French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi fought right to the very end, as he always did, but his battle came to an end yesterday after succumbing to severe head injuries sustained in his October 5 2014 crash at the Japanese Grand Prix. He was 25.
His death, coming some nine months after his accident, plunged the world of motorsport into mourning for the much-loved young driver. Bianchi’s family has already lost a member in a crash. In 1969, Bianchi’s great-uncle, Lucien Bianchi, died in an accident during testing at the Le Mans race track when he crashed his Alfa Romeo into a post, a year after winning the prestigious endurance race.
He is the first F1 driver to die from injuries sustained in a Grand Prix since Brazilian triple world champion Ayrton Senna was killed while leading the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
He suffered a diffuse axonal injury when his car veered off course in the rain-hit wet and treacherous conditions at the Suzuka Circuit, ploughing into a recovery tractor crane near the track that was clearing the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil who had crashed at the same spot one lap earlier. This YouTube video shows the horrific moment when Jules Bianchi crashed at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The race had been restarted behind a safety car twice before Bianchi’s crash. And the section of the track where the accident occurred was subject to double yellow flags flag instead of a full-course caution from race stewards, due to Sutil’s crash. The yellow flags meant that cars only had to slow down instead of forming a line behind the safety car. But they failed to prevent a second accident.
After Bianchi’s accident, the safety car and medical car were sent out and the race red-flagged, giving Lewis Hamilton his eighth victory of the season, although the Briton’s celebrations were muted as news of Bianchi’s accident filtered through.
After the crash, Bianchi was attended to by a medical team on the track and then taken by ambulance to Mie General Medical Center which was less than 10 miles away from the Suzuka circuit. It was not possible to take the driver by helicopter because of torrential rain. He had been in a coma since the accident, and was moved from Japan to the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in his hometown of Nice, France last November where he had been undergoing treatment till his death.
Bianchi made his debut with Marussia F1 team in 2013 and was a graduate of the Ferrari young driver academy after previously working as a test driver for the team in 2011. He competed in 34 races over the 2013 and 2014 seasons, scoring the first ever championship points for Maruussia (now known as Manor) by finishing ninth in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix and helping Marussia to jump ahead of veteran team Sauber in the points standings.
Outgoing Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo revealed that Bianchi was the team’s pick to drive a third car for Ferrari in the event that Formula One switched to three car teams.
A working group of the sport’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), investigated the accident and found that as Bianchi went off track into the run-off area, he applied both throttle and brake together, using both feet and thus over-riding the failsafe mechanism. His front wheels had also locked. It also said that Bianchi did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control.
The report found that Bianchi’s car hit the tractor at 126kph and said medical services were not at fault in their handling of the aftermath.
The findings of the working group prompted F1 to alter its rules, allowing a ‘virtual safety car’ in which race stewards can neutralise a race, forcing all cars to proceed slowly into the pit lane. The start times of some races were also moved forward to prevent them continuing in dim light conditions.
As the news of Bianchi’s death spreads, the F1 world mourns the loss of one of its most promising upcoming stars. RIP, Bianchi!