Overnight, Jules Bianchi lost his fight for life, a fight that he has been in since that fateful day in October last year. The outpouring of emotion, grief and love for Jules in light of this news has been huge, for Jules was a much loved and highly respected member of the Formula One community. He was touted as a future world champion and after seeing that drive in Monaco of 2014, you’d have to agree.
I was in Japan last year and stood united with my colleagues as we firstly wondered what had happened – and then tried to make sense of it all. It was only after we spoke to some team members at Ferrari – who were fighting back tears – did I realise the gravity of the situation.
When the race was flagged, I went down into the Paddock and it was a place of shock, uncertainty and confusion. Whilst the pack up was underway, everybody went about their chores with Jules firmly in their thoughts. As I walked the length of the Paddock, the media where everywhere – talking to experts, team members – anyone who could shed light on the devastating accident that happened involving Jules.
I spotted a well known reporter and his producer and approached them and asked if they had heard any news and if Jules was okay. The look on Will’s face said it all and as Jason explained the various stories that were emerging, none of them were encouraging. We shared a moment of thought for Jules and I left them, continuing my walk up the Paddock.
At the rear of the Ferrari garage, there were a few team members standing and talking to the media. It was widely known that Jules had been ‘loaned’ to Marussia and they had him firmly in their sights as a future driver for the Italian marque. Just inside the garage, some members were hugging, others were crying and all around them the outpouring of emotion was evident.
I stopped to talk to many people as I walked up the Paddock, for it is up hill in Japan as you walk up to the Marussia garage. I can’t recall now who I spoke to but I do know that as one, we all began to pray for Jules and what we all hoped would be a speedy recovery.
When I got the rear of the Marussia garage, it was quiet. There was a lone team member, sitting on a tyre, his head in his hands. Respectfully, the media left him alone in his moment of grief and reflection. Something inside me wanted to share in Marussia’s sadness and to pass along my best wishes to Jules, his family, the team – but I realised as I stood there and watched the Paddock around me, I was already doing it. It didn’t matter your team, your role in the sport or even if you were a casual or a die hard fan. The shock, the emotion, the support for Jules and Marussia was something that we all felt.
As we packed up that evening and boarded planes to head home or onward to Russia, we waited desperately for news and a sign that all was going to be okay and that Jules, whilst currently in a serious state, would be okay. Tragically, that news never came.
After some 10 months of fighting, overnight Jules succumbed to the injuries that he suffered at Suzuka. The young, energetic, inspiring, future world champion slipped away to become the first Formula One driver to die within the sport, since the great Ayrton Senna on the 1st of May, 1994. After the death of Ayrton, sweeping changes were brought in to safeguard the drivers and make the sport safer. And now, some 21 years, 2 months, 18 days after his passing, we again seek answers to the tragedy.
In light of Jules’ accident, changes have already been brought in to limit the exposure to danger for drivers on circuit. To begin with, recovery vehicles are no longer allowed on a active race track whilst cars are lapping at speed. Had this rule been in place on October 5 2014, Jules would still be here. Another intervention was the Virtual Safety Car that was imposed immediately, where cars are electronically slowed via a ‘delta’ that will allow cars to lap at a safe speed but still maintain the gap on the race track.
Jules was taken far too young. His star was on the rise and his skill was displayed at Monaco where he scored Marussia’s first ever – and to date only – constructors points. He was always willing to stop for a chat, sign an autograph for a fan and talk about his love of racing.
The sport is a poorer place without him. He will be missed.