Inspired young Formula One driver with an impeccable motor racing pedigree
JULES BIANCHI, who has died aged 25, was the youngest member of a dynasty of French racing drivers, and one of the most promising stars of the international Formula One circuit.
He sustained severe head injuries in October last year after his Marussia car hit a recovery tractor at high speed during the Japanese Grand Prix.
The tractor was clearing the wreckage of the German driver Adrian Sutil’s Sauber car as track conditions at Suzuka worsened in torrential rain, and the accident - the most serious since Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola in 1994 - prompted other drivers to call for a safety car to accompany recovery tractors in future.
Bianchi had remained in a coma in intensive care since the crash, which was subsequently blamed, in part, on his failure to slow down sufficiently under double yellow flags to avoid losing control and prevent his head-on collision with the recovery tractor at a speed of around 125mph.
After joining the Anglo-Russian Marussia Formula One team, based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and finishing 13th in the Malaysian Grand Prix of 2013, Bianchi scored his first F1 points by finishing ninth in last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Motor racing journalists judged it an impressive showing by a relatively unknown young driver. In all, he competed in 34 Grand Prix races.
His pedigree as a potential future Formula One champion was impeccable. His grandfather, Mauro Bianchi, was three times a world champion in the GT category, and his great-uncle, Lucien Bianchi, competed in 17 Grand Prix during the 1960s and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1968, before being killed in a crash a year later, at the age of 34.
Quietly spoken but with a cheerful personality, Jules Bianchi was a popular figure inside the sport, although perhaps not widely known outside Formula One.
He was considered to have consistently outperformed the British driver Max Chilton at Marussia, and had been tipped to succeed the unsettled former world champion Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari team, for whom he was a test driver.
The son of a family of Italian descent, Jules Bianchi was born in Nice on August 3 1989. His father Philippe managed a karting track near Marseille, where young Jules made his debut behind the wheel aged three.
He was racing by the age of five. At 13, he was signed up by Maranello Karting, but moved on in 2007 and raced in French Formula Renault, winning five times and finishing the season as champion.Bianchi joined the Formula Three Euro Series and finished third in the 2008 season.
In 2009, with eight wins, he won the title with a race to spare and went on to win the final round at Hockenheim. At the end of 2009, he represented Ferrari at the young drivers’ test in Jerez and graduated from the Ferrari academy.
By 2010, Bianchi was a star of the GP2 Series and was lying fourth in the championship when he was badly injured at the Hungaroring circuit in Hungary, although he recovered from a broken vertebra in time to take part in the subsequent round.
In November 2010, he was named by Ferrari as their test and reserve driver for the 2011 Formula One season. A year later, he was loaned to the Force India team as test and reserve driver, but the following year lost out to the more experienced Adrian Sutil in the contest for a place in the team’s front rank of drivers.
The decision was judged harsh on Bianchi, whom The Daily Telegraph described as an exciting young driver and who had registered the third best overall time during testing at Jerez, despite completing only 50 laps on the final day.
Later in 2013, however, he made his full debut in Formula One with Marussia (now known as Manor Marussia), replacing Luiz Razia.Bianchi finished ninth in the Monaco Grand Prix in May 2014, earning Marussia their first world championship points.
His drive through the narrow streets and tight hairpin bends was acclaimed as a mixture of flair, steely determination and panache - just the traits that observers had spotted in him when he was being touted as a future star of the sport five years before.
It was undoubtedly the young man’s finest hour in Formula One. On the streets of Monte Carlo, a dozen French journalists crammed into the modest Marussia motor-home and sang La Marseillaise at the top of their voices, banging on the table for emphasis.
In the aftermath of Bianchi’s accident last October, motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, announced the introduction of a “virtual safety car” which slows drivers down in yellow flag conditions, and recommended the introduction of a new “four-hour rule”, under which races (other than night races) must start four hours before sunset or dusk.
Some drivers claimed that bad light was an issue in Bianchi’s crash at Suzuka.Jules Bianchi, who was unmarried, is survived by his parents, brother and sister.
Jules Bianchi, born August 3 1989, died July 17 2015.
-The Sunday Telegraph·