Formula One driver Jules Bianchi dies aged 25

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Bianchi at the Nürburgring's World Series by Renault race in 2012.
Image: Henry Mineur.

French Formula One (F1) driver Jules Bianchi died on Friday night at age 25, nine months after his serious accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. News of his death was announced by his family the following morning:

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 5th October 2014 at Suzuka Circuit during the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix.

This is the first F1 race-related driver death since the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, when Ayrton Senna was killed.

On October 5, 2014, at the late portion of the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit, Bianchi collided with a tractor crane that had been attending to the crashed car of Adrian Sutil. Bianchi's helmet became wedged underneath the tractor, causing a diffuse axonal injury, and he fell into a coma. After being treated at a Japanese medical centre, he was moved about two months after the accident to a hospital in Nice. Placed in the intensive care unit, in December he began rehabilitation therapy. Bianchi's father, Philippe, described his non-progress as a "daily torture".

Bianchi, the 2007 French Formula Renault and 2009 Formula 3 Euro Series champion, was the inaugural member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. He joined F1 team Force India in 2012. In 2013, he joined Marussia F1; the following year, at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, he scored his and Marussia's first points with a ninth-place finish.

After the accident, the FIA, which sanctions Formula One racing, formed a panel to investigate the crash. Afterwards, the group revealed its findings: as Bianchi entered the run-off area of the track, he disabled the failsafe mechanism by "[applying] both throttle and brake together, using both feet", while his front wheels were locked; the panel also stated he did not slow down enough to control his car. Eventually, F1 mandated the use of the "virtual safety car", which requires drivers to enter the pit lane at slower speeds instead of proceeding around the track.

This is the Bianchi family's second driver death. Lucien Bianchi, the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and Jules's great uncle, was killed in 1969 during testing at Circuit de la Sarthe, where the 24 Hours of Le Mans race is held.

Upon the news of his death, many drivers sent their condolences through social media. Bianchi's Marussia team mate Max Chilton tweeted, "No words can describe what his family and the sport have lost. All I can say [is] it was a pleasure knowing and racing you."