Jules Bianchi: Man of rare talent & immense charm
Jules Bianchi lost the one fight that mattered. After nine months of struggle and waning hope, the young man whose career was destined for the heights of the world's most glamorous sport was allowed to slip away.
His death will cast a sombre shadow over a sport that had grown used to the idea that drivers who crashed got away with it, clambering from the wreckage and kept safe by a plethora of safety gizmos introduced since the last death in the sport, of Ayrton Senna in 1994.
Bianchi's crash on a dreary, wet day on the famous Suzuka track found the loophole, though. It was a freak accident and it led to his death.
But for his accident, Bianchi would likely have been the next star at Ferrari, already marked down as a rare talent linked to immense charm. He was liked throughout the F1 paddock and was as popular with his fellow drivers as he was with the motorhome catering staff, the press officers and senior executives.
Bob Fearnley, deputy team principal at Force India, had Bianchi as a reserve driver for a year before he left for his chance on the grid at Marussia. "He was the real thing," Fearnley said. "Drivers like Jules come along once in a generation and it is so sad that it has ended this way."
Uniquely at the end of the grid where money fuels the careers of lesser drivers, Bianchi was employed for his talent. He rewarded faith in the most spectacular of fashions.
Marussia had tried and failed for four seasons to score a point but Bianchi put on one of the most startling performances in the recent history of F1 to drive a no-hoper of a car to ninth place at last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the greatest showpiece race of them all.
The two points he won that day were worth £30 million to the Marussia squad, a lifeline that has kept the team on the grid tas Manor Grand Prix, despite huge financial troubles. Bianchi came from a minor dynasty of racers: grandfather Mauro raced in the 1960s, while uncle Lucien won the fabled Le Mans 24-hour Endurance Race in 1968 and also took a third place at the Monaco Grand Prix. Tragedy stalked the Bianchi family, though, and Lucien was killed at Le Mans.
It was to come to an end for Bianchi at the Japanese Grand Prix, a race conducted in atrocious conditions that went on into near darkness. On a wet and slippery track, Adrian Sutil's Sauber left the track. As a recovery tractor was sent out to bring back his car, Bianchi rounded the same corner and speared into the rear of the truck. Bianchi was taken to hospital in nearby Yokkaichi but the head injuries were devastating. From then, there was little the Bianchi family could do but wait and hope.
Each day, Philippe and Christine, his parents, would leave the family restaurant in the hills above Nice to travel to the hospital where their son was clinging to life, sometimes accompanied by Tom and Melanie, his brother and sister.
They knew for a long time that this was a losing battle.
Finally, late on Friday night, Jules Bianchi's battle was over.
The Times, London