JUL 20th 2015

Henry Hope‑Frost ‑ Jules Bianchi: Remembering a real racer

I intended this week to enthuse about the momentum gathering pace in the World Rally Championship and its exciting plans for 2017.

Well, the new breed of longer, wider, louder, faster and more powerful machines that are close to getting sign-off as the sport bids to reinvent itself sounds great, but it will just have to wait.

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Instead, I find myself thinking about the terrible news that filtered through early on Saturday morning that French Formula 1 racer Jules Bianchi had finally failed in his heart-breaking bid to cling on to life – nine months after his Japanese Grand Prix accident.

Motorsport is a dangerous occupation – always has been, always will be – although mercifully it’s immeasurably less hazardous than it once was. Despite the association with serious injury and death, it’s always a shock when talented, brave and committed superheroes should pay the ultimate price while indulging in their passion or, more cruelly, in an un-related endeavour.

Jules Bianchi

I’ll always remember those where-were-you-when moments in my time as a motorsport devotee. The deaths of Tom Pryce (1977), Ronnie Peterson (1978), Patrick Depailler (1980), Mike Hailwood (1981), Gilles Villeneuve (1982), Stefan Bellof (1985), Henri Toivonen and Elio de Angelis (1986), James Hunt (1993), Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna (1994), Greg Moore (1999) and Bob Wollek and Michele Alboreto (2001) had a profound effect on me.

And Jules Bianchi’s death has done the same.

Born in Nice in 1989, Bianchi soon racked up plenty of traditional junior-karting victories before graduating to single-seaters. Title success in French Formula Renault preceded numerous wins and championship glory in European F3. Pulling himself up the steep and precarious ladder to F1, Bianchi attracted the attention of Scuderia Ferrari, and was offered a chance to test its F1 car.

That was an association that was to last for the rest of his life, prompting many to assume he’d one day experience the magic of Maranello from a grand prix grid.

‘I rather like the idea of Jules now ‘up there somewhere’ sharing stories with fellow racers cut down in their prime – and comparing notes from short-but-successful lives full of high-speed antics’

Race wins in the two series that form the last rung on the ladder, GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5, expediated his move to that exclusive F1 club, which came in 2013 courtesy of the passionate, hard-working bunch of enthusiasts that makes up the Marussia squad.

The team loved him, for he grasped the limited resources at his disposal and ran with them. His points finish at Monaco last year was a feel-good moment for F1 and exorcised a few demons for the back-of-the-grid British outfit.

It was surely only a matter of time before he’d land one of the coveted top-team seats, from which that ability would be better proved. But it wasn’t to be, and we’ll never know how much success the 25-year-old might’ve had.

Jules Bianchi

As a father of three boys, I’m trying to imagine the pain felt by Jules’ family. The dignified feelings expressed in the press by his father Philippe, who clung so positively to every microscopic fibre of hope for nine months, resonated sharply among parents in the close-knit motorsport fraternity and beyond.

I rather like the idea of Jules now ‘up there somewhere’ sharing stories with fellow racers cut down in their prime – and comparing notes from short-but-successful lives full of high-speed antics. Among them, of course, his great uncle Lucien, who scored his only F1 podium finish in the 1968 Monaco GP and then won the Le Mans 24 Hours a few months later.

Their gain is every motorsport-mad earthling’s loss.

Photography by Morio, Henry Mineur and Nick Webb.

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