the result of not having a quick enough car) – which leaves more of Ferrari’s budget available for car development.

So why is Bianchi not driving for Ferrari? Honestly, I don’t know. If Ferrari don’t come to their senses and offer him a drive for 2015, it is likely that Bianchi will be winning races for one of the other top teams next season.

Chilton needed a retirement

Max Chilton crashed out of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, his first F1 retirement (Image: Tambeau212)

Max Chilton crashed out of the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, his first F1 retirement (Image: Tambeau212)

Max Chilton recorded his first ever Formula 1 retirement in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix. It’s probably the most important event that has occurred in his short F1 career thus far.

Chilton has had a monkey on his back for some time now. That monkey has been his reliability. He finished every race of his debut season in 2013 and followed that up by finishing the first six races of 2014 – a run of 25 consecutive race finishes, which is impressive for any driver in Formula 1.

The problem was it became his claim to fame. Chilton was the driver who finished every race. It’s certainly not a problem to finish races. Finishing is essential to results. But finishing is not a result in itself. Winning is a result. Finishing on the podium is a result. Finishing in the points is a result. Finishing ahead of your rivals is a result. Finishing ahead of your team-mate is a result.

While Chilton was notching up his impressive run of race finishes, his team-mate, the ever-impressive Jules Bianchi, was notching up results that displayed his immense promise as a Formula 1 driver. He comprehensively outperformed Chilton in 2013 (the debut season of both drivers) and most recently scored the Marussia team’s first ever points by finishing 9th at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Where do Chilton’s 25 consecutive race finishes rank next to Bianchi’s 2 point in Monaco? Nowhere. Nobody cares that Chilton has been reliable to an unlikely degree. It’s results that count, not race finishes.

And that is why it’s crucial that Chilton had to retire from a race. After 25 consecutive finishes, it’s likely that he felt some pressure to make it to the finish line simply so he could avoid failing to finish. But that’s not the point of racing. Results are the point of racing.

Chilton can now focus on results. He starts with a clean slate at the next round in Austria. It’s a neutral venue, in that it’s not his home race, nor is it the home race of his team or any major partner of his team. There’s no specific pressure. It’s just another race where he gets to go out there and do the best he can with the car his team prepares for him.

Perhaps we’ll see Chilton really start to challenge Bianchi in the near future. Until now, he’s hardly done so. But the freedom that comes with getting that monkey off his back can only do him a great deal of good.

Maria de Villota dies age 33

Spanish former Formula 1 test driver Maria de Villota has been found dead in a hotel room in Spain. She was 33 years old.

De Villota was the daughter of former Formula 1 driver Emilio de Villota and was targeting a race seat in F1 when she suffered a massive accident in July 2012. At the time, de Villota was conducting a straight-line test for Marussia at Duxford Aerodrome in the United Kingdom. She crashed into a stationary truck and sustained serious head injuries which resulted in the loss of her right eye.

In the year and three months since her accident, de Villota had been recuperating and was interested in promoting safety in motorsport.

Maria de Villota was scheduled to appear in Seville in the next few days for the purpose of promoting her autobiography, Life Is a Gift

The cause of her death has not yet been revealed.

De Villota’s family has released the following statement on social media today: “Dear friends: Maria has left us. She had to go to heaven like all the angels. We thank God for the extra year and a half he left her with us.”

Dillmann’s GP2 pole time almost quick enough for F1

The top of this time sheet is almost quick enough for F1

The top of this time sheet is almost quick enough for F1

This afternoon, Tom Dillmann took his first GP2 pole position in Hungary with a lap time of 1:28.219. That’s about seven tenths of a second quicker than last year’s GP2 pole time, although the comparison is not particularly significant.

What is significant is how close Dillmann’s pole position lap time came to the back of the Formula One field in their second Free Practice session. Max Chilton rounded out the field in FP2 with a time of 1:26.647, just under 1.6 seconds quicker than Dillmann’s GP2 time. That’s really not very much at all considering that F1 and GP2 are different series that are not supposed to be comparable in terms of performance.

Furthermore, Dillmann’s time would have put him not too far off a theoretical 107% qualifying time in Formula 1, assuming the calculation is made from Vettel’s leading FP2 time. Just to clarify, the 107% rule requires an F1 driver to set a time within 107% of the fastest time set in Q1 in order to be allowed to start the Grand Prix. Based on Vettel’s FP2 time of 1:21.264, the theoretical 107% time would be 1:26.952, just 1.3 seconds faster than Dillmann’s time.

The small gap between Dillmann and Max Chilton is startling. F1 cars are vastly more powerful and have greatly superior braking and aerodynamics to GP2 cars. For a GP2 car to be so close in lap time to an F1 car, as impressive as the GP2 driver’s performance may be, is more an indication of a lack of performance in the F1 car. In this case, it shows that Chilton’s Marussia team is struggling heavily for pace around the Hungaroring. But more than that, it highlights just how far Marussia have to go before they can hope to be properly competitive in Formula One.

Incidentally, pole position for last year’s GP2 race was taken by the very same Max Chilton.

Glock leaves Marussia

“The Marussia F1 Team and its race driver Timo Glock have, by mutual consent, agreed to part company with immediate effect”, the team reported on its website this morning. The press release referred to “tough economic conditions” as the reason for Glock’s departure, which of course means that they could no longer afford to pay him and are looking instead for a pay driver.

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Timo Glock...

Timo Glock has left Marussia by mutual consent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Glock had been with the team since its inception in advance of the 2010 season, and spent three seasons as the team’s senior driver. Results unfortunately were difficult to come by in such a new team, and Glock’s best finish at Marussia was 12th in the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.

Glock has not yet announced what his next career step will be, but it is widely speculated to be in DTM, the German touring car series. Glock has ties to BMW from his F1 days, having been BMW Sauber’s test driver in 2007. It could be that he has secured a DTM drive with BMW.

For Marussia, there is now the challenge of finding another driver on fairly short notice. Not that there is a shortage of available F1 drivers. Bruno Senna has not yet found a drive after losing his seat at Williams. Narain Karthikeyan is still looking for a new job after HRT went into liquidation at the end of 2012. And Vitaly Petrov could be available if he does not succeed in keeping his place at Caterham. Considering their financial difficulties, Marussia will likely be inclined to select their new driver based on the amount of funding he can provide.

Marussia are due to begin pre-season testing in just 15 days, but have not yet announced when they will launch their 2013 car. With the departure of Glock for financial reasons, it will not be long before questions start being asked about the future of the team, and whether or not they will race in 2013 at all.

End of the road for Cosworth?

Cosworth is a current engine supplier to Formula One. Its customers are Marussia and HRT, the teams that came second last and last in 2012. It seems, however, that HRT’s days in Formula One are over, which halves Cosworth’s F1 customer base. How long will it be before Cosworth disappears from Formula One altogether?

Formula One is in the midst of an engine freeze. Until the end of 2013, the engines run in Formula One cars must largely be free from alteration. But for 2014, the situation changes dramatically. Gone are the current 2.4 litre V8 engines, which will be replaced by turbocharged 1.6 litre V6 powerplants. For the major engine suppliers (Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault) the change in engine regulations has already resulted in a significant amount of investment and testing. But for Cosworth, it might just be a waste of time.

Cosworth’s only current Formula One customers finished last (HRT) and second last (Marussia) in the 2012 Formula One World Constructors’ Championship. Neither team scored points, and the highest finishing position by a Cosworth engine this season was 12th for Timo Glock’s Marussia in Singapore. If both teams seemed able to sustain long-term relationships with Cosworth, then development of a new engine could make sense. But HRT are in the process of liquidating, which creates problems for Cosworth.

Developing a new engine for Formula One requires an enormous amount of work. The engine must be designed and tested to perform in the most demanding of environments – the back of a Formula one car. So it is not an exercise to be taken lightly. Cosworth must believe that they stand to benefit from the new engine before they even begin to develop it. In the case of their 2014 Formula One engine, the benefits are looking quite small at the moment.

Each of the other engine manufacturers supplies at least three teams, and none of those relationships looks like breaking down, which gives those engine suppliers incentive to dedicate resources to 2014 engine development. But in the case of Cosworth, with only back-of-the-field Marussia to worry about, what’s the point in going to the trouble of developing a new engine that is unlikely to be in a competitive car? They may as well focus their attention on their already successful involvement in other forms of motorsport.

There is the possibility that Cosworth could be handed a lifeline. With HRT gone, there are only 11 teams left in Formula One. The Concorde Agreement that governs the sport allows for a field of 13 teams. That leaves two spots open for potential new entrants. If the FIA can find two new teams, Cosworth would be the obvious source of engines for the newcomers, as the other engine suppliers already have quite enough on their hands.  If, however, the FIA chooses to keep a field of just 11 teams in 2014, then Cosworth could well decide to pull out of Formula One.

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