During the Japanese Grand Prix on October 5, 2014, French driver Jules Bianchi was in the 43rd lap, when he lost control of his Marussia in extremely wet conditions of Suzuka circuit, 300 kilometers from Tokyo. Bianchi collided with a recovery crane that was attending on Adrian Sutil’s Sauber, which had spun out of control in the 42nd lap. The impact of the collision was so great that the heavily built tractor crane was jolted off the ground and dropped Sutil’s suspended Sauber on the ground. The race was stopped and Lewis Hamilton was declared the winner. Bianchi’s car suffered extensive damage as it made a forced entry under the tractor crane. When the team radio failed to elicit a response from Bianchi, it was assumed that he had become unconscious. He was treated at the crash site and later taken to the circuit’s medical centre. Weather conditions precluded the possibility of air-lifting Bianchi and he was transported to the nearby Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in Yokkaichi, 15 kilometers away. Bianchi remained critical while surgery was done on him for reducing severe bruising to his head. Further investigations revealed that he had suffered Diffuse axonal injury, a brain damage, in which lesions affect white matter tracts in a widespread brain area. The 26-year old Bianchi remained comatose until his death on 17 July 2015.
Born on August 3, 1989, Bianchi began his career as Formula Renault 3.5, GP2 and F3 driver until he was named as practice driver for Sahara Force India in 2012. He made his debut in 2013 for Marussia and finished 15th in his first ever race at 2013 Australian GP. He ended the 2013 season without scoring any points. In 2014, however, Bianchi scored his first points for himself and Marussia at Monaco GP. Just when many F1 experts thought that Jules Bianchi could soon unleash his racing potential on the tracks, death stole him away from the world. This was the second death of a racing driver in track accidents since 1994 San Marino GP, where the race weekend was marred by deaths of Austrian Roland Ratzenberger and 3-time world champion Ayrton Senna of Brazil.
Ratzenberger had completed 20 minutes of the final qualifying session in his Simtek, when he failed to negotiate a curve and smashed into a concrete barrier wall. At the time of the impact, Ratzenberger was cruising at 306 km/h in a car that had suffered front-wing damage in the earlier lap. Rather than going to the pits Ratzenberger continued and lost control. The head-on collision resulted into a basal skull fracture. Ratzenberger was air-lifted to a hospital in nearby Bologna but despite doctors’ best attempts, his life could not be saved.
During the main race on the following day, Ayrton Senna began with the advantage of the top pole position. The race had an ominous start as Finland’s JJ Lehto had his Benetton stalled on the grid. With many cars in a bunch, Portuguese driver Pedro Lamy couldn’t see the Benetton and crashed into it from behind. The bodywork and tyres of Lehto’s car flew into air by the impact caused. Once the track was cleared, the race restarted and on the second lap with Senna leading Schumacher, the Brazilian lost control. Senna’s car veered off at Tamburello corner and at 211 km/h rammed into the concrete wall. The debris began flying into the path of the other drivers and the race was stopped for the second time. Senna was taken out of the wreckage of his Williams and flown to Bologna. Meanwhile the race restarted and Schmacher won but 20 minutes after the podium celebration, announcement came that Ayrton Senna had died. The autopsy revealed the cause of death from severe head injuries.
Earlier during the 1982 Canadian GP, Italian driver Riccardo Paletti was killed, when he smashed into the back of the stalled Ferrari driver Didier Pironi of France. In 1986, another Italian driver Elio de Angelis had lost his life in crash during testing. In one of F1’s darkest days, four British drivers met with accidents on the track during the 1960 Belgian GP. While two of them; Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey died, the other two; Sir Stirling Moss and Mike Taylor were seriously injured. While Sir Stirling came back to the track, Taylor was paralyzed and his racing career ended.
Jules Bianchi’s death was the first after Senna had been killed 21 years ago but the F1 community knows the constant dangers of the motorsports. However, the safety measures have been enhanced and for over 20 years F1 has seen drivers walking away relatively uninjured from very big accidents. In two of the recent examples, Robert Kubica had a barrel role in 2007 Canadian GP and Mark Webber’s car somersaulted in Valencia during the 2010 event. But Bianchi was killed in the most unusual circumstances since hitting a recovery vehicle with great speed couldn’t have been foreseen. Following Bianchi’s accident, two important key changes have been introduced; one is the addition of extra strengthening around the cockpit and the other being a virtual safety car system in unusual circumstances.
That doesn’t mean that an F1 racer has been completely rid of the inherent dangers of this motorsport. At more than 350 kilometers per hour, it is impossible to mitigate every risk. Bianchi’s death occurred on July 17, 2015 in a hospital near his parents’ home in Nice and his family thanked all his colleagues, friends, fans and everyone who demonstrated their affection while he was still alive.