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.”
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.
Force India have finally completed their driver line-up for 2013, confirming that Adrian Sutil will race alongside Paul di Resta. Sutil returns to Formula One after a year on the sidelines.
Most of the teams confirmed their driver line-ups well before the start of pre-season testing in February, but Force India chose instead to wait until after they had run both of their candidates for the second race seat – Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi – at last week’s second test in Barcelona. Both drivers impressed the team, but in the end Force India went with the experience of Sutil rather than put a new driver in their car.
Sutil has already driven for Force India for four seasons, and for the team’s previous incarnation, Spyker, for a year. He is highly rated in the paddock and is expected to deliver results in his second stint at Force India. He was paired with Paul di Resta in 2011 before his brief absence from the sport, which adds some continuity to his career and the workings of the team.
Dr Vijay Mallya, Team Principal and Managing Director: “The decision over our driver line-up has not been an easy one and we have given it great consideration over the last few months. It was a close call, but ultimately we felt that Adrian’s experience and historic links to the team gave him the edge, and will provide us with the best possible chance of realising our ambitions for the coming season. If he can rediscover the exceptional form he showed in the second half of 2011, I’m confident that we can pick up where we left off at the end of 2012. As for Jules Bianchi, he has impressed us enormously with his speed and work ethic, and I’m hopeful we can continue working with him this year to help him develop into a future Grand Prix driver.”
Adrian Sutil: “I’m delighted to be back in Formula One, especially with a team I know so well. I’m very happy and I want to thank Sahara Force India for giving me a second chance. Having been away from the sport, I’m even more determined to achieve my goals in Formula One. Things went really well at the Barcelona test last week and it almost feels as though I’ve never been away. Driving the car felt so natural and I was able to get back in the groove quickly and find the limit. Now my focus is on making the most of the final test session this week, working with the team in the simulator and getting myself in the best possible shape for Melbourne.”
Following the departure of Nico Hulkenberg to Sauber, Force India are currently in the market for a race driver. Paul di Resta will drive one of the Force India cars, but his team-mate has not yet been chosen.
Since testing in Formula One has been all but banned, there is no enormous hurry to choose drivers. There are only 12 days of testing permitted this season, the first of which will be 5 February. Before that happens, all the drivers can do is train, get to know their engineers, have seat fittings and attend PR events. Actual driving is not part of the job for the next three weeks. But inevitably an announcement must happen by the time testing starts, as both race drivers will need time in the new car before the start of the season.
There are two strong candidates for the second seat at Force India. 2012 test and reserve driver Jules Bianchi has long since proven himself as a racing driver. Bianchi won the French Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2007 before taking the Formula 3 Euro Series title in 2009. Third places in the 2010 and 2011 GP2 championships were followed by second place in the 2011 GP2 Asia series and second place in the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 series. Alongside his regular racing, Bianchi was Ferrari’s test and reserve driver in 2011 before being signed up to test for Force India in 2012. Although Bianchi has not yet raced in Formula One, he has tested Formula One cars on a few occasions and is certainly equipped for a race seat at the top level.
Bianchi is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, which has led to suggestions that Force India could source engines from Ferrari in 2014 as part of a deal to sign the young Frenchman as a race driver. Force India’s current engine deal with Mercedes expires at the end of 2013 and it has been confirmed recently by Paul di Resta that the team has not yet secured engines for 2014 and beyond.
Bianchi’s major competition for the Force India drive is Adrian Sutil, who raced for the team until the end of 2011 before being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg in 2012. Sutil is known for his speed over a single lap, and has been praised his former team boss at Spyker, Colin Kolles, who believed he had the talent to challenge Lewis Hamilton.
When Sutil left the team, he was facing criminal charges for assault after being accused of cutting Genii Capital (owners of Renault at the time) boss Eric Lux in a Shanghai nightclub with a champagne glass after the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix. Sutil was tried and convicted in January 2012, and received a suspended jail sentence and a fine. It has since emerged that there are no legal barriers to him resuming his Formula One career in 2013, which was the only possible question over his eligibility to return to Force India.
Whether Bianchi or Sutil, the second Force India driver will certainly be announced before testing starts on 5 February and probably before the new car is launched at Silverstone on 1 February.