Jules Bianchi: Remembering a Racer and an Inspiration

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2015

Jules Bianchi
Jules BianchiNg Han Guan/Associated Press

Formula One has lost a bright, young light. Jules Bianchi died on July 17 in his hometown of Nice, France, from the severe head injuries he suffered at last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

"Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end," his family said in a statement.

That fighting spirit was on full display during the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, the high point of Bianchi's F1 career. Driving for Marussia (now Manor) just 20 kilometres down the coast from Nice, Bianchi executed a bold pass on Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi into Rascasse, securing a ninth-place finish and his team's first points in more than four years of racing.

"It was a mega move—you don't get many chances around there," team principal John Booth told Bleacher Report two weeks later. At the time, though, no one knew just how important those two points would be.

Marussia ran into financial troubles at the end of last season and appeared finished in F1 when their assets were auctioned off over the winter. But that Monaco finish and the prize money that came with it inspired new investors to take over the team, and they were resurrected this year as Manor.

"Without him, without those two points he got in Monaco last year, we would not be here," Booth told Auto Hebdo (h/t ESPN F1).

Bianchi's legacy will live on in the team he saved.

Three hundred and sixty. That is the number of grands prix between San Marino in 1994 and Japan in 2014. Twenty years between Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna's deaths at Imola and Bianchi's ultimately fatal crash at Suzuka.

But no matter how many safety innovations the sport makes, it will always retain some elements of danger. 

Formula 1 @F1

Our thoughts are with Jules Bianchi's family and friends #RIPJules #JB17 http://t.co/4Zot1XkxEF

In fact, Bianchi's crash was Marussia's second tragedy in a year. Their test driver Maria de Villota died in October 2013 from injuries suffered in a crash during a 2012 test session.

The F1 world is also still reeling from Michael Schumacher's skiing accident just before New Year's 2014. The seven-time world champion is slowly recovering and has not appeared in public since the accident.

As has happened with serious F1 accidents in the past, Bianchi's accident will likely lead to improved safety standards and procedures, as race director Charlie Whiting explained last year, per the Independent's David Tremayne.

If drivers are saved in the future because of lessons learned from Bianchi's crash, that too will become part of his legacy.

The Bianchi family, like the F1 community at large, is no stranger to tragedy. Bianchi's great-uncle Lucien was killed while testing for the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Lucien had won at Le Mans in 1968, partnering with Pedro Rodriguez in a Ford GT40, but his greatest F1 moment came earlier that year, also at Monaco. The elder Bianchi scored the only podium finish of his F1 career in the principality, finishing third for Cooper, albeit four laps behind Graham Hill's Lotus. 

F1 History @F1History1

Lucien Bianchi in his Cooper-BRM at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix #F1 #F1History http://t.co/o1CR5k5LSS

Earlier this year, I was speaking with Robert Daley, who covered F1 for the New York Times, starting in the late 1950s while living in France. He still lives there for part of each year, and he was at his home in Nice when we spoke.

The subject of Bianchi's crash in Japan inevitably came up, and I asked him about the French reaction to it.

"France is starved for athletic heroes of any kind," Daley said, "and he might have been one."

Might have been one. But because of a freak accident—because all the circumstances aligned just wrong that rainy day at Suzuka—we will never know what heights Bianchi could have reached in F1.

Nonetheless, he is already an inspiration to people around the world—that much is evident from the outpouring of sympathy and encouragement for him and his family that has not stopped since the day of the accident.

That inspiration will also be part of his legacy, and he will be forever remembered alongside the likes of Jim Clark and Jochen Rindt, Gilles Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna, and many others who were taken too soon.

Today, though, there is mostly just sadness.

A son and a brother is gone. A friend and a team-mate, lost. He would have been 26 years old in two weeks.

In the back of everyone's mind, Bianchi's death was always a possibility from the moment it became apparent how serious his crash was. But he was still alive, still fighting. There was hope.

Now it, too, is gone.

Bianchi's car sits empty in the Marussia garage at the Russian Grand Prix, the race after his crash.
Bianchi's car sits empty in the Marussia garage at the Russian Grand Prix, the race after his crash.Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

I never met Bianchi, but I wish I had. By all accounts, he was a pleasure to be around.

In a statement from Manor, Booth said:

Jules was a shining talent. He was destined for great things in our sport; success he so richly deserved. He was also a magnificent human being, making a lasting impression on countless people all over the world. They recognised, as did we, that at the same time as being a fiercely motivated racer, he was also an extremely warm, humble and intensely likeable person, who lit up our garage and our lives. 

Forza, Jules. Rest in peace.

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