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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Au Revoir, Jules Bianchi


It may have spared those daring, heroic drivers for the past 21 years, but today it's been made clear that Formula 1 can still kill after all...

Jules Bianchi passed away in hospital in his home town of Nice, France last night, after a 9-month induced coma following a diffuse axonal brain injury suffered in a horrific crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, where he slid off the track in torrential rain and went underneath a recovery tractor at around 100mph.

Within the F1 fraternity, he is known for being warm, humble and sharp-witted, a genuinely nice person by all accounts and everybody's friend. One of the good guys. To most of us F1 fans at home, he'll be best known for an epic drive at the Monaco Grand Prix last year, when he pushed his underdeveloped Marussia-Ferrari all the way up to 8th place, boldly forcing his way past Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham-Renault at Rasscasse in the process. He was demoted to 9th on a technicality (improperly-served time penalty), but even so it gave Marussia the only two points they have ever scored in Formula 1, which they celebrated like a win. Those points are the main reason they're still in the sport now (as Manor-Marussia).

Bianchi was a member of the Ferrari Driving Academy and widely recognised as having real talent and determination behind the wheel. He was linked to a Sauber seat for 2015, with a view to make it into the Scuderia once the opportunity arose. Who knows, maybe he'd have been in line to replace Kimi Räikkönen. We will always wonder what could have been...

But that's the real shame, if you ask me. A fallen star isn't quite as tragic as a rising star that never truly got the chance to rise.

It's always difficult to take positives from something like this, but the one thing we can take from what is now a fatal accident in Suzuka is that Formula 1 has already reacted to it. We now have the "Virtual Safety Car" system which neutralises the race without a full Safety Car period, to slow the cars down while marshals and/or recovery vehicles are near the track without screwing with the race itself too much.

That said, while the tragedy is already bringing safety improvements to F1, it nevertheless proves the dark theory that nothing significant changes in motor racing until somebody dies.

At the time, there were also renewed discussions about closed cockpits, but the investigation showed that the brain injury was actually caused by the car going from 100mph to a standstill far too quickly, causing the brain to jolt inside his skull. A similar, much milder example of this phenomenon includes Mark Webber's concussion at the 2014 Sao Paulo 6 Hours, in the closed-cockpit Porsche 919 Hybrid. A canopy would've made no real difference...

Unrealised potential, a lost friend for many, a talent taken from motor racing far too soon at 25 years old. Many more personal tributes have been paid by the motorsport community at large, but this one by Johnathan Noble probably sums it up best.

My sincerest condolences to his family, especially his parents who have stayed with him in hospital for months on end, in the hope that things would improve. I can't imagine how tough this is for them.

We will all miss you, Jules.

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