Formula 1: Remembering Jules Bianchi, 4 years later

The late Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi tragically passed away four years ago today. Let’s take a moment to reflect on his career.

On Sunday, October 5, 2014, tragedy struck the Formula 1 world in a way that it had not done so since the death of the legendary Ayrton Senna back on Sunday, May 1, 1994.

In the midst of Typhoon Phanfone, the series competed at a wet Suzuka Circuit, the 18-turn, 3.609-mile (5.808-kilometer) road course in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, Japan that had hosted the Japanese Grand Prix since the 1987 season in every year but 2007 and 2008.

On lap 43 of the race’s scheduled 53 laps, Marussia’s Jules Bianchi lost control of his car right around where Sauber’s Adrian Sutil had just spun out on the previous lap.

Bianchi’s car collided with a tractor crane that was in position to help remove Sutil’s car, and the cockpit of the car took the brunt of the impact. After this incident, the race was officially ended on lap 46, although the results were counted back two laps to lap 44.

While Bianchi survived the impact, he never regained consciousness. He suffered a number of severe head injuries, most notably a diffuse axonal injury (DAI), a brain injury. Following the collision, he underwent emergency surgery and was placed into an medically induced coma.

This accident itself is far closer to five years ago today than four. But it was not until Friday, July 17, 2015, when the world lost the promising young French driver at the age of 25.

But instead of focusing on his death, let’s look back at the life of the final driver who will ever race with the #17 on his Formula 1 car.

Bianchi was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and many fans deemed him a to be a future superstar driving for the Italian team. He complete a number of tests for the Scuderia, and he was then loaned to Sahara Force India for the 2012 season to be their test and reserve driver.

The following year, Bianchi landed in Formula 1. He ultimately drove in 34 races, all for Marussia, before his passing.

The highlight of Bianchi’s Formula 1 career took place on Sunday, May 25, 2014 in the Monaco Grand Prix, the crown jewel race on the schedule. He finished in eighth place in this race at the famed the 19-turn, 2.074-mile (3.338-kilometer) Circuit de Monaco temporary street circuit in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Bianchi ultimately received a five-second penalty for serving a penalty during a safety car period, so he was officially demoted to ninth place, but he still scored two points as a result of his finish, the only two points he ended up scoring in Formula 1.

In the 2014 season, drivers were allowed to select their car numbers for the first time based on where they finished in the previous season’s driver standings. Bianchi’s #17 selection was his fourth choice, as the numbers he had requested ahead of #17 were #7, #27 and #77. All were taken by drivers who finished ahead of him in the standings.

Interestingly, the three drivers who took these numbers all still compete in Formula 1 today. Kimi Raikkonen is the driver of the #7 car for Alfa Romeo Racing while Nico Hulkenberg is the driver of the #27 car for Renault and Valtteri Bottas is the driver of the #77 car for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport. At the time, Raikkonen drove for Ferrari while Hulkenberg drove for Force India and Bottas drove for Williams.

The #17 was retired on Monday, July 20, 2015, just three days after Bianchi’s passing.

Speculation grew throughout the 2014 season that the 2015 season would result in three-car teams, and then-outgoing Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo disclosed that Bianchi was slated to be the team’s third driver had this change taken place, although it ultimately did not.

Especially notable about Bianchi’s passing in 2019 is Formula 1 today. Driving now for Ferrari is young 21-year-old Monegasque Charles Leclerc. Leclerc was Bianchi’s godson, and he ultimately got to realize Bianchi’s dream of driving for the Prancing Horse when he was promoted to the team ahead of this year after spending the 2018 season, his rookie season, driving for Alfa Romeo Sauber, marking an exceptional yet emotional accomplishment.

 

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As they mourn the four-year anniversary of his passing, Jules Bianchi’s friends, family and Formula 1 fans remain in our thoughts and prayers.