Today is Day One for Formula One – the start of a new count of days since the last driver death. A huge run of reforms and developments across all areas of Formula One safety occurring over the two decades since the last on track driver death made it seem like the modern sport produced indestructible racers. The last career ending crash, by my count, was Luciano Burti’s barrier-spearing shunt at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2001. Alonso in Brazil, Button in Monaco, Webber in Valencia, even Kubica’s mammoth accident at the ’07 Canadian GP all demonstrate the improved safety standards which allowed all aforementioned drivers to survive their big impacts, usually with only a bruised ego to lament. So for a driver to die in this environment is shocking. As with Senna and Ratzenberger’s deaths 21 years ago, we must use this tragedy to work out the kinks in safety, to ensure we limit the chances of another death as much as possible. But in contrast to other fatal crashes, we cannot blame a fault with the cars or the driver protection. Bianchi’s death was a freak accident. No protective equipment, perhaps not even cockpit canopies (which may have become inverted during the impact and caused further injury) could have saved Bianchi from injury when he hit the back of the JCB removing Sutil’s car in the rain in Suzuka. The matter lies with car removal procedure, a method which Martin Brundle has spoken against since – in a spookingly ironic twist – he had his own near miss with a tractor in the same spot during the rainy 1994 Suzuka Grand Prix.
I won’t go explaining the different things F1 can do – and has done (Virtual Safety Car, for example) – to improve again on the safety of the sport. That’s for another article – or the countless articles which have been written since Jules’crash nine months ago. Today we mourn for the loss of a racer. The loss of an otherwise certain future Championship challenger. The loss of a popular, enthusiastic young man with an infectious smile and a love for the job he lost his life doing. But as we struggle to overcome the shock of his passing, we must keep the Bianchi family in our thoughts. Phillippe Bianchi, Jules’ father, recently spoke out about Jules’ condition in hospital. He hated his son’s quality of life and insisted that the condition was “worse than if he had died” in the crash. Today, although grieving for the loss of their child, the Bianchi parents can begin to move on and mourn their son – rather than endure the daily torture inflicted upon them during Jules’ nine months in hospital, where though breathing unaided, he never regained consciousness.
Although cruel to admit, what undoubtedly makes this tragedy that much tougher is who it happened to. Bianchi’s talents had been blatantly obvious for many a year, even before he ran circles around his backmarker colleagues when racing for Marussia. The obvious highlight of his career will forever be scoring points from the back of the grid for Marussia – in the worst car on the grid. It was a drive reminiscent of a young Ayrton Senna or Gilles Villeneuve. His talent was obvious, and with Jules testing for Ferrari during last year, it appears that he may have been replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari when the Finn’s contract runs out. With a seat on the Prancing Horse I believe Bianchi would have been the first French Champion since his compatriot Alain Prost snatched his fourth and final Championship in 1989.
Instead, on Tuesday we bury our first driver in 21 years and Formula One will come together as a community to mourn the loss of one of their own. Formula One will never be safe – that’s part of the attraction for the men who race – but hopefully it will become even safer.
For now, Ciao Jules. Rest in Peace.