Remembering Jules Bianchi, the F1 driver who has died at the age of 25 nine months after his accident at the 2014 Japanese GP – and a career which promised so much…
When Ferrari launched their Driver Academy in 2010, it was Jules Bianchi who they selected as the founding member – an honour which underlined the Frenchman’s promise as a driver and the high regard with which the talent-spotters at Maranello, F1’s most illustrious team, held him in.
His life tragically cut short after a horrific accident at the 2014 Japanese GP, Bianchi’s talent was never to be fulfilled but was apparent from the start of a motorsport career which promised so much.
Bianchi was born in Nice in the south of France on 3 August 1989. His family could certainly already point to an impressive family pedigree in motorsport given Jules’ grandfather Mauro was a GT World Champion and his great uncle Lucien won the 1968 Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as starting 17 Grands Prix.
It didn’t take the third generation long to make his mark either. Having graduated from karting aged 18 in 2007, Bianchi immediately won his national Formula Renault title, before moving to the Formula 3 Euroseries with ART the following season. He finished third in the standings and also took victory in the prestigious Masters event at Zolder.
Bianchi then dominated F3 in 2009, taking nine victories from 20 starts and his performances didn’t go unnoticed. Briefly linked with a Ferrari race seat after Felipe Massa’s accident at the Hungaroring, he was instead signed by the Scuderia to their new academy and commenced F1 testing duties when possible.
Moving up to GP2 in 2010, Bianchi finished third and did the same the following year, when Ferrari also named him their reserve driver. He moved to the World Series by Renault in 2012 and combined that with another test driver role at Force India – a move which represented his F1 breakthrough given it allowed him to take part in nine practice sessions throughout the season.
Bianchi narrowly missed out on the Formula Renault 3.5 title but three wins and five podiums underlined his pace and expectations were high that he would graduate to a race seat at Force India in place of Sauber-bound Nico Hulkenberg. Although overlooked there, the Frenchman was swiftly handed his full-time F1 chance by Marussia for 2013 and he wasted little time in impressing: in just his second race, Bianchi claimed the 13th place finish that would secure the Banbury outfit 10th place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Caterham for the first time.
Even better was to follow in May 2014 at Monaco when Bianchi drove a strong race to ninth place and deliver his and the team’s first points in F1. His growing maturity and standing within F1 was further enhanced at the post-British GP test two months later when, called up to stand in for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, Bianchi set the overall pace in the F14 T with a time faster than anything the illustrious Finn had managed at the preceding Silverstone race weekend.
Although Bianchi looked likely to have to wait at least another year for a promotion to a Ferrari race seat, the fact he had already achieved one of F1’s most perennially challenging feats – making a name for yourself at the back of the field – had marked him out as a man deserving of a front-running chance.
But for Suzuka 2014, if only.