R.I.P Jules Bianchi

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have lived today.

John Dryden, translating Horace, Odes, Book III, Ode 29

Last night, Jules Bianchi died after nine months in a coma. You might have heard of him for the first time today, through the news stories about him. Perhaps you haven’t heard of him at all. Yet Jules Bianchi was one of the best drivers in the world – a racer in Formula 1. He never woke up from the coma he fell into last October, following a horrific crash in a Grand Prix. He was the first driver to die racing in Formula 1 since arguably the best of all time, Ayrton Senna, back in 1994. Jules was 25 years old.

Formula 1 is a dangerous sport. The speeds, the reliance on the reliability of technology, even the weather can all lead to accidents. The safety statistics from the 1970s are shocking. Following the death of Roland Ratzenberger in 1994’s San Marino qualifying, and Senna’s death during the race the following day, the sport has taken every precaution, exercised every control and strived for safety at every turn. And for twenty years, the sport was the most secure it has ever been. We were reminded not to take the risks for granted when a small mistake, coupled with a mixture of unlucky circumstances, ended in tragedy.

Forza Jules

The World Series supporting Bianchi following his accident. Image credit: Renault Sport

I never really know what to say in these situations, but in this case I wanted to say something. I cried this morning when I saw this news, which seems utterly ridiculous as I didn’t know him. Although I suppose we do know these people – celebrities, musicians, sports stars – to a certain extent: in Jules’ case, F1 fans watched him race, we listened to his interviews, we saw him smile. We knew he had been through the Ferrari driver academy, and was earmarked for a drive there in future – the most revered team on the grid, with the longest history in the sport. We saw him finish in ninth place at Monaco in a Marussia, a car that regularly started 24th – last – on the grid. It was hailed as the beginning of a long, successful career in the sport; it was the only points the team and driver ever scored.

Because of this, as well as being the loss of a motivated, talented, beautiful, well-liked young man, we feel the loss of so much potential – a future of race wins and Championships, a name in the history books for the very best of reasons, and everything else outside motorsport – starting a family, building a home… quite simply, growing older.

Bianchi’s accident came almost a year after the most successful F1 driver of all time, Michael Schumacher, suffered a skiing accident that led to severe head injuries and a coma. It was a terrible, sad time for the world of motorsport, and the similarity between the injuries was frightening. The extent of Michael Schumacher’s injuries has never been made clear, but it felt like an utterly tragic twist in the most extraordinary life.

A few days ago, Jules’ father revealed that when they had talked about Schumacher’s accident, Jules had made clear that he would have difficulty living in such a way. Of course, we never think these things will happen to us, so it is easy to say so, but you can imagine it is true: for these men, seekers of adrenaline at the pinnacle of motorsport, it must be difficult to live a normal life afterwards, without further limits. Perhaps it is patronising or wrong to say so, but the outcome of each accident feels heartbreaking.

However, these men would not want us to feel sorry for them. They should be recognised and, in Jules’ case, remembered for their incredible achievements and the joy they brought and bring to others. These are two people who had a massive ambition and went for it fearlessly. Jules would have wanted more – even Schumacher with seven Championships probably wanted more; perhaps we always do. Yet despite his short life, Jules packed a lot of living into it. We should be inspired.

Now, his suffering is over; for the family who waited for nine months by his hospital bed, it will go on. The entire motorsport community is thinking of them, and we join them in mourning a tragic loss. I can only hope that one day they will have some peace.

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9 thoughts on “R.I.P Jules Bianchi

  1. Really lovely words Lauren, I must admit I didn’t know that much about Jules beforehand and reading your post and watching the BBC F1 tribute to him in the qualifying show yesterday showed me that he wasn’t just a Marussia driver but had tested for other teams and was lined up for Ferrari. It is a terrible shame, but I know he was up there today watching the amazing race in Hungary we just witnessed that his friends put on for him. RIP Jules xx

    • Thanks, Amy. Obviously he never had the chance to show his true potential in a bigger team, but it was clear he made an impact – even simply on the level of being a lovely person. Yesterday was something a bit special, and I don’t doubt it had something to do with Jules xxx

  2. Well summed Lauren. I think when people like us follow the sport closely you do get that strange sense of ‘knowing’ the people in it. As devastating as this news it, it probably was best for him to find peace. We should never underestimate the skill these drivers have, it gets under appreciated what they do

    • I do feel like we do. Perhaps there is a slightly surreal aspect to it, like we feel we know characters in books or TV shows, but in the end these are real people and the loss is real. I trust his dad that Jules would rather this, than have to adjust to such a hugely changed life. They are exceptional, every one.

  3. Fantastic post, you hit the nail on the head. When I read the article the other day where his dad said he was feeling less optimistic, I gathered it was just a general update but I guess by the time that article went to press, they knew. It’s funny because despite everyone pretty much knowing that this was going to happen, it doesn’t make it any less sad or of a shock. A very sad day for Motorsport fans, I agree. I can imagine they’ll do something of rememberence to him at the next GP and I do hope they retire the number 17 as well, out of respect. Great post and rest in peace Jules xxx

    • Thanks, Jenny. With hindsight, we should have seen that his father was preparing us as they were preparing for the worst. As you say, though, no matter how inevitable the outcome seemed, it didn’t lessen the shock. I still hoped (and hope for Michael) that he would get better. It’s a really sad day. RIP Jules xxx

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