Tributes poured in from the world of Formula One for French driver Jules Bianchi, who died in the early hours of Saturday morning after a long fight against horrendous injuries sustained in a head-on crash during the Japanese Grand Prix last October.
Bianchi died in a hospital in his home town of Nice, 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the track where he sealed the best performance of his young career: the Monaco Grand Prix.
It was on Monaco’s tight and sinewy circuit last year that Bianchi, driving for Marussia – now known as Manor Marussia – finished in ninth place and gave the unheralded team its best finish and first points in F1.
”Words cannot describe the enormous sadness within our team this morning, as we come to terms with losing Jules,” said John Booth, team principal of the Manor Marussia team. ”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’s drive that day was a mixture of flair, steely determination, and panache: exactly the traits that were spotted in him early on, when he was touted as a future star of the sport after graduating from the Ferrari academy in 2009. He then competed in 34 Grand Prix races.
”Jules was a shining talent. He was destined for great things in our sport: success he so richly deserved,” Booth said in a statement released by the team. ”He was also a magnificent human being, making a lasting impression on countless people all over the world … he was an extremely warm, humble and intensely likeable person who lit up our garage and our lives.”
Bianchi was a much-liked driver in the sometimes edgy and brittle F1 championship.
Countryman Romain Grosjean, a rival driver on the Lotus team, expressed that reality in this tweet: ”Yesterday we lost one of the best guys and best drivers I’ve ever met. I’ll miss you so much my friend.”
British driver Max Chilton, Bianchi’s teammate last year, tweeted ”No words can describe what his family and the sport have lost. All I can say it was a pleasure knowing and racing you.”
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who raced against Grosjean and Bianchi, said: ”I have no words… We will miss you my old friend…” Alongside his tweet, Vergne added a photo of a fresh-faced Bianchi, the joy and optimism clear to see on his face.
As part of its online tributes, L’Equipe’s website showed a collection of pictures of a young Bianchi.
One showed Bianchi aged 4, driving a toy go-kart, a look of fixed concentration on his face, and another with proud father and son together after a junior karting race.
”He only had that (racing) in mind,” his father Philippe said in an interview with Var-Matin newspaper. ”We looked after a track in Antibes and he would spend his time watching the customers going around the tarmac. As soon as his feet touched the pedals, he wanted to climb into a kart.”
Former F1 driver Jean Alesi, who raced in 202 GP races, also paid his respects.
”He fought right until the end. We thought a miracle could happen,” Alesi told RMC radio. ”He was an endearing boy, very fair on the track and outside of it. He was well loved. He was joie de vivre personified. It’s a shock for everyone.”
Bianchi is the first driver to die of injuries sustained in an F1 race since three-time world champion Ayrton Senna was killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Bianchi died at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Nice, where he had been since his emergency treatment in Japan in the days after the accident.
”So much work has been done in terms of security on the tracks and on the cars that we couldn’t imagine this happening again,” Alesi said.
Bianchi’s accident occurred at the end of the race at the Suzuka circuit. In rainy, gloomy conditions, Bianchi’s car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who had crashed out at the same spot one lap earlier.
”Last night we lost a truly great guy and a real fighter,” British driver Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 champion, tweeted. ”RIP Jules, my sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”
Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of the Williams team tweeted ”You will be never forgotten.”
Nicolas Deschaux, the president of the French Motorsport Federation, paid tribute on France Info radio.
”Jules Bianchi was one of the surest hopes for French motorsport,”Deschaux said. ”He was brimming with talent and well-liked by all drivers. The world of motorsport is grieving today.”
Tributes came in from outside of F1, and outside of sport itself.
World rally champion Sebastien Ogier tweeted ”So sad to hear Jules Bianchi passed away” while French tennis player Caroline Garcia said ”Such sadness to hear about the death of Jules Bianchi at the age of 25.”
Luc Alphand, a former French Alpine ski racer who then switched sports and drove in the Dakar rally, said on BFMTV that ”when destiny strikes in this way, it’s truly awful. Jules’ fight was a very long one, it was a terrible ordeal for his family. We’re with them and we’ll try to support them.”
Former French prime minister Franu00e7ois Fillon said he awoke to the ”sad and brutal” news of Bianchi’s death.