Formula 2 returns this weekend for round nine of the championship, in support of the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.
Mugello is set to be a special weekend for F1, being Ferrari’s record 1,000th Grand Prix and taking place at a circuit they own. But while the Scuderia is currently suffering through one of its worst seasons in F1 to date, its academy drivers Callum Ilott, Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman will give them plenty to be proud of as they enter the weekend first, second and third in the F2 championship respectively.
Monza proved a particularly happy hunting ground for the Ferrari academy, with Schumacher taking his first win and eighth podium of the season in the two races. But it was Ilott who came away with a seven-point lead in the standings, having taken pole for the feature race and inheriting the sprint race win from the disqualified Dan Ticktum.
Trying to predict whether they’ll have the same form at Mugello is tricky. Shwartzman and Schumacher both have competitive experience of the track, but nothing more recent than their last Italian F4 campaigns in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
However, the Prema team they drive for has spent many a race weekend at the circuit over the years. They’ll have plenty of knowledge to draw on, and arguably have the best chance of giving their drivers a winning car.
And speaking of winning cars, Schumacher will have an opportunity this weekend to drive one of the very best, as he will take his father’s Ferrari F2004 around the track in a very special demonstration run.
As well as Schumacher and Shwartzman, five other drivers on the current F2 grid have experience of Mugello: Guanyu Zhou, Luca Ghiotto, Marcus Armstrong, Marino Sato, and DAMS stand-in Juri Vips.
Armstrong and Vips have the most recent experience, having raced there in the 2017 Italian F4 championship. Both had strong results that year: across the two rounds raced at Mugello, the two drivers collected five poles, three wins and five further podiums between them.
Of course, results in 2017 Italian F4 don’t guarantee results in 2020 F2. But Armstrong and Vips will both be hoping their prior knowledge of the trick will give them some edge at least over their rivals.
After a strong start to the year with two podiums at the Red Bull Ring, Armstrong has yet to finish in the points again since. As another one of Ferrari’s juniors, he needs to get back to the kind of form he showed in F3 last year if he wants the FDA’s focus for a 2021 F2 title campaign. Armstrong still has four rounds of the season left to recover from his 14th position in the standings, and there’s no better place for him to start than on Ferrari’s home turf.
As for Vips, Mugello may mark his final opportunity to score points in F2 this year as Sean Gelael is currently marked to return to DAMS from Sochi onwards.
Vips has enjoyed an impressive debut so far, having challenged for points in each of the four races he’s contested despite being parachuted into the series with little to no preparation.
However, the Estonian must be frustrated that for all his efforts, he’s finished just on the wrong side of the top ten each time. In fact, his average finishing position from the last two rounds is 10.5, so it’s not as if Vips needs a gargantuan upshift in form to break into the points.
It’s not yet been announced whether Vips is targeting a full-time F2 campaign next year, or if he will try to contest Super Formula again instead. But whichever route Red Bull chose for him, capping off his first run in F2 with a couple of points will be an excellent way to make the most of what’s been a challenging year for him.
Formula 2 returns this weekend for round 6 of the championship at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The last two rounds at the British and 70th Anniversary Grands Prix set up a battle royale for the title between Ferrari academy drivers Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman. Shwartzman had looked to be building up to a dominant run at the title coming into the Silverstone double header, as the only repeat winner of the season thus far and with an 18-point lead over Ilott in the standings.
But over the four races that followed, Shwartzman’s campaign was blighted by incidents and poor qualifying performances, scoring only four points with eighth place in the second feature race, and losing victory in the second sprint race after a collision with Mick Schumacher.
Meanwhile, Ilott scored well in three of the four races and took his second pole and win of the season in the second feature race. As a result, he’s regained the lead of the championship with a 21-point buffer back to Shwartzman.
Coming into Spain, Shwartzman will get a boost of confidence from his previous record at the circuit, as in Formula 3 last year he took pole position and victory in Barcelona to set up his title challenge. However, with such a difference between him and Ilott he’ll need a remarkable bounce back to form, not to mention trouble for Ilott, to recover that deficit.
But Ilott has his own reasons to be confident about heading to Barcelona. The Briton took his first F2 podium in Spain last year, with third in the sprint race. On top of that, his UNI-Virtuosi team were in contention for victory in both races, with Luca Ghiotto and Guanyu Zhou both on the podium across the weekend and Ghiotto taking pole for the feature race.
And it’s not just Ilott that Shwartzman needs to catch this weekend. The Russian’s disastrous run at Silverstone has also allowed Christian Lundgaard to jump him for second in the standings. There are only two points between Shwartzman and Lundgaard, but as Ilott showed last weekend a small gap can grow rapidly in F2.
What’s more, Lundgaard also has great form in Barcelona, as he actually beat Shwartzman on the road in last year’s F3 feature race but lost the win to a five-second penalty for a virtual safety car infringement. Knowing he can go well on this track, Lundgaard will be one to watch this weekend as he aims to remind Ilott and Shwartzman that the title fight isn’t a two-horse race yet.
And not far behind Shwartzman is his countryman Nikita Mazepin, who comes to Spain on a run of seven consecutive points finishes—the longest of anyone so far this year. After taking his maiden win at the first Silverstone round, Mazepin is in the ascendency, and is only another strong weekend away from closing the 14-point gap to Shwartzman.
Callum Ilott took his second win of the season in the Silverstone feature race, taking advantage of a low finish for title rival Robert Shwartzman to assume the lead of the championship.
Ilott started the race from pole and got away well to hold the lead into Turn 1. Behind him, Dan Ticktum also got a good launch from fourth to jump both Jack Aitken and Christian Lundgaard into second.
Ticktum pressured Ilott for the lead over the opening laps, but a mistake on lap 3 sent him wide and dropped the DAMS back behind Lundgaard and Aitken. Two laps later Ticktum then lost another three positions, to Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin and Louis Deletraz respectively.
On lap 6 Lundgaard and Aitken both pitted from the podium positions to change to hard tyres, and Ilott made his own stop a lap later and came out in P12. Schumacher, running the alternative strategy having started on hards, assumed the lead ahead of Mazepin and teammate Shwartzman, who started outside the points.
While Ilott and the former leaders cut their way through the traffic, Schumacher and Mazepin engaged in a fierce battle at the front of the field. Mazepin looked to be faster at first but couldn’t find a way through, and after a few laps stuck behind the Prema his tyres began to blister and he dropped to over a second behind Schumacher on lap 11.
Schumacher became the first of the alternate runners to pit on lap 19, handing the lead to Mazepin who stayed out for another three laps. When Mazepin did come in his longer stint looked to have paid off as he rejoined the track ahead of Schumacher in sixth, but Schumacher was able to get back ahead of Mazepin while the Russian was on cold tyres.
After all the pit stops had been completed, Ilott was back in the lead ahead of Lundgaard and Aitken, with Deletraz and Yuki Tsunoda in fourth and fifth having passed Ticktum as they made their way through the traffic.
The top three remained the same for the rest of the race, despite Lundgaard running off track on lap 26 and dropping back towards Aitken. However, Deletraz and Tsunoda came under pressure in the closing laps from Mazepin on fresh soft tyres. Having already taken sixth place back from Schumacher on lap 25, Mazepin then passed Tsunoda two laps later and caught and passed Deletraz for fourth on the final lap.
Deletraz just about hung on to keep fifth place from Tsunoda. Schumacher was unable to find the same late-race speed as Mazepin despite running on the same strategy and stayed in seventh, and will share the front row of tomorrow’s sprint race with eighth-place finisher Shwartzman. Guanyu Zhou and Felipe Drugovich rounded out the points, while Ticktum finished in P15 after plummeting down the order in the closing stages.
Ilott’s victory with Shwartzman only eighth means the UNI-Virtuosi driver retakes the lead of the championship with 102 points.
Formula 2 is back this weekend for the fifth round of the 2020 championship, returning to Silverstone in support of the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
For title protagonists Robert Shwartzman and Callum Ilott, revisiting Silverstone will provide a much-needed second chance at the circuit after a trying round for them both last weekend.
For Shwartzman, who had previously only finished outside the top four once this year, the British Grand Prix weekend was little short of a nightmare. What began with a lowly qualifying position of 18th for the feature race ended with a best finish of 13th in the sprint race and no points scored for the championship leader.
Shwartzman’s pain was lessened somewhat by Ilott stalling on the feature race grid and spinning out of contention for the sprint race victory, meaning the UNI-Virtuosi driver was unable to capitalise on Shwartzman’s struggles and snatch away the championship lead. However, Ilott’s recovery to fifth in the feature race moved him to within eight points of Shwartzman.
Shwartzman and Ilott’s struggles mean they’ll now be driving with renewed focus on the chasing pack behind them.
In particular, Christian Lundgaard underlined the pace he’s been showing all season with fourth place in the feature race and second in the sprint race last weekend, putting him just four points behind Ilott and twelve behind Shwartzman. Another strong finish ahead of his rivals this weekend could well see Lundgaard leave Silverstone as the new championship leader.
The top two will also be keenly aware of Hitech’s Nikita Mazepin. The Russian came alive at Silverstone last weekend, taking his first F2 win in the feature race and battling up to fifth in race two, and certainly has the pace to be a threat again this time out.
What’s more, Dan Ticktum is lurking just one point behind Mazepin after taking his own maiden victory in the last sprint race. However, Ticktum’s three podium visits so far have all come in sprint races, so he’ll need to translate that clear speed to a top three in the feature races if he’s going to start troubling the title contenders.
Just behind the top five, a kind of “Class B” is forming between Guanyu Zhou, Louis Deletraz, Felipe Drugovich, Mick Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda. While their results over the season so far haven’t kept them in touch with the title battle, they’re all still formidable over a race weekend and each proved this last time out in Silverstone.
Zhou, Deletraz and Tsunoda were all on the podium across last weekend, while Drugovich took pole for the feature race and Schumacher was in contention for the victory before his tyres gave up on him in the final stages.
All of them bar Drugovich are still looking for their first win this season, and given the pace they’ve already shown around Silverstone, that could come for any of them this weekend.
Formula 2 returns this weekend at Silverstone for the fourth round of the 2020 campaign.
Prema driver and Ferrari protege Robert Shwartzman will come into the weekend full of confidence, after becoming the championship’s only repeat winner so far last time out in Hungary.
With 18 points in hand over the next-best driver Callum Ilott, Shwartzman’s goal at Silverstone will be to build that gap even further and break free of the chasing pack. If he can keep up the momentum now, there will be little his rivals can do to stop Shwartzman asserting his dominance over the title as he did in Formula 3 last year.
Ilott will of course be the first of many drivers hoping to disrupt Shwartzman’s title challenge this weekend. Since winning the first race of the season, Ilott’s own campaign has been patchy by comparison, with only one further podium to his name so far.
A win on home soil this weekend will easily put Ilott back in the mix, and he should be well-placed to do so as his UNI-Virtuosi team won last year’s Silverstone feature race with Luca Ghiotto.
Behind Shwartzman and Ilott, there’s a fierce battle developing over third place in the standings. Christian Lundgaard currently holds the position with 43 points, but Mick Schumacher, Dan Ticktum and Marcus Armstrong are all within nine points of the Dane.
Although Lundgaard is quite a way adrift of Shwartzman, he is still likely to be a threat this weekend. Prior to Hungary, where he failed to score in either race, Lundgaard had been on a run of top-six finishes culminating in his sprint race win in Austria.
If Lundgaard can put his Hungaroring disappointment behind him, he’s shown he has the pace to be a serious title threat this year.
Schumacher comes to Silverstone on a good run of form, having taken a double podium at the last round in Hungary. However, he’ll need to make a much bigger step forward this weekend if he wants to stay in contention for the title and an F1 shot next year, as he is so far yet to outscore Shwartzman in any race this season.
Meanwhile, Ticktum has also displayed plenty of ability in his F2 debut, although has yet to claim his first win in the series. A challenger in sprint races in particular, the DAMS driver will be one to watch this weekend for sure.
FIA Formula 2 takes to Budapest’s Hungaroring this weekend for round three of the 2020 championship.
While the opening round of the season was dominated by returning drivers Callum Ilott and Guanyu Zhou, last weekend was the turn of F2’s rookies. Robert Shwartzman and Christian Lundgaard took their first victories in the series to assume the lead of championship from Ilott, while Yuki Tsunoda, Dan Ticktum and Marcus Armstrong all impressed with podium finishes.
When F2 arrives in Hungary these rookies will be aiming to build on that momentum and take charge of the championship. Expect to see Shwartzman come out of the gates strong as he tries to make up for retiring from last weekend’s sprint race, while Tsunoda will be hungry to reclaim the feature race win that was taken from him by a team radio failure in Austria.
Mick Schumacher will also be one to watch this weekend. Not only will he come to Hungary with confidence from having won there in F2 last year, but he’s also on a much-improved run of form this time around.
In both rounds at the Red Bull Ring, Schumacher showed he had the pace to come away with at least a podium finish, if not a win. However, a spell of bad luck—including his fire extinguisher going off in his cockpit while running third last Sunday—means he’s currently lagging behind his title rivals, and will be pushing even harder this weekend to catch up.
And he won’t be the only one. Zhou will also be looking ahead to the Hungaroring weekend as a chance to get his championship campaign back on track. The Renault junior will be sorely disappointed after leading both feature races in Austria but coming away with only one podium, and will need to lay down a marker this weekend to avoid the title fight slipping away from him.
Further back, the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend will also provide a much-needed reset for some of the drivers still yet to score any points.
Chief among these will be Hitech’s Luca Ghiotto. Used to being a title protagonist, Ghiotto’s best finish so far has been tenth in the second Austria sprint race, with an array of incidents and technical issues helping to keep him away from the points.
Also in need of a breakthrough soon is Jehan Daruvala. At the start of the season the Red Bull-backed driver talked up his goal of vying for an F1 seat with Alpha Tauri next year, but so far he’s had a mixed start to the season and is currently only P17 in the standings.
Daruvala has been solid in qualifying this year, starting both feature races well inside the top ten, but scruffy performances on race day mean he’s yet to convert any of those starts into points. With his Carlin teammate and fellow Red Bull junior Tsunoda already fighting for wins and podiums, Daruvala will need to tidy up his racecraft this weekend and make good on his pace if he wants to avoid losing Red Bull’s focus.
Christian Lundgaard took victory in the Styria sprint race, taking the lead early and going on to command throughout.
Lundgaard started the race in third behind reverse polesitter Dan Ticktum and ART teammate Marcus Armstrong, but passed Armstrong for second at the start. He stuck with Ticktum through the opening few laps and on lap 4 passed the DAMS on the inside of Turn 3 to take the lead.
Once in front, Lundgaard continued pushing and opened up a two second gap over Ticktum by lap 8—this increased by another second by lap 12. Ticktum responded in the middle phase of the race to take a few tenths out of Lundgaard, but a series of lock ups allowed the gap to open back up to 3.2s by lap 22.
Lundgaard began to ease off towards the end of the race as his tyres degraded, but by this point Ticktum’s own tyres were also running out of grip and the DAMS was unable to close the gap. By the chequered flag Lundgaard took the win with 2.3s in hand over Ticktum, as well as two extra points for setting the fastest lap earlier in the race.
Armstrong was unable to keep up with Lundgaard and Ticktum up front, and on lap 12 he was passed for third by Mick Schumacher into Turn 3. However, Armstrong regained the position two laps later when Schumacher’s fire extinguisher went off in his cockpit, forcing the German to retire. Armstrong held on to the position until the end of the race to take his second podium of the season.
UNI-Virtuosi ran a quiet race behind the top three. Guanyu Zhou passed teammate Callum Ilott at the start and was promoted to fourth after Schumacher’s retirement.
In the final laps Ilott closed up to the back of Zhou and looked to have the pace on his tyres to pass his teammate. But the pair caught up with Armstrong on the last lap which gave Zhou DRS to defend and keep Ilott behind in fifth.
Jack Aitken finished sixth ahead of Sean Gelael, while Nikita Mazepin picked up his first point of the season in eighth. Saturday’s feature race protagonists Robert Shwartzman and Yuki Tsunoda both retired, the Prema spinning out at the start and the Carlin stopping with a clutch issue.
At the end of round 2, Shwartzman holds a narrow five-point lead in the drivers’ championship over Lundgaard and Ilott, who are level on 43 points. Ticktum is fourth and Armstrong fifth.
In the teams’ standings, ART maintain their lead with 77 points, seven ahead of UNI-Virtuosi and 15 ahead of Prema.
Formula 2 returns next weekend in support of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Prema’s Robert Shwartzman took his first Formula 2 win in the Styria feature race, taking advantage of a team radio problem for longtime race leader Yuki Tsunoda.
With the track drenched the race began after a lengthy delay with four laps behind the safety car. When the safety car pulled into the pits and the race began in earnest, polesitter Tsunoda got away from the pack cleanly and commanded the race in its early phase, building a gap over Guanyu Zhou with each lap. After two laps of racing the Carlin driver was 1.6s ahead, which increased to 5.5s by lap 21 as Zhou’s wet tyres started to overheat.
Zhou pitted on lap 21 along with Shwartzman. But when Carlin called Tsunoda in to cover the UNI-Virtuosi, he was unable to hear the message over team radio and stayed out for another three laps. All the while, Tsunoda’s pace compared to Zhou on the fresher tyres continued to drop off.
Tsunoda eventually came in on lap 26 after seeing the team’s pit board, but lost so much time on his older tyres that he lost the lead to Zhou and rejoined the track in a net third position.
Meanwhile, Shwartzman had been making progress through the field after initially losing a position to Christian Lundgaard on the second racing lap. On lap 14 he passed Luca Ghiotto for sixth, then took fifth from Jack Aitken on the following lap. When Lundgaard had a slow pit stop on lap 21, Shwartzman moved into fourth behind Tsunoda, Zhou and Callum Ilott.
Shwartzman demoted Ilott off the podium after both drivers had made their respective stops, and on fresher tyres he started reeling in Zhou with a series of fastest laps. On lap 27 Shwartzman passed Zhou for the lead of the race and began building up a gap as Tsunoda rejoined them after his own stop.
In the closing laps Zhou began to struggle with overheating tyres again and Tsunoda passed him for second on lap 30. With much younger tyres, Tsunoda then started eating into Shwartzman’s gap out front, reducing it by over two seconds across the next three laps.
But although he closed in to within half a second of Shwartzman, Tsunoda’s pace wasn’t enough to complete a move on the Prema in the final laps and Shwartzman held on to the victory. However, Tsunoda was able to earn another two points for setting the fastest lap.
Zhou continued to struggle and dropped back from the two leaders. He came under threat from Mick Schumacher in the closing laps, who had taken fourth from Ilott after starting ninth on the grid, but managed to defend his place on the podium and finish third.
Schumacher and Ilott finished fourth and fifth respectively, with Lundgaard and Marcus Armstrong behind them. Dan Ticktum finished eighth and took pole for Sunday’s reverse grid, and Aitken and Sean Gelael closed out the top ten.
Ferrari have announced that they have signed Mick Schumacher to their Driver Academy ahead of the 2019 season.
In a press statement, Schumacher said, “I am thrilled that Ferrari has entered into a partnership with me and [that] my next future in motorsport will be in red, being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and also of the Scuderia Ferrari family.
“This is another step forward in the right direction, and I can only profit from the immense amount of expertise bundled there. Be sure I will make everything to extract whatever helps me achieve my dream [of] racing in Formula 1.
“It is more than obvious that Ferrari has a big place in my heart since I was born and also in the hearts of our family, so I am delighted on a personal level about this opportunity as well. At this stage it is, however, also time to say thank you to my family, friends and partners who supported me all along and helped me arrive at this point.”
Past alumni include Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi and the late Jules Bianchi, who was the first driver to be signed to the program when it was formed back in 2009.
Schumacher joins the Academy on the back of his title-winning campaign in the Formula Three European Championship, where he won eight races and finished on the podium on six other occasions. He finished the season 57 points ahead of second-place Dan Ticktum.
New Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that despite the more sentimental aspects of the signing, Schumacher had been picked first and foremost because of his racing talent.
“For someone like me who has known him from birth, there’s no doubt that welcoming Mick into Ferrari has a special emotional meaning,” he said, “but we have chosen him for his talent and the human and professional qualities that have already distinguished him despite his young age.”
Alongside his duties with the Academy in 2019, Schumacher will make his debut in FIA Formula 2, where he will compete with Prema Racing.
While it’s natural to remember Jules Bianchi around the Japanese Grand Prix, as Ferrari Week here at The Pit Crew Online falls near the second anniversary of his death it’s fitting to look back at the life and career of one of Maranello’s former rising stars.
Born in Nice in 1989, Bianchi arrived into a family that was already well-acquainted with motorsport. His grandfather Mauro raced GT cars in the 1960s and participated in three Grands Prix in 1961. His great-uncle Lucien drove in 19 Grands Prix between 1959 and 1968, scoring a handful of points, and achieved victory at Le Mans in 1968 alongside Pedro Rodriguez. Given his great-nephew’s affiliation with Ferrari, there’s a certain irony that Lucian’s Le Mans victory came behind the wheel of a Ford GT40, which broke Ferrari’s early 1960s string of Le Mans victories. Jules was not the first Bianchi to die in motorsport; Lucian was killed during testing at Le Mans in 1969. Jules’ father Philippe owned a karting circuit, providing a young Jules an early platform to begin honing his skills. At 15, Jules made the decision to pursue racing as a profession and at 17 signed a management contract with Nicolas Todt.
Looking back over Bianchi’s career, he seemed destined for Formula One. Having proved his skills in karting, placing first in multiple series in 2005 and 2006, Bianchi moved into the junior formulae. He made his single-seater debut in 2007, the final season of the French Formula Renault 2.0 series, driving for SG Formula. He secured a comfortable first place with 5 wins and 11 podiums, finishing 49 points ahead of the second place finisher Mathieu Arzeno.
2008 saw Bianchi move up to the Formula 3 Euro Series, driving for ART Grand Prix, where one of his teammates was Nico Hülkenberg. During his deubt season, he placed third overall with two wins and seven podiums for 47 points as well as placing first in the Masters of Formula 3. He continued competing with ART in 2009, his teammates including Valterri Bottas and Esteban Gutiérrez. That season Bianchi claimed the title, earning nine wins and twelve podiums and ending the season with 114 points.
2009 also saw the BBC and James Allen, among others, link Bianchi with a race seat at Ferrari due to Luca Badoer’s disappointing performance. Though this never materialized, December 2009 saw Bianchi become the first recruit to the Ferrari Driver Academy after the young drivers’ test at Jerez. Maranello clearly found Bianchi a worthy investment, and he was to remain a member until his death. The Ferrari Driver Academy still officially acknowledges that Jules was the most promising young driver that has participated in the program thus far.
Interviews during this period paint a picture of an affable young man, aggressive and ambitious on the track but aware that he’s still learning and maturing. He is quick to give credit to his influences, crediting his grandfather and manager for their help in his formation as a racing driver, as well as his fellow drivers for the self-management techniques he learned from them.
He progressed up the ladder to GP2 in 2010, again racing for ART Grand Prix. In his debut season Bianchi placed third in the championship with 52 points. Though he claimed three poles and was on the podium four times, he won no races this season.
For 2011, despite remaining third overall he improved his record by claiming one win and six podiums. He totaled 53 points in the 2011 season. Significantly, 2011 also saw Bianchi debut as a Formula One test driver for Ferrari, coming closer to a coveted race seat.
In 2012 Bianchi competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, driving for Tech 1 Racing. He placed second in the championship, with three wins and eight podiums, and a total of 185 points. He continued his Formula One testing career, this time on loan to Sahara Force India from Ferrari. During his tenure as Force India’s test and reserve driver, he participated in 9 Friday free practice sessions, gaining valuable track time.
Bianchi’s big break arrived in 2013. Though Force India selected Adrian Sutil to replace Nico Hülkenberg upon his departure to Sauber, another seat opened when Marussia driver Luiz Razia’s sponsors failed to meet their financial commitments to the team. Jules had finally achieved his race seat, opposite Max Chilton. Though Marussia ran solidly at the back of the field and Bianchi retired in Monaco, Germany, and Japan, he nonetheless finished ahead of his teammate in every remaining race other than India and finished the drivers’ championship in 19th place, 4 places above Chilton. Marussia finished 10th in the 2013 Constructors Championship, securing much-needed prize money.
2014 saw Bianchi continue opposite Chilton with Marussia. Despite an inauspicious beginning to the season, failing to complete 90% of the race distance in Australia and retiring in Malaysia due to brake failure on lap 8, Bianchi continued to outperform his teammate. In a major step forward for the team he brought in both his own and Marussia’s first points at Monaco. While good fortune in the form of a number of retirements doubtless contributed to his 9th place finish, and his own illegal serving of a 5-second penalty under the Safety Car cost him 8th place, Bianchi and Marussia were justifiably pleased with the results. Though forced to retire when Chilton collided with him in Canada, he finished ahead of his teammate for most of the season other than a retirement late in the Belgian Grand Prix due to a gearbox failure.
And then came Suzuka.
The category four Typhoon Phanfone brought significant rain to the Suzuka Circuit on Sunday October 5th, but due to the Russian Grand Prix being scheduled for the following week freight concerns prevented organizers from delaying the Grand Prix until the next day. Charlie Whiting suggested that the race start time be changed, but both the circuit owners and FIA opposed changing the both to allow spectators to arrive at the circuit and due to television coverage concerns. The race began under the Safety Car and was suspended after two laps, then restarted under the Safety Car 20 minutes later. Conditions slowly improved, but there was still significant standing water on the track and heavy rain again began to fall in lap 36.
Adrian Sutil lost control of his Sauber and crashed at Dunlop Curve on lap 40. One lap later, Bianchi lost control at the same place and slid partway under the crane that was recovering Sutil’s Sauber. Striking the crane at 123 km/h, the impact was forceful enough to jolt the crane off the ground and cause the Sauber to drop back to the ground. In the crash, Bianchi’s Marussia sustained massive damage on its left side and its roll bar was destroyed. Later analysis determined that the impact generated a peak of 254 g. Bianchi was unresponsive, and was determined to have suffered significant head injuries.
As the medical helicopter was unable to land at the designated hospital, Mie Prefectural General Medical Center in nearby Yokkaichi, Jules was transported instead by ambulance, arriving 32 minutes later. He was rushed into surgery to reduce the severe bruising to his head. His first visitors included Graeme Lowdon, Marussia’s CEO, team principal John Booth, Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci, and Bianchi’s fellow driver Felipe Massa. Bianchi’s parents, siblings, and a close friend arrived over subsequent days.
Bianchi’s management team also visited Bianchi in hospital. FIA Medical Commission president Gerard Salliant was also present, and Ferrari continued to show its support for Jules by requesting that Sapienza University of Rome neurosurgeon professor Allesandro Frati travel to Japan. Ferrari’s outgoing president Luca di Montezemolo further told the media that Bianchi was to be the third Ferrari driver should the then-possible shift to three-car teams become a reality.
The Bianchi family publicly expressed appreciation for the support Jules had received thus far, as well as confirming that Bianchi had suffered a diffuse axonal injury in the crash. At this time, Bianchi was in critical but stable condition.
Though Marussia originally entered their reserve driver Alexander Rossi, the team elected to only run Chilton in the Russian Grand Prix. As a show of support, the team prepared and had Bianchi’s car scrutineered at Sochi, but did not race it. Perhaps Marussia’s fate would have been different had they raced Rossi. Perhaps Marussia’s financial backer Andrei Cheglakov would have continued to fund the team had Rossi turned in a respectable performance, but the tribute was fitting, expressing the hope that Bianchi would recover and rejoin the team.
The Formula One community, indeed the entire motorsport community, rallied in support of Bianchi. The day after the crash, Fellow Frenchman Jean-Éric Vergne arranged for all the drivers to wear stickers proclaiming “Tous avec Jules #17”, and the Marussia team added #JB17 to their livery. The successor Manor team continued this through the 2015 season. The hashtag #ForzaJules proliferated across social media, and along with #JB17 was even made into stickers in the physical world. Fans across the world used these stickers to visibly express their support for Jules. Moments of silence, race win dedications, and other tributes flowed from the community.
The FIA conducted an investigation into the incident, determining that while there were many contributing factors there was no single root cause of the crash. While Bianchi clearly hadn’t slowed enough under the double waved yellow, ‘enough’ wasn’t clearly defined. Bianchi lost control less than two minutes after Sutil, and the recovery crane had almost cleared the barriers, so the double waved yellow was considered enough under accepted practices. The crane’s presence itself wasn’t considered unusual, even though Martin Brundle nearly collided with a similar crane 20 years previously. The brake-by-wire system’s failure to cut off the throttle wasn’t definitively determined to have played a significant role, as Bianchi’s pressing the brake and throttle together may have been within acceptable parameters. Given the forces involved in the crash, no reasonable changes to the chassis could have helped.
Sadly, all the hope and support proved to be in vain. Though Bianchi was removed from an induced coma in November 2014 and able to breathe on his own, and was subsequently moved to Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Nice, he did not regain consciousness. His supporters, his family chief among them, initially took hope from Michael Schumacher’s improvement after his skiing head injury, however slow, but over time this hope waned.
Just over two years ago, on 17 July 2015, Jules Bianchi died. He never regained consciousness. A moment of silence, with the Bianchi family present, was observed at the Hungarian Grand Prix on 26 July.
Bianchi’s legacy includes positive safety developments ranging from improved rules and procedures such as the Virtual Safety Car and changes to recovery procedures, to additional head protection, including informing the process that led to 2018’s Halo. With the support of Prince Albert of Monaco Jules’ father Philippe created the Jules Bianchi Foundation to provide funding for promising young drivers. The Jules Bianchi #17 Association was also created to support the Unité de Soins des Cérébro-Lésés(Unit for brain damage) at Hôpital l’Archet in Nice.
The Bianchi family additionally filed a lawsuit against the FIA, Marussia, and the Formula One Group in May 2016.
This July, we are left with the memory of a promising career cut short, and a young life extinguished before its time.