Triumph and tragedy for Jules Bianchi's family

Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who is lying critically ill in a hospital in Yokkaichi following his horror crash in the Japanese Grand Prix, comes from a family steeped in rich motorsport tradition but also scarred by previous tragedy.

AFP| Updated: Oct 09, 2014, 00:26 AM IST
Triumph and tragedy for Jules Bianchi's family

Paris: Frenchman Jules Bianchi, who is lying critically ill in a hospital in Yokkaichi following his horror crash in the Japanese Grand Prix, comes from a family steeped in rich motorsport tradition but also scarred by previous tragedy.

The 25-year-old from Nice was knocked unconscious in a high-speed crash when he collided with a recovery vehicle during rain-soaked conditions at the Suzuka circuit.

The highly talented youngster, tipped by many to be the next great French champion, is now fighting for his life with severe brain damage leaving his chances of recovery from this kind of condition, slim at best.

He made his Formula One debut in 2013 with the Russian team Marussia and has also been a test driver with Ferrari and Force India as he followed in the footsteps of previous racers in the Bianchi family.

Born in the Cote d`Azur city of Nice in 1989, he grew up in a family that originated in Milan but left Italy in 1950 before moving onto Belgium and finally France.

His grandfather Mauro, was a renowned F3 driver, a three-time world champion in GT cars, notably with Alpine-Renault, and one of the great stars of motorsport during the 1960`s.

However Jules` accident on Sunday brought back dramatic memories of the fate suffered by his great-uncle Lucien, a driver who took part in 17 Formula One races, finished third at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix and won the Le Mans 24-hours endurance race later that season.

One year later, at the wheel of a Alfa Romeo, he crashed during Le Mans testing and was killed at the age of 34 when his vehicle burst into flames.

His father Philippe, who is now at his son`s bedside with his mother Christine, was a specialist in kart racing and introduced his son to the sport at the Brignoles track in the Var region, where his younger brother Tom was present on Sunday when the dramatic events in Japan unfolded.

After steadily climbing the ranks in motorsport, the young Bianchi joined the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2009 before adapting to Formula 3 and then two seasons in GP2 where he finished third in the championship standings in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, he was again battling for the championship after switching to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and only lost the title in the final race of the season after a controversial collision with Dutch driver Robin Frijns.

The newly formed Russian team Marussia, recognised Bianchi`s growing potential and handed him a drive for the 2013 season, where he outperformed his teammate Max Chilton all season, with a best finish of 13th at Malaysia in only his second GP.

A slow start to the 2014 campaign burst into life on the streets of Monaco in May where he gave the team their first F1 points with a ninth place finish, despite driving one of the slowest cars on the grid.

The rise of Jules Bianchi was in full flight and just three days before fate intervened in Japan, he declared himself `ready` to be one of the two drivers at the Ferrari stable he knows so well from his days as a test driver.

"Of course, I feel ready and I have been working on that since I joined the (Ferrari) Academy in 2009." Bianchi said at the traditional pre-race press conferences at Suzuka.

"I have had two seasons in Formula One, I have good experience and I feel ready for that." said Bianchi.

"Obviously for the moment the two drivers (Alonso and Raikkonen) have contracts so there is no question, but if the opportunity presents itself, I think it would be good for me and I feel good."

Another potential possibility was the proposed idea being put into place by Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, who wants the big teams to line up with three cars, as early as next season.

First-choice driver with Marussia and test driver with Ferrari, the future looked extremely bright for Bianchi and he had all the qualities of a champion in the making.

Now he will be lucky to ever drive again as the world of Formula One tries to come to grips with the most shocking accident since Ayrton Senna died at the wheel of his Williams-Renault in 1994 at the San Marino GP.