MANOR team principal John Booth said Jules Bianchi “has left an indelible mark on all our lives” after the French driver died from horrific head injuries he sustained at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Bianchi, 25, suffered a traumatic brain injury and never regained consciousness after he lost control of his Marussia car in the rain-lashed race in Suzuka on 5 October and hit the side of a vehicle deployed to recover Adrian Sutil’s Sauber.
Bianchi, who was a member of Ferrari’s young driver academy and tipped to be a future world champion, becomes the first driver since the death of Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix on 1 May, 1994 to succumb to injuries sustained at a Formula 1 race weekend.
“Words cannot describe the enormous sadness within our team this morning, as we come to terms with losing Jules,”, Booth said in a Manor statement released yesterday morning. “He has left an indelible mark on all our lives, and will forever be part of everything we have achieved, and everything we will strive for going forward.”
Bianchi made his Formula 1 debut for Marussia, now renamed Manor, at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. He competed in 34 grands prix for the British-based team and scored the first points in their history after he memorably finished ninth at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
“Jules was a shining talent. He was destined for great things in our sport; success he so richly deserved,” Booth added. “He was also a magnificent human being, making a lasting impression on countless people all over the world. They recognised, as did we, that at the same time as being a fiercely motivated racer, he was also an extremely warm, humble and intensely likeable person, who lit up our garage and our lives.
“We are incredibly grateful that we were able to provide Jules with the opportunity to show the world what he could do in a Formula 1 car. We knew we had a very special driver on our hands from the first time he drove our car in pre-season testing in 2013. It has been an honour to be able to consider him our race driver, our team-mate, and of course our friend.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the wonderful Bianchi family, who have remained so strong for Jules throughout the past nine months. In turn, Jules was an absolute credit to them”
Booth added: “Finally, we would like to thank everyone who has supported Jules since his accident in Japan last October. Your kindness has been such a source of comfort to his family and to us, his team. We will rely on your continued support over the coming days and months as we race on for Jules.”
Bianchi was transferred to a French hospital near his family home in November, seven weeks after his devastating crash in Japan.
At the time, it was announced that he was no longer in an induced coma and was breathing unaided.
But, following a number of bleak outlooks concerning his condition – most notably on Monday from his father Philippe – it was announced in a statement released shortly before 2am yesterday that Bianchi had tragically succumbed to his injuries. The family statement from Bianchi’s parents Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom, and sister Melanie read: “Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end.”
Bianchi’s death sparked an outpouring of emotion from the world of Formula 1 with Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and the Frenchman’s former team-mate Max Chilton leading the tributes.
Button, the 2009 world champion, wrote: “Last night we lost a truly great guy and a real fighter #RIPJules my sincerest Condolences to his family and friends.”
Ricciardo, the Red Bull racer, who progressed through the junior series alongside Bianchi, tweeted a picture he had taken with Bianchi, before adding: “I’ll never forget you and the good times we had. Going to miss you bro.”
Bianchi’s former Marussia team-mate Chilton wrote: “No words can describe what his family & the sport have lost. All I can say, it was a pleasure knowing & racing you.”
Bianchi was in only his second full Formula 1 season before the tragic accident on lap 43 of the Japanese Grand Prix. In that short time he had made a lasting impression on the paddock, and was expected to race for Ferrari in the future.
An FIA accident report published in the months after Bianchi’s crash determined that he “did not slow sufficiently” under double-waved yellow flags following Sutil’s spin in the wet conditions.
Bianchi ploughed into the tractor, which had been sent to recover Sutil’s car, at 80mph and suffered a diffuse axonal injury.
The 396-page report also recommended a Virtual Safety Car system, which has been introduced this season. It neutralises a race with electronic boards telling drivers to slow down and limiting them to a specific speed.
Start times for the races in Australia, Malaysia, China, Russia and Japan have also been brought forward by one hour after Bianchi crashed at dusk.