Jules Bianchi – . 1989 – 2015. R.I.P. Your Legacy will live forever!

Jules Bianchi

Racing driver

Jules Bianchi was a French motor racing driver who was most recently a driver for Marussia F1 in the FIA Formula One World Championship. He lost his life after succumbing to head injuries sustained in an accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Born: August 3, 1989 (age 25), Nice, France

Died: July 17, 2015, Nice, France

Height: 1.79 m

Weight: 68 kg

2014 Suzuka accident

On lap 43 of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, which was held on Sunday, 5 October, under intermittent heavy rainfall caused by the approaching Typhoon Phanfone, Bianchi lost control of his car and veered right towards the run-off area on the outside of the Dunlop Curve (technically known as “Turn 7”) of the Suzuka Circuit. He collided head-on with, and perpendicular to, the rear of a tractor crane tending to the removal of Adrian Sutil‘s Sauber after Sutil had spun out of control and crashed in the same area a lap before. Bianchi’s accident caused the race to be red flagged and ended nine laps earlier than the 53-lap full race distance. Bianchi was reported as being unconscious after not responding to either a team radio call or marshals. Spectators’ video footage and photographs of the accident revealed that the left side of Bianchi’s Marussia car was extensively damaged and the roll bar destroyed as it slid under the tractor crane. The impact was such that the tractor crane was partially jolted off the ground causing Sutil’s Sauber, which was suspended in the air by the crane, to fall back to the ground.[43]

In the first instance, Bianchi was medically attended to at the crash site before being transported by ambulance to the circuit’s Medical Centre. Due to safety concerns with landing caused by the precarious weather conditions, it was determined that emergency transport by helicopter was not possible. Bianchi was thus further transported by ambulance for 32 minutes,[44] under police escort, to the Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in Yokkaichi, the nearest hospital to the circuit some 15 km (9.3 mi) away.[45][46][47] Initial reports by his father, Philippe, to television channel France 3, were that Bianchi was in critical condition with a head injury and was undergoing an operation to reduce severe bruising to his head.[48] The FIA subsequently released a statement that CT scans showed Bianchi suffered a “severe head injury” in the crash, and that he would be admitted to intensive care following surgery.[2][49]

Amongst the first hospital visitors were Marussia’s CEO Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth, the latter staying by Bianchi’s side even after the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, as well as Ferrari’s then team principal Marco Mattiacci – given Bianchi’s status as a Ferrari Academy driver – and current Formula One driver, Felipe Massa. On the Monday after the Suzuka race, also seen visiting the Mie University were Pastor Maldonado and Bianchi’s manager and assistant manager, Nicolas Todt and Alessandro Alunni Bravi, respectively.[50]

Bianchi’s parents, who arrived in Japan late on Monday – joined, that Thursday, by their other children, Mélanie and Tom, and Jules’ best friend, Lorenz Leclerc[51] – released a statement on Tuesday, 7 October, expressing appreciation for the outpouring of support from the public and for the presence of Professor Gerard Saillant, President of the FIA Medical Commission, and Professor Alessandro Frati, Neurosurgeon of the Sapienza University of Rome, who travelled to Japan at the request of Scuderia Ferrari. They also provided a medical update, confirming that the injury suffered was a diffuse axonal injury and that Bianchi was in a critical but stable condition.[3][52][53] A prognosis of the injury or its after-effects would not be known for weeks or at least a month according to medical specialists.[54]

Within days of the accident, unconfirmed media reports suggested that the crash occurred at a speed exceeding 200 km/h (120 mph)[55] and that the impact generated over 50 g0 (490 m/s2).[56] In the following fortnight, media reports said to be based on information obtained from FIA documents claimed that the speed of impact was recorded at 212 km/h (132 mph)[57] and that the impact generated 92 g0 (900 m/s2).[58]

Bianchi’s crash was the second major accident for the Marussia F1 team within three years; previously, in 2012, at the FIA-approved Duxford Aerodrome testing facility, reserve driver Maria De Villota suffered major head injuries after colliding with a stationary truck, upon returning to the service area from straight-line testing.[59]

Team reactions

The Monday after the Japanese Grand Prix, in which Bianchi suffered severe head injuries, then outgoing Ferrari President, Luca di Montezemolo, disclosed to the media that Bianchi was poised to be the third Ferrari F1 driver in 2015 in the event that the sport moved to three car teams as widely speculated at the time.[60]

At the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on 12 October 2014, in place of the hospitalised Bianchi, the Marussia team originally registered in the participant list the American debutant, Alexander Rossi, before finally deciding to field a single car driven by Bianchi’s team-mate, Max Chilton.[61] In addition, at the same venue:

  • Fellow Frenchman and Formula One driver, Jean-Eric Vergne, a good friend of Bianchi and was said to have been deeply affected by the Suzuka accident, championed the idea for helmet stickers to honour and support Bianchi.[62]
  • The Marussia team adopted a “#JB17” livery on the cockpit sides of its MR03 car, being a reference to their injured driver’s initials and race number, in addition to the other Twitter hashtag since the accident, #ForzaJules.
  • The drivers held a one-minute silence in honour of Bianchi just before the race; the eventual race winner, Lewis Hamilton, dedicated his win to Bianchi.

During the subsequent week of 13 October 2014, Marussia’s CEO Graeme Lowdon confirmed that the team would return to a two-car operation for the remainder of the season. At heart, was the team’s desire to defend their ninth position in the Constructors’ Championship, which was owed to Bianchi thanks to scoring his own and Marussia’s first ever points at the Monaco Grand Prix.[63] However, on 25 October 2014, it was announced that the team would not race at the United States Grand Prix due to financial reasons, with doubts also raised about their ability to participate at the Brazilian Grand Prix.[64] Ultimately, the team folded on 7 November 2014 as announced by its administrator.[65] Bianchi finished the season 17th in the Drivers’ Championship.

FIA reaction

Following Bianchi’s accident, the FIA began an investigation and also considered appropriate changes to safety procedures, such as those at Brazilian Grand Prix, where the location of a tractor crane serving the Senna “S” chicane was altered.

The FIA released its initial findings at a special conference held during the inaugural Russian Grand Prix on the Saturday after the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Among other things, it was revealed that Bianchi had slowed down at Turn 7 but without disclosing by what margin or the speed of impact, and that the journey to the hospital by ambulance took only an extra seven minutes relative to the helicopter, without any adverse effects on Bianchi’s condition.

Further, the FIA confirmed ongoing research into closed cockpits for Formula One cars, the possibility of fitting protective skirting to all recovery vehicles as well as ways to slow down cars in crash zones more effectively than double yellow flags. With respect to the latter, the FIA moved to quickly consider the introduction of a virtual safety car – or VSC system – which was then tested during the season’s final three Grands Prix in the United States, Brazil and Abu Dhabi – based on a Le Mans racing “slow zone” arrangement that does not neutralise race proceedings as much as safety car periods.[66]

Following on from the above, in the week beginning 13 October 2014, the FIA reportedly emailed all teams to request that they retain any information related to Bianchi’s Suzuka accident, for exclusive use by an accident panel established by the FIA to investigate Bianchi’s accident.[67]

FIA accident panel findings

On 20 October 2014, the FIA announced a 10 member composition of the panel that included, among others, former drivers Emerson Fittipaldi and Alexander Wurz and former team principals Ross Brawn and Stefano Domenicali.[68] The panel’s work started in the same week, with full findings due for release at the then next meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council on 3 December 2014, in Doha, Qatar.[69]

In the week beginning 27 October 2014, Italy’s Autosprint published a story claiming that the accident panel was looking into whether Bianchi’s crash may have been caused by the new-for-2014 brake-by-wire system fitted to all F1 cars. At the same time, the Swiss newspaper Blick reported that a company called Air Zermatt presented to the FIA a proposal for stricken cars to be air lifted from run off areas by helicopter thus avoiding recovery vehicles being on track during any race.[70] This method was first tested in 2005 by the A1 Grand Prix series.[71]

The FIA accident panel presented its 396 page report to the FIA World Motorsport Council; the FIA published a summary of its findings on 3 December 2014.[69] The report was said to contain extensive technical explanations and to have been written in a manner that did not apportion blame to any one party:[72]

  • Accordingly, the panel found that there was no single cause for Bianchi’s accident but that it was the result of an unfortunate set of circumstances, including the difficult conditions, the speed he was going and the presence of a recovery vehicle on track;
  • Bianchi was found to not have slowed sufficiently to avoid losing control, however, it was recognised that there is no definition of how much a driver should slow during double waved yellow flags and that it had been normal practice for F1 drivers to slow down only enough for them to show they have done so should they be questioned later;
  • In relation to whether a safety car should have been deployed, the conclusion was that it had become normal and accepted practice not to do so in situations such as Sutil’s crash, with race officials found to have behaved in a manner “consistent with the regulations and their interpretation following 384 incidents in the preceding eight years”.
  • In spite of the above, a new virtual safety car (VSC) system was confirmed for introduction in F1 from 2015;
  • The panel also concluded that “It is not feasible to mitigate the injuries Bianchi suffered by either enclosing the driver’s cockpit, or fitting skirts to the crane” as “Neither approach is practical due to the very large forces involved in the accident between a 700kg car striking a 6500kg crane at a speed of 126 km/h”.

Brake-by-wire, which was introduced in 2014 as a part of the new hybrid engines’ regenerative braking system, also came under examination. The investigation revealed that Bianchi had been operating both brake and accelerator pedals as the car was leaving the track and crossed Suzuka’s Turn 7 run-off area, and that a fail-safe system should have over-ridden the throttle and cut engine power. This fail-safe system is part of the standard electronic control unit supplied to the teams by the FIA, but its parameters are set by the teams given that the ability to operate brake and throttle at the same time is an integral part of a driver’s car control during racing. The panel found that, just because the fail-safe system did not work in these specific circumstances, it did not mean that the Marussia team was culpable in any way. Nevertheless, for 2015 onwards, the FIA decided to define more specifically the boundaries within which teams can alter relevant parameters.

Medical treatment and updates

The first family update following the 5 October 2014 accident during the Japanese Grand Prix came from Bianchi’s father during the week beginning 13 October 2014. He was reported to have stated to Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, that his son’s condition was “desperate”, with doctors describing his survival as a miracle, and that he believed his son would succeed in “the most important qualifying lap of his life”, also drawing hope from Michael Schumacher coming out of his coma.[73] Over the same period, other than providing an official statement on Bianchi’s conditions, the Marussia team also publicly condemned various media reports making speculative assertions about the team’s direct role in the accident.[74]

Since then, Bianchi’s mother, Christine, was said to have voiced her frustrations to an RTL correspondent about not being able to talk, but referring to people shirking responsibility and confirming that her son was being very well treated in hospital.[75]

A week later, Italy’s Omnicorse published a story which claimed that Bianchi’s condition was stable enough for relocation from Japan to Europe, speculating hospitalisation at the Swiss University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) where Michael Schumacher received treatment for significant brain injuries suffered following a skiing accident in 2013.[70] In response, via another joint statement by the Bianchi family and the Marussia team on the evening of the United States Grand Prix, it was reconfirmed that Bianchi was still in a critical but stable condition and that his treatment would continue in Yokkaichi, Japan.[76]

Coinciding with the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, and amidst talks of Marussia’s return from administration for the season finale, the former team CEO, Graeme Lowdon, confirmed that Bianchi’s condition remained unchanged, being stable but critical.[77] He was still in a coma and requiring a medical ventilator.[78] On 19 November, Bianchi’s parents announced that he was no longer in an artificial coma and was breathing unaided. He was flown back to France and admitted at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice (CHU), where he remained unconscious and in a critical condition.[79]

In December 2014, a statement from the Bianchi family confirmed no change in Bianchi’s neurological status. In addition, they confirmed that they considered his relocation to France and rehabilitation at the CHU to have been a significant and very comforting step, and they also renewed their thanks for the ongoing support received.[80]

Autoweek reported on 6 March 2015 that, according to the German tabloid Bild, Bianchi remained in a coma with no improvement in his condition.[81]

After the 2015 Australian Grand Prix in March, John Booth, now team principal of the new Manor Marussia F1 Team, paid tribute to Bianchi for scoring points in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix because the prize money won enabled the team to stay in F1, albeit under a new corporate structure.[82] A commemorative “JB17” logo adorned the 2015 race car.[83]

In April 2015, to again acknowledge the support his family was receiving, Bianchi’s father, Philippe, released an interview to the French newspaper, Nice-Matin. Apart from reconfirming that his son remained in a coma and was medically stable, Philippe described Bianchi’s plight as a daily marathon. He referred to the stark medical advice by Japanese doctors of irreversible damage, contrasting this with the hope brought by seeing Bianchi more active through occasional body movements. Philippe emphasised that although there was no specific therapy, the importance of ongoing support was provided by the daily vigil shared amongst Bianchi’s parents, siblings and German girlfriend, Gina.[84][85]

Coinciding with the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix and the anniversary of Bianchi scoring his first and only Formula One points, the Manor Marussia team commemorated their injured driver with special red wristbands inscribed with “Monaco 2014 P8 JB17”.[86] Moreover, Bianchi’s father provided an update describing his injured son’s condition as “stagnant” notwithstanding which the family continued to hope for a miraculous recovery.[87] On 13 July 2015, however, in another update the father of the injured driver conceded becoming “less optimistic” with the lapse of time and no better progress.[88]

Death

On 17 July 2015, Jules Bianchi succumbed to the injuries he sustained at the Japanese Grand Prix.[4] Bianchi became the first Formula One driver to be killed due to injuries sustained during a race since Ayrton Senna‘s death following his accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.[89]

The official announcement was made by his family via a statement released in France, in the early hours of the following day. It commenced stating:[90]

It is with deep sadness that the parents of Jules Bianchi, Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Mélanie, wish to make it known that Jules passed away last night at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) in Nice, (France) where he was admitted following the accident of 5 October 2014 at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The family went on to thank treating doctors and supporters, wishing for privacy to mourn in peace.[91]

Racing record

Career summary

Season[11] Series Team Races Wins Poles F/Laps Podiums Points Position
2007 French Formula Renault 2.0 SG Formula 13 5 5 10 11 172 1st
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 8 0 1 1 0 4 22nd
2008 Formula 3 Euro Series ART Grand Prix 20 2 2 2 7 47 3rd
Macau Grand Prix 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 9th
Masters of Formula 3 1 1 0 0 1 N/A 1st
2009 Formula 3 Euro Series ART Grand Prix 20 9 6 7 12 114 1st
British Formula Three Championship 4 0 2 2 3 0 NC
Macau Grand Prix 1 0 0 0 0 N/A 10th
Formula Renault 3.5 Series SG Formula 1 0 0 0 0 0 NC
2009–10 GP2 Asia Series ART Grand Prix 6 0 1 2 1 8 12th
2010 GP2 Series ART Grand Prix 20 0 3 1 4 52 3rd
2011 GP2 Series Lotus ART 18 1 1 0 6 53 3rd
GP2 Asia Series 4 1 0 1 2 18 2nd
Formula One Scuderia Ferrari Test driver
2012 Formula Renault 3.5 Series Tech 1 Racing 17 3 5 7 8 185 2nd
Formula One Sahara Force India F1 Team Test driver
2013 Formula One Marussia F1 Team 19 0 0 0 0 0 19th
2014 Formula One Marussia F1 Team 15 0 0 0 0 2 17th

Bianchi was a guest driver, therefore ineligible to score points.

Complete Formula 3 Euro Series results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 DC Points
2008[92] ART Grand Prix Dallara F308/049 Mercedes HOC
1

Ret
HOC
2

13
MUG
1

3
MUG
2

4
PAU
1

Ret
PAU
2

26
NOR
1

Ret
NOR
2

9
ZAN
1

3
ZAN
2

9
NÜR
1

2
NÜR
2

3
BRH
1

22
BRH
2

18
CAT
1

Ret
CAT
2

3
BUG
1

1
BUG
2

17
HOC
1

7
HOC
2

1
3rd 47
2009[93] ART Grand Prix Dallara F308 Mercedes HOC
1

5
HOC
2

3
MUG
1

1
MUG
2

14
PAU
1

1
PAU
2

3
NOR
1

1
NOR
2

1
ZAN
1

1
ZAN
2

6
NÜR
1

1
NÜR
2

5
BRH
1

Ret
BRH
2

Ret
CAT
1

1
CAT
2

5
BUG
1

2
BUG
2

1
HOC
1

1
HOC
2

7
1st 114

Complete Formula Renault 3.5 Series results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Pos Points
2009[94] KMP Group/SG Formula CAT
1
CAT
2
SPA
1
SPA
2
MON
1

Ret
HUN
1
HUN
2
SIL
1
SIL
2
BUG
1
BUG
2
ALG
1
ALG
2
NÜR
1
NÜR
2
ALC
1
ALC
2
NC 0
2012[95] Tech 1 Racing ALC
1

DSQ
ALC
2

13
MON
1

2
SPA
1

2
SPA
2

17
NÜR
1

1
NÜR
2

12
MSC
1

2
MSC
2

7
SIL
1

1
SIL
2

3
HUN
1

3
HUN
2

9
LEC
1

4
LEC
2

1
CAT
1

7
CAT
2

Ret
2nd 185

Complete GP2 Series results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 DC Points
2010[96] ART Grand Prix ESP
FEA

Ret
ESP
SPR

12
MON
FEA

4
MON
SPR

3
TUR
FEA

Ret
TUR
SPR

13
VAL
FEA

2
VAL
SPR

Ret
GBR
FEA

2
GBR
SPR

5
GER
FEA

5
GER
SPR

4
HUN
FEA

Ret
HUN
SPR

DNS
BEL
FEA

14
BEL
SPR

Ret
ITA
FEA

2
ITA
SPR

4
ABU
FEA

18
ABU
SPR

7
3rd 52
2011[96] Lotus ART TUR
FEA

3
TUR
SPR

7
ESP
FEA

7
ESP
SPR

Ret
MON
FEA

Ret
MON
SPR

19
VAL
FEA

Ret
VAL
SPR

7
GBR
FEA

1
GBR
SPR

5
GER
FEA

4
GER
SPR

2
HUN
FEA

7
HUN
SPR

6
BEL
FEA

2
BEL
SPR

2
ITA
FEA

8
ITA
SPR

3
3rd 53

Complete GP2 Asia Series results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Year Entrant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 DC Points
2009–10[96] ART Grand Prix ABU1
FEA
ABU1
SPR
ABU2
FEA

3
ABU2
SPR

7
BHR1
FEA

10
BHR1
SPR

NC
BHR2
FEA

10
BHR2
SPR

Ret
12th 8
2011[96] Lotus ART ABU
FEA

1
ABU
SPR

8
ITA
FEA

3
ITA
SPR

Ret
2nd 18

Complete Formula One results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicates fastest lap)[97]

Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 WDC Points
2012 Sahara Force India F1 Team Force India VJM05 Mercedes FO 108Z 2.4 V8 AUS MAL CHN
TD
BHR ESP
TD
MON CAN EUR
TD
GBR
TD
GER
TD
HUN
TD
BEL ITA
TD
SIN JPN KOR
TD
IND ABU
TD
USA BRA  –  –
2013 Marussia F1 Team Marussia MR02 Cosworth CA2013 V8 AUS
15
MAL
13
CHN
15
BHR
19
ESP
18
MON
Ret
CAN
17
GBR
16
GER
Ret
HUN
16
BEL
18
ITA
19
SIN
18
KOR
16
JPN
Ret
IND
18
ABU
20
USA
18
BRA
17
19th 0
2014 Marussia F1 Team Marussia MR03 Ferrari 059/3 1.6 V6 t AUS
NC
MAL
Ret
BHR
16
CHN
17
ESP
18
MON
9
CAN
Ret
AUT
15
GBR
14
GER
15
HUN
15
BEL
18†
ITA
18
SIN
16
JPN
20†
RUS USA BRA ABU 17th 2

Driver did not finish the Grand Prix, but was classified as they completed over 90% of the race distance.

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