Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: Remembering Jules Bianchi

“In consequence of inventing machines, men will be devoured by them,” – Jules Verne

There is no doubt to many who were lucky enough to see him race that Jules Bianchi had all of the potential to be the next great Formula 1 driver.

Those even luckier to race against Bianchi have nothing but praise and respect for the Frenchman. His star shined but for a brief time in the F1 skies, but shine it did.

Bianchi came from racing blood. His grandfather. the Italian-Belgian driver Mauro Bianchi, won the Macau Grand Prix and participated in multiple 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s, even snagging a class win for Alpine in 1967.

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Mauro’s brother, Lucien Bianchi, competed in a number of F1 races in that same decade. His career highlight was finishing third and taking a step on the podium at Monaco in 1968.

Lucian died in 1969 during testing for Le Mans. His brother’s death led to Mauro retiring, and thus, a Bianchi didn’t appear for many years in major racing.

But when it was time, Jules Bianchi burst onto the scene. Moving up from karting in 2007, he began a very impressive six-year junior career. He dominated French Formula Renault 2.0 in 2007, winning five of the 13 races and had 10 fastest laps en route to a championship.

Bianchi performed well in his first season in Formula 3 Euro in 2008, finishing third in the championship before roaring into form the next season. He won nine of the 20 races this time, once again en route to a championship.

During the 2009 summer break, there was serious talk that Bianchi could outright take over the Ferrari seat of Felipe Massa, after Massa’s horrible wreck during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix left him sidelined.

Keep in mind that Bianchi only had two-and-a-half years in single seaters under his belt yet was thought so highly of that he was rumored to take over a seat at Scuderia in a relief role.

It wasn’t meant to be, however. Bianchi ended up becoming the very first signing of the newly formed Ferrari Driver Academy and would be affiliated with the prancing horse for the rest of his life.

This propelled Bianchi up to GP2, the last step from Formula 1. In 2010, the 20-year-old hot shoe finished an impressive third in points, only being bested by future F1 winners Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez. He followed this up with another third in 2011 to Romain Grosjean.

In 2012, in addition to finishing second in Formula Renault 3.5, Bianchi was loaned out to the Force India team as a test and reserve driver. He participated in nine FP1s throughout the year, before finally getting a shot on the main grid in 2013.

In three seasons, the Marussia F1 team had largely established itself as a joke. Joining the grid in 2010 as Virgin Racing, the team’s first two cars were designed entirely through using computer fluid dynamics, without any practical wind tunnel time. CFD is an important aspect to most forms of major racing today, with series such as F1 and NASCAR having to regulate it much like they do with wind tunnel time.

To make a very complicated topic very simple, the idea is to take a big super computer and run simulations on the car. The end result was the second-worst car on the grid for the first two seasons, including the 2010 car, which required the team to ask the FIA to allow them to redesign the fuel tank after the first race.

Why? Well, because in a series with no in-race refueling, they built a fuel tank not big enough to hold the amount of fuel needed to finish a race. Yes, they really did this.

The cars barely worked half of the time, and while they usually showed more pace than the Hispania Race Team, they lost to them in constructor’s in 2010 and 2011. The newly rebranded Marussia beat HRT in 2012, but HRT was on death’s door the entire season and folded in the off-season.

In F1 back then, only the top 10 teams in points would receive any of the points fund. Because of this, Marussia didn’t benefit that much from their 11th place in 2012.

Enter Bianchi.

Bianchi once again burst onto the scene. In the 14 races in which both himself and teammate Max Chilton finished, Bianchi beat Chilton with a record of 12-2. Bianchi’s 13th in just his second F1 race in Malaysia was good enough for the team to beat Caterham for 10th and some of that points money.

Then came 2014.

In nine races in which both finished, Bianchi defeated Chilton eight times.

But the season, and career, highlight came at Monaco, the same track uncle Lucien once stepped onto the podium of. Bianchi overcame a starting position of 17th, his car number, to cross the line in eighth and officially finish ninth due to a five-second time penalty.

Of the three new 2010 teams, this was the only time any of them won any championship points before folding.

Not only was Bianchi’s result able to boost the Marussia team past Caterham, it also put them past Sauber. They would eventually finish ninth, in spite of the team’s financial problems becoming so pronounced that they had to skip the last three races of the season.

The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix is today one of the most infamous in the history of F1, and for all of the wrong reasons.

On lap 42, on a very wet Suzuka Circuit, Adrian Sutil hydroplaned into a barrier in turn 7. Turn 7 is a very tricky corner, as a lot of it is blind and uphill. On the next lap, with only double yellow flags and not a full safety car to fully control a slower field, Bianchi lost traction in the corner and hit the tractor crane trying to get Sutil’s car out of the race.

Injuries from the crash would result in the death nine months after the fact of Jules Lucien André Bianchi, age 25. It is, at the absolute least, the lone Formula 1 death since that of Ayrton Senna in 1994.

The crash came just days after Bianchi had declared himself ready to step into an F1 seat at the Scuderia if called upon. His death on July 17, 2015, was 46 years and three-and-a-half months after the death of his uncle Lucien.

“We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones,” -Jules Verne

Bianchi’s points at Monaco saved the Marussia team from total collapse. Marussia eventually rebranded itself simply as Manor and survived for a few more years, before folding following the 2017 season.

Haas joining the grid in 2016, and the speed they had on day one essentially ensured Manor’s eventual death, as they were nowhere near quick enough to finish top-10 in points again.

With Caterham dying after 2014 and Marussia almost doing the same, there was talk around the F1 grid of the nine surviving teams simply fielding a third car, albeit for young drivers. Had they done so, it has been all but confirmed that Ferrari’s third driver would’ve been Bianchi after his near-perfect F1 career, given the equipment and budget his team had on them.

And even if the third team never happened, few doubt that Bianchi would have driven for the Scuderia at some point in his future. Sebastian Vettel, who was the team’s lead driver in 2015 and who won the first race after Bianchi’s death, outright said that Bianchi would have been on the team in some form or fashion in his dedication to the young driver immediately following the win.

Today, Bianchi’s legacy lives on through his godson, Charles Leclerc. Leclerc drives the No. 16 Ferrari; Bianchi’s No. 17 was retired series-wide, and 16 was the closest available to 17.

When Bianchi was choosing his number, he originally wanted 7, 27, or 77. Those would be chosen by other, more experienced drivers. Instead, Bianchi had to settle for 17. And, unlike those other numbers, it shall never be chosen by another driver.

The Association Jules Bianchi #17 is a foundation started by the Bianchi family to help assist those with serious brain injuries in the Nice, France hospital where Jules himself was treated following his wreck. The foundation’s English webpage can be found by clicking here.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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Thanks Michael. A sad ending to a young life.

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