Feature: When Bianchi starred in Monaco

Feature: When Bianchi starred in Monaco

21 May 2017 – In 2014, one of Formula 1's rising stars at the time, Jules Bianchi, produced a standout drive around the streets of Monte-Carlo to earn his and Marussia's first points in the sport. Ahead of this year's event in the Principality, GPUpdate.net reflects on the result, and its importance, with his long-time manager, Nicholas Todt.

Rue Jules Bianchi.

A few hundred metres of tarmac, in Nice, adjacent to the Musée National du Sport, were renamed in the late Frenchman's honour earlier this year.

A few miles down the road, in Monaco, three years earlier, the Ferrari protégé claimed a crucial result that the Formula 1 paddock will always remember him by.

"We had big hopes to do well at this circuit, for various reasons, including Jules himself," Todt explains to GPUpdate.net, looking back on the weekend.

"We always knew that scoring points for Marussia would be difficult, but obviously the best opportunity on paper – and you never know – was Monaco."

Bianchi's weekend-long performance was a feisty one, the first glimmer of something special coming in final practice, when he edged ahead of Lotus' Pastor Maldonado and Sauber's Esteban Gutiérrez, and lapped over a second clear of his main rivals.

Midfield runners upped their pace in qualifying, meaning the maximum on offer was 19th, which became 21st when a gearbox penalty was applied, but Bianchi still led team-mate Max Chilton and the Caterhams of Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson by huge margins.

In the race, Bianchi made up ground early on, as Maldonado was unable to start, and several drivers dropped out, before television cameras picked up a lunge on Kobayashi at La Rascasse.

"Obviously it was amazing for him to overtake at that spot," says a smiling Todt, as he recalls his driver's confidence and vigour throughout the race.

"Of course, you can sometimes overtake here, but it was quite a risky move.

"He was, I have to say, a bit lucky that his front-left tyre touched the sidepod of Kobayashi, just a little bit, without any damage, but it was very brave and it worked well."

Bianchi had gained eight places, rising from 21st to 13th, before the halfway mark.

He took advantage of further retirements as the race progressed and, on lap 59/78, Gutiérrez's terminal spin exiting La Rascasse gave him a coveted points-paying position.

Just a few laps later, a clash between Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen and McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen at the Loews hairpin promoted Bianchi to the giddy heights of eighth.

His points were at one stage thrown into doubt, as stewards looked into him taking an initial five-second penalty – for starting in the wrong grid position, after Maldonado failed to get away on the formation lap – under the Safety Car, which led to another sanction.

However, he did enough to ensure that he would only drop behind compatriot Romain Grosjean, crossing the line in eighth, and taking ninth, still worth two valuable points.

It was a massive result, which earned praise up and down the pit lane.

Todt makes clear that Bianchi's goal was "to drive for a top team and hopefully Ferrari" in the future, and Fernando Alonso, then racing for the Scuderia, had no doubts over his ability.

"I am extremely happy for him and very proud for what this result will mean for his career," said Alonso post-race, having spent time with Bianchi in the Ferrari set-up.

"I have no doubts that it will be a good career, but hopefully with this result he can have a more competitive car next year and show his talents even more."

Bianchi would not get the opportunity that so many felt he deserved after sustaining ultimately fatal injuries in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix later in the year.

"Monaco was, unfortunately, I would say, the highlight of his career in Formula 1," comments Todt, alluding to what might have been.

"He was driving for such a small team, so scoring four points and then actually two points, because he got the penalty, was something amazing.

"You always need a good car, also in Monaco, but the [driver] has a more important role in a circuit like that, so it was a great proof of his speed, talent and determination."

Todt also emphasised the importance of Bianchi's drive for Marussia, the result securing ninth in that season's Constructors' Championship, ahead of Sauber and Caterham.

Marussia entered administration and fell off the grid in the closing stages of the 2014 season, shortly after Bianchi's accident, but returned with fresh investment in 2015.

"Without him, without the two points he scored in Monaco last year, we would not be here," said then Manor team boss John Booth, following the outfit's takeover.

"In the end, this is what convinced the new investors of the potential of the team."

Todt added: "Jules was the driver of the race, of the day, but it was also the highlight for the whole team, which had some financial troubles – it wasn't easy.

"It was a big breath of air for the team, which was a great team full of very good people.

"It was special, because scoring points with Marussia, helping the team to survive… we mustn't forget that the team was there the next year thanks to him."

While the race is remembered as a highlight for both Bianchi and Marussia, Todt made clear that there are many other achievements that will stay with him.

"I followed Jules since he was 15 years old, so I have many good memories," he says.

"For sure, for the general audience, Monaco is the highlight, but in Formula Renault, when he won the title in his first year, some races he won in Formula 3, some races he won in GP2…

"For me, the highlight of Jules is not only his performance in Monaco."

A career and life tragically cut short, but memories that will last forever.

Forever Jules.

Written by: Mike Seymour

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