Feature: Bianchi's legacy, three years on

Feature: Bianchi's legacy, three years on

5 October 2017 – On this day three years ago (Thursday), Formula 1 suffered its darkest day in two decades when one of the sport's rising stars sustained ultimately fatal injuries in a horrific accident during the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. GPUpdate.net remembers Jules Bianchi and looks at the legacy of the fallen racer.

Bianchi was a tenacious driver whose opportunity to shine came in a backmarker team – following the path trodden by the likes of Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo – and appeared destined for Sauber for 2015, until fate intervened.

Bianchi had starred during his rookie campaign in 2013 and, after a challenging start to 2014, captured the first points for the Marussia squad with a resolute drive to eighth place (which became ninth due to a penalty) in Monaco, effectively his home circuit. Bianchi's talent continued to shine through, usually in qualifying, most notably in Britain, Hungary and Belgium, and he took the fight to Sauber and Lotus where possible, despite the limitations of Marussia's package.

Then came Japan.

Bianchi's crash was a stark reminder that the quest for safety must not relent, even if additional circumstances on the day meant that the incident could, and should, have been avoided.

Bianchi's name, though, lives on – he will never be forgotten.

Created by his family, the Jules Bianchi Foundation is still in its infancy, but promises to aid young karting stars.
 

In his home city of Nice – in Southern France, a short distance away from Monaco, scene of his famous drive – officials have named a street after him. 'Rue Jules Bianchi' is located adjacent to the Musée National du Sport – France's national sporting museum – which itself is a part of the Allianz Riviera, the stadium used by OGC Nice, one of the country's leading football teams. If ever a location can be deemed fitting, it is there.

An hour or so to the west, Circuit Paul Ricard will host the French Grand Prix next season, its first Formula 1 race since 1990, and the first in France in a decade. Christian Estrosi, President of the Regional Council of the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur, one of the key figures behind the resurrection of the event, said last December: "I have a thought for our driver from Nice, Jules Bianchi, who has passed away; I want to dedicate this great comeback to him."

Unfortunately, one primary legacy left by Bianchi is no longer around; the points he scored kept Manor Marussia afloat for 2015, and indeed 2016, but mismanagement and a lack of foresight means the team has been sadly consigned to history.

However, several of Bianchi's friends and former teams continue to pay tribute to him with helmet decals and livery tweaks. And through coincidental timing, one of his closest companions has a chance to cap his rise to the top with a title triumph this weekend.

Much has been made of the connection Charles Leclerc had with Bianchi; the pair were friends from a young age, due to the links between their respective families. Aged four-and-a-half, Leclerc's first motorsport test run came at the karting circuit in Brignoles owned by the Bianchi family. It was Bianchi who pointed out Leclerc's ability to Nicholas Todt (son of FIA President Jean), who signed the Monegasque racer to his management scheme. Since 2016, Leclerc has been part of Ferrari's young driver programme (Bianchi was the Academy's first member in 2009) and is now on the brink of a promotion to Formula 1, courtesy of his sublime Formula 2 displays.

"Around five years ago, Jules told me, 'You should watch that young Charles, because I know him well and he's doing a very good job', so I signed him in karting," Todt told GPUpdate.net in an interview in 2016.

"I have to say, so far, that it was very good advice from Jules.

"In many ways I see a lot of similarities between them… a little bit physically, but mainly the approach, the mentality, the hunger, the motivation, the never-give-up attitude."

Leclerc's maiden public Formula 1 run with Ferrari last year was a poignant moment, coming at the same venue (Silverstone) two years after Bianchi's final outing with the Scuderia.

"He was my godfather and helped me with most things in racing; he always helped me and I miss his help," explained Leclerc.

"I think he advised me really well in the past. All his comments he did in the past, I keep them in mind and try to not do the errors he told me not to do."

It is something of a cliché to draw parallels, and there are striking resemblances between Bianchi and Leclerc both on- and off-track, but the 20-year-old is his own person and own driver.

Nevertheless, if Leclerc can wrap up the Formula 2 title at Jerez this weekend, it would be a fitting achievement three years after the terrible accident that befell his close friend.

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