Remembering: Jules Bianchi

August 3, 1989 – July 17, 2015

Masters of Formula 3 Champion – 2008
Formula 3 Euro Series Champion – 2009

F1 Points in Monaco Grand Prix – 2014
French Formula Renault 2.0 Champion – 2007

There are no words that define how impactful the tragic loss of Jules Bianchi really is. The untapped potential of a future superstar that perhaps Formula One hasn’t been impacted by since the loss of Francois Cevert in the early 1970’s.

The similarities between Cevert and Bianchi are astounding. Both drivers born and raised in France – Cevert from Paris, Bianchi in Nice. Both drivers viewed by their peers as future champions. Both drivers taken much too soon.

As a rookie in French Formula Renault 2.0 in 2007, Bianchi showcased his talent right away with five wins, five poles and 11 podiums in 13 races en route to the series championship.

From there he would go on to claim the Masters of Formula 3 in 2008. The race at Zolder included current and former F1 drivers Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Chilton, Roberto Merhi, former GP2 champion Stefano Coletti and several others that continue to make their mark in motorsports.

The Frenchman drew the attention of Ferrari in 2009 and the two would become intertwined in the years to come. With Bianchi becoming a Ferrari Academy driver, he was molded and developed in the ideal way every organization would hope.

Bianchi finished third in the GP2 Series championship in 2010 and 2011, but the dream of making it to Formula One started to become a reality when he was selected as the test driver for Ferrari in 2011.

He would follow that up in 2012 with a test driver role with Sahara Force India while also running for the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship. After being disqualified in the opening race, Bianchi scored three wins, five poles and eight podiums in 17 races en route to a runner-up finish in the standings by a narrow four points.

Heading into the 2013 season Bianchi would achieve his dream of becoming an official Formula One driver. The Frenchman joined Marussia, a backmarker team in need of talent.

Kicking the season off in Australia, Bianchi drove the Cosworth-powered V8 to a 15th-place result and followed that up with a season-best 13th in Malaysia.

Scrapping at the back, which is not uncommon for underfunded teams such as Marussia, the team failed to score points at all during the season.

Formula One brought new rules into the 2014 season and with that came a new power unit for Marussia. Ferrari would help the cellar-dweller outfit by offering to become its new engine supplier and thus pushed the teams MR03 chassis with the new mandated 1.6L V6 turbo.

The results were not there for the team right away, but on the horizon was one of the most amazing performances put on in F1 history.

After an unscheduled gearbox change, Bianchi started the Monaco Grand Prix from 21st, but the Frenchman would manage his tires and maintain his poise as he chipped away at the field.

The talent of the budding Marussia driver blossomed before everyone’s eyes.

Carrying the torch of a team that had never seen championship points before, Bianchi overcame the odds and delivered a resounding ninth-place result, scoring two points for the Oxfordshire-based squad. Had he not taken a five-second time penalty during the race the Frenchman would have finished eighth, but the celebration was all the same for the jubilant team.

It was Formula One’s version of Cinderella and Bianchi wore the glass slipper.

As the series headed into the summer months and into Silverstone, Bianchi was given the chance to stand-in for an injured Kimi Raikkonen during a test session, who was nursing a foot injury following a crash the day before in the British Grand Prix. The Frenchman took a car that had been trailing the likes of Mercedes and Williams and pushed it to the top of the charts, a rare occurrence for the Scuderia in 2014.

The successful outing for Bianchi led to rumors that if Formula One ruled on three car teams for 2015, Ferrari would place him alongside Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. The series later decided against the rule, but soon after Alonso left for McLaren, leaving a vacancy on F1’s most accomplished team.

Within a few days prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, the 25-year-old spoke of his readiness to replace the two-time champion. Although nothing was confirmed, much was speculated that Ferrari would indeed go that route.

All plans changed on October 5, 2014 – the day of the Japanese Grand Prix.

The sport encountered the effects of a tsunami and drenched the Suzuka circuit to the point that the race was started behind the safety car and never saw its full distance of 53 laps.

With racing being as dangerous as it is already, the added elements only added to the terrible conditions.

What would take place in the late stages of the race was nothing short of tragic and it was indeed the perfect storm to the worse circumstance the sport has endured in over 20 years.

The race would be Jules Bianchi’s last.

As the Frenchman lay in a hospital bed fighting for his life, the motorsports world would do everything it could to honor its hero.

Marussia withdrew its entry at the following race in Sochi. Electing instead, with the approval of the FIA, to run only one car – teammate Max Chilton’s.

Social media was flooded with hope as many joined in with #ForzaJules.

It was nine months before Bianchi relented to his injuries.

As a mark of respect the FIA retired Bianchi’s No. 17.

The world knew what a talent Jules was. The world knew he was destined for greatness – a future champion in the pinnacle of motorsport.

Forever remembered.

Ciao Jules.

Image: Manor Grand Prix Racing Ltd

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.

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